Five Things NHS England Can Learn from Parkrun for Personalising Care

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Originally published by Leigh Kendall – 20th September 2018

At the Personalised Care Collaborative on Tuesday 18 September we were privileged to hear from Chrissie Wellington, four-time World Ironman Champion, who was speaking in her capacity as global lead for health and wellbeing for Parkrun

Chrissie talked about how Parkrun is about “building a happier, healthier, planet.” She emphasised how Parkrun isn’t just about running – people of all abilities are encouraged to join. In 2017, 60,000 people walked the 5k event: “We are the only running event that’s happy when our times get slower and more people walk!” said Chrissie.

Parkrun is completely free – there are no entrance fees or charges.

Every Parkrun functions thanks to volunteers who give up their time as marshalls, time-keepers, tail walkers and other roles, completely free of charge. Plenty of people volunteer without ever taking part in the 5k event itself – it’s a great way of including anybody who wants to be involved. 

The success of Parkrun, said Chrissie, “lies in its ability to transcend notions of individuality by encouraging people to help each other out, connect with others around them and embrace diversity.”

Parkrun is particularly relevant to personalised care, which is about giving people greater control about how and where their health and care is provided. It is a brilliant example of an event that could be recommended as part of social prescribing – the term used to describe how GPs and other health professionals can refer individuals to support in the community, where appropriate, instead of only offering medicalised solutions.

I’m a regular at my local Parkrun in Bedford. I did my first event on Christmas Day 2017, which helped me through a difficult time; I was proud to feature in the Parkrun newsletter. I love how inclusive and friendly Parkrun is – it’s fantastic for both body and mind.

Here are five things the NHS can learn from Parkrun for personalising care:

1. Being comfortable with uncertainty: the very first Parkrun was in 2004 and was a small running club called the Bushy Park Time Trial set up by the founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt. Since then, it’s expanded to become a global phenomenon due to the passion and enthusiasm of participants – the event has evolved according to their needs and feedback.  But it was never set up to be that – Paul wasn’t even sure who would turn up to the first event.

2. Language matters: Tail walkers used to be called ‘tail runners’. It was changed when it emerged this term was putting off walkers. Always be mindful of perception, however things are intended – seek and act on feedback.

3. Provide opportunities to be social: Right from the start, one of the rules for Parkrun events is that they should be held at a venue where there is a cafe nearby so that participants can meet to have a chat over a coffee. I’ve made lots of new friends this way since starting Parkrun. Also, the walking element of the event means that people can chat as they walk the route. It’s a great antidote to loneliness. What if we designed hospital and GP waiting rooms so they encouraged social interaction?

4. Live your values – all Parkrun staff participate in Parkrun.  They experience what their participants experience. 

5. Be inclusive: people of all ages and abilities, shapes and sizes are welcome (and actively encouraged!) to participate in Parkrun – whether to walk, jog, run, or volunteer. The ethos steps away from the traditional binary of being ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’, or ‘I can run’ vs ‘I can’t run’. It encourages people to embrace what they are able to do, to just start. Participants will cheer one another on – and usually those crossing the finish line last receive the loudest cheers. Crucial steps towards creating a happier, healthier planet.

“We are the only running event that’s happy when our times get slower and more people walk!”…

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