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Alliance of Sport supports first ever prison parkrun

34257962173_338403b51e_z-640x416On Saturday, a new location will be added to the list of 470 weekly parkrun events held all over the UK – but it won’t be the leafy setting that regular participants are accustomed to.

On November 4, HMP Haverigg, a Category C jail near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, will become the first prison in the world to host a parkrun. 

Inmates will run a 5k course laid out within the confines of the prison walls, with other offenders and prison staff acting as volunteer organisers.

Just like the 130,000 people who take part in the UK every weekend, HMP Haverigg inmates running in what’s to be known as the ‘Black Combe parkrun’ are registered on the parkun website and assigned a personal barcode which will digitally log their finishing time and position.

As regular participants will know well, the health and wellbeing benefits from parkruns are immense. The events create a shared experience between friends and family, and all runners (or walkers) become part of a welcoming and friendly community. It’s all these factors that make it an ideal rehabilitative tool for offenders. 

The Alliance of Sport’s Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, has been supporting parkrun’s development in prison settings, using the Alliance’s network to link up delivery partners, prisons and supporters across the UK and Ireland. 

Justin commented: “Parkrun is a unique, cost-effective and systemic offer for the Custodial Estate. Where else do you see a relatively inexpensive programme reach service users, their families and all staff involved within the establishment? Uniting prison with any community and helping release some of the pressures, increase wellbeing and social impact through parkrun’s models is a clear win for all. 

Congratulations to HMP Haverigg and Parkrun for supporting an active method of reducing reoffending and increasing social wellbeing in our society.

“The parkrun team and all the volunteers up and down the country (and beyond) hold a social prescription that brings about social inclusion, personal achievement and wellbeing. I sincerely hope all working in the custodial estate are encouraged to take part and link with their local community events. A supportive, friendly and active community awaits them.” 

As well as the obvious health benefits for inmates of doing weekly parkruns, the plan is to encourage inmates’ families to take part in them on the outside too, creating a shared experience and common interest. 

The welcoming, non-judgmental community that parkrun provides is a further benefit. Doing parkruns in custody will provide a familiar activity and environment for ex-offenders to integrate into seamlessly after their release. On the outside, the parkrun community enables them to move in different circles and develop new skills, contributing strongly to future desistance from crime. 

chrissie.wellington“It’s not just about improving fitness, it’s about improving self-belief and confidence too, plus the social and communication skills that are developed by volunteering,” says Chrissie Wellington (left), the four-time world triathlon champion who is now parkrun’s Global Head of Health and Wellbeing.

Parkrun’s mission is to encourage healthy, active lifestyles by being a health and wellbeing enabler. But Chrissie is now spearheading a more “nuanced” agenda encompassing social integration and community interaction. That’s why they were more than willing to accommodate HMP Haverigg’s request. 

The reaction across the custodial estate and among Alliance of Sport members has been universally positive and four other prisons have already contacted Chrissie with requests to host their own parkruns, which she is now looking to facilitate.

She says: “We can be really imaginative in creating multi-lap courses inside the prison grounds so that isn’t usually an issue, but it’s important that staff are able to commit operationally to having the event every week. They need around 10 volunteers to do so. 

“We don’t care if one person takes part or 100. We know that events tend to start slowly and then snowball as people realise the value it brings.” 

She concludes: “Since I joined in 2013, my role has been to effectively target people that will really benefit from parkrun and drive positive change. We feel this will be of huge benefit to marginalised communities and makes a significant contribution to health, wellbeing, re-integration and the desistance of crime.”

For more information about the Black Combe parkrun, click here.