My first parkrun was in May 2013 and I’ve since led two parkrun teams in raising awareness and funds for Movember, run at five courses, and spent 9 months trying (unsuccessfully) to set up a parkrun in my home town. I enjoy marshalling at some of the runs (along with over 5,000 others volunteers) almost as much as the running. What I was told when I started –“it’s not about the running, it’s about the community” – is absolutely true for me and, I believe, a vast number of other parkrunners.
Looking only at the numbers is one way of measuring whether parkrun is successful. The organisers have an amazing array of statistics – compiled and updated weekly by the individual parkruns and available for all to see. The stats paint an impressive picture and the organisers and sponsors are rightly praised for mobilising so many people to take exercise on a regular basis. Note the parkrun seeds were sown 10 years ago – long before the 2012 Olympics. For me, the personal stories from members of the parkrunners’ community are an equally powerful testimony to the importance of the parkrun phenomenon.
But now parkrun is facing a problem of its own success – the number of people wanting to get involved is causing concern about wear and tear on routes, pressure on facilities such as parking and toilets and, in some cases, is bringing runners into conflict with other users of the public spaces. I also sense that over about 150 runners, the special dynamic of the community changes, but this is just a gut feeling.
The parkrun UK strategy for dealing with the spectacular increase in interest seems to be to create many more parkruns – having ten by this time next year is the aspiration for my home county (where we currently have three). In theory, each would attract smaller numbers of runners, travelling shorter distances to get there, and reducing pressure on any one location.
It’s not just parkrun that has to address issues around growth. In the field of social enterprise, there’s an ongoing debate about how best to scale (up) successful producers and providers. The trick is to balance the often conflicting demands associated with addressing ever-growing unmet need cost-effectively while protecting the very thing that makes social enterprise so special; the closeness to customers, connection with the wider community and a sense of shared ownership within the enterprise itself.
It’s the age-old debate about appropriate scale, quality vs quantity of (jargon alert!) outputs and outcomes, and about the breadth and depth of provision. Those concerned about the development and growth of social enterprise, interested in scaling up to make enough difference to enough people’s lives to be taken seriously by mainstream naysayers, might do well to look to the runners in their local parks for some of the answers.
More about parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk