Who remembers the Wombles? Those little creatures who appear from nowhere to clean up after the humans who had made such a mess of their beloved common.
Every Saturday morning a similar thing happens in parks and on commons. At around 8.45am the quiet morning will be broken by a colourful mob of happy runners and volunteers, all heading to the start of their local parkrun – a series of free, weekly, timed, 5km runs.
It is an amazing sight; hundreds of men, women and children of all ages, shapes and backgrounds, suddenly coming together to take part in an event that is starting to clean up the inactivity epidemic that is threatening society.
The organisation has grown dramatically since its humble beginnings when 13 ‘pioneers’, led by parkrun’s very own Great Uncle Bulgaria, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, gathered for a run in South London back in 2004.
Over one million people have registered to take part in parkruns across 420 events in ten countries around the world. The UK boasts 275 of those events and with over 50,000 weekly runners makes up around a third of the global parkrun family.
The parkrun team, led by Managing Director Tom Williams, has achieved huge growth and impact on a tiny budget. All their events are completely free to take part in, with local volunteers working together to provide a weekly timed 5k run in beautiful surroundings. David Cameron found it hard to articulate what ‘Big Society’ meant, while all along parkrun was doing just that.
Free does not mean unprofessional. In advance of taking part you register your details via http://www.parkrun.org.uk and are provided with a barcode. When you finish your run at any parkrun in the UK or overseas, you present this barcode to a volunteer who records your finish. Later that day you will receive a text message and email stating your finish time, position and how that compares with previous runs.
And everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter whether you are struggling to walk one mile or an Olympic marathon runner, parkrun is a positive and welcoming event that thrives on helping people to be the best they can be.
In literature and TV, Wombles are notoriously tidy, polite, and honest creatures. Without a doubt, the same could be said about parkrun volunteers and runners. I am yet to meet someone at a parkrun who is not positive about life, running and the community. It’s a social phenomena that is fighting against all the health and cultural evils of modern life.
It’s already the world’s largest series of timed runs and most likely one of the UK’s biggest volunteering movements – in the UK alone they expect over 50,000 different people to volunteer 250,000 times so that the members of their local community can run together, for free. And with over 7,000 new people joining the parkrun UK family every week, a new series of junior events on Sundays, and the potential for 100 new weekly UK events to be launched in the next 12 months alone, the future is looking extremely bright.
If you don’t believe me, check details of local events via http://www.parkrun.org.uk and arrive at 8.45am this Saturday. And remember,“Wombles are organised, work as a team. Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean. Underground, overground, wombling free…”