parkrun’s success in East Anglia keeps growing

The first ever Haverhill parkrun gets under way. Picture: Phil Morley.

The first ever Haverhill parkrun gets under way. Picture: Phil Morley. - Credit: Archant

It started off with 13 pioneers in a west London park but in the space of a few short years has become an international phenomenon, with almost three million participants in 17 countries, stretching from the UK to Singapore, South Africa, Australia and America.

Runners brave soggy conditions in the first ever Haverhill parkrun.
Picture: Phil Morley.

Runners brave soggy conditions in the first ever Haverhill parkrun. Picture: Phil Morley. - Credit: Archant

And like all the best ideas, parkrun is simplicity itself – it’s free to participate in, non-competitive and community-based. What’s more, it’s getting people moving in vast numbers.

The stories of its success are many – people who have never exercised before are inspired to become active, often leading to incredible lifestyle changes; new friendships begin and couples meet.

Here in East Anglia there are parkrun events across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, all taking place at 9am on Saturdays. Many venues also stage junior 2km runs, for four to 14-year-olds, on Sundays.

One of the newest events in our region began last week at Haverhill, when 123 adults and children braved soggy conditions to take part in the town’s inaugural parkrun, starting from Puddlebrook Playing Fields.

The group was a mix of beginners and experienced runners, with organisers and 17 volunteer helpers especially pleased to see 29 runners completely new to parkrun.

For anyone unfamiliar with the parkrun concept, it’s a free, weekly, 5km timed run (not a race) suitable for experienced runners or complete beginners and run entirely by volunteers. The first ever parkrun (then known as a time-trial) took place in Bushy park, Teddington, in October 2004, organised by a volunteer team that included parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt. The event took a while to really catch on. Entry was down from 13 to 11 by the third week but the first anniversary was marked by the first ever 100-plus field. At last October’s 13th anniversary there were 1,465 runners.

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So what is the secret of parkrun’s success?

Mr Sinton-Hewitt says the event reaches out to “sections of society that are least likely be involved with physical activity and volunteering,and yet have the most to gain from it”.

He adds: “If we are to realise our ambition to create a healthier and happier planet then it’s vital that we continue to break down the barriers to people walking, running and volunteering at parkruns, and redefining what it means to be physically active.”

Parkrun may be growing all the time but it’s stayed true to its founding principles.

“Parkrun is all about inclusiveness and wellbeing,” says Mr Sinton-Hewitt. “We want as many people as possible to feel part of a real local community brought together by our events, as well as our global parkrun family. It’s why parkruns are never more than 5km and it’s why we’ve kept the format of parkrun so simple: register once, then turn up and take part wherever you want, whenever you want.”

In Haverhill, event director Annette Hall says she couldn’t have asked for a better first run.

“Even though it was a bit wet underfoot everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and there was a real buzz having coffee afterwards, which is what parkrun is all about; getting active in a fun, safe environment.”

The Haverhill parkrun was made possible through a partnership between Suffolk County Council, St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Haverhill Town Council and Abbeycroft Leisure.

Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health, said: “Parkrun is massively successful in getting people moving at scale. Over 33,500 people have already participated in one of the 11 parkruns established in Suffolk. Haverhill parkrun will see this number increase even further and in doing so help towards our ambition of becoming the most active county in England. I wish everybody involved huge success.”

Anyone interested in taking part in any parkrun should register free of charge once at via the parkrun website.

Parkrun locations in this region include: Blickling, Brandon Country Park, Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Catton, Colney, Clacton, Clare, Colchester, Fritton Lake, Gorleston, Great Cornard, Great Notley, Harwich, Haverhill, Holkham, Ipswich, Kesgrave, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft, Mersea Island, Mulbarton, Norwich, Sheringham and Thetford. Junior events are held at locations including: Kesgrave, Ipswich, Norwich, Gorleston, Bury, King’s Lynn, Colchester, Great Cornard, Cambridge.

Anyone interesting in volunteering to help at Haverhill parkrun should email here.

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