parkrun coming back to Kent
parkrun coming back to Kent

It’s the news thousands of runners and walkers across Kent have been waiting to hear with local parkrun events set to resume in October.

Announced on Monday afternoon, the news that the weekly 5km or 2km events are coming back will be a huge boost to the running community.

Thousands of people flock to their local parks and event spaces on a Saturday for their weekly timed 5km run or walk with others with the junior 2km event taking place on Sunday mornings.

The last parkrun took place in Kent on Saturday 14th March just before lockdown measures came into place and some six months on, there are plans in place to bring back the popular, free events.

There are 22 parkrun venues across Kent and it will now be down to each event to decide if they are ready to return at the end of October. Volunteer run, parkrun has become a global phenomenon and Nick Pearson, parkrun’s CEO issued the following statement on Monday:

“Ever since parkrun events closed in the UK and across the world, we’ve been focused on understanding how and when we would be able to resume in a safe and appropriate way.

Throughout, we have sought to understand the evidence, to be a part of discussions with government and public health bodies, to listen to the parkrun community, and to communicate regularly, transparently and honestly.

Following detailed conversations with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Sport England, and Public Health England, I am delighted to announce that we intend to reopen parkrun and junior parkrun events in England toward the end of October this year.

Unfortunately, as things stand, and due to current restrictions across Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, we are not able to commit to the same timeline across the other Home Nations. However, we are aware of the implications of only opening in England and are continuing our work to overcome the challenges that this presents. We are also as committed as ever to opening our events outside of England as soon as possible.

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Over the years, we’ve come to understand the significant health benefits of being physically active, together, in the great outdoors. It boosts our self-esteem and mood, increases sleep quality and energy, builds immunity, reduces the risk of developing many diseases, and promotes quality of life.

Whilst the public health benefits of parkrun events have been clear for many years, the last six months have increased inequalities around health and wellbeing, with many people more isolated and less active than ever in their life. Across many communities our events provide the most accessible and inclusive opportunities for people, of all abilities and backgrounds, to come together and be active. Disadvantaged communities have been hit the hardest and likely have the most challenging journeys ahead of them, and with every passing week, and with winter approaching, those challenges become greater.

Since we first started back in 2004, thousands of people have shared their stories of how parkrun not only changed their life, but saved their life, and we know that every week without parkrun represents a cost to the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people.

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In early August we published our COVID-19 Framework, which details how parkrun events will be delivered where there remains an underlying level of COVID-19 in the community. This Framework represents what we feel is the safest we can make parkrun events, whilst, at the same time, respecting the principles that allow parkruns to positively impact the health and happiness of those they engage.

Since then, we have sought feedback and suggestions from the global parkrun community, across 22 countries, as well as from public health bodies and governments around the world.

Furthermore, in an effort to understand the evidence surrounding COVID-19 transmission in outdoor settings, we commissioned a rapid review of the evidence by Canterbury Christ Church University, led by Professor Mike Weed.

The review concluded that, with appropriate evidence-based mitigations in place, it is possible to deliver outdoor events and activities across a range of sectors, and of varying sizes and formats, in a way that does not significantly increase risk of COVID-19 transmission.

During this time we have also been closely following developments around the level of COVID-19 infection across the UK, and its impact on health. According to data published by the Government and the Office for National Statistics, it is clear that, at this moment in time, the number of infectious people in the UK is relatively low, and the numbers of people in hospital continue to fall. Whilst therefore it is absolutely critical we all remain cautious, and closely follow Government guidance, we can say that the chances of an infectious person being in attendance at a specific parkrun event is relatively low.

Based on the above evidence, and the mitigations presented in our COVID-19 Framework, we therefore feel that the risk of parkrun events significantly contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom is small.

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A further important part of our consideration for the return of parkrun has been the feeling of parkrunners and their attitudes towards coming back. Since events were paused, we’ve carried out insight work to assist us in our planning and decision making. For example by making over a thousand telephone calls to event teams and volunteer ambassadors, or by surveying samples of parkrunners from around the world. Our ‘intent to return’ survey has proved incredibly useful and has shown that not only are the majority of UK parkrunners keen to return, but their confidence is growing over time. Our latest figures suggest that almost 80% of UK parkrunners would return in four weeks’ time given the opportunity.

Everything in life comes with a risk, and we know and accept that we cannot remove all risks from the parkrun environment. However, it is also important to balance the public health benefits of reopening our events, against the associated public health risks. We now believe, having spent considerable time gathering and understanding the evidence, that the benefits to reopening parkrun far outweigh the risks.

We also know that, whilst the majority of people are likely to welcome this announcement as a huge step toward parkrun returning, many people will feel anxious and nervous around the thought of public gatherings. We are here for everyone, and over the coming weeks and months will be providing all the support we can, such that people can feel confident returning to their parks and open spaces.

Today represents the start of the next phase in reopening our events, and we know there is much work ahead. Over the coming weeks we will be working closely with landowners and stakeholders across the country so that we can best address their concerns and support their own positions relating to gatherings at their venues.

We will also be working closely with our volunteer event teams as they prepare for their communities to return, and the entire parkrun staff team is committed to providing all appropriate support. From direct phone calls, to live Q&As, podcast discussions, and regular updates through all of our available communications channels, there will be frequent and continued opportunities for you all to provide feedback and ask questions.

We’ve long understood that human beings have an innate need to be with one another. To talk, to laugh, to support, to share experiences.

This is a watershed moment. parkrun will return. We will be back together again.”

You can find where your local parkrun is by visiting the website – https://www.parkrun.org.uk/

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