I’m dreadfully guilty of dishing our country at every opportunity and behaving like a bitter Remainer. It’s not healthy and I’m aware of that – my wife keeps telling me. So here are a few words about something which is gloriously British and spiritually uplifting – the Saturday morning Parkrun.
The Parkrun movement was set up in 2004 with the intention of promoting community engagement in running and physical well-being; the first race took place in Teddington, Surrey. It’s been an overwhelming success ever since.
Having been a participant over the last couple of years, I believe it represents everything that is good about our country.
- It cuts across social strata – you could be overtaken by a banker, or sprinting to the line with a recovering drug-addict – and you wouldn’t know (though now that I’ve written that, I accept that it could be the same person). Before the race begins, we’re asked to shake hands with whoever is next to us –a bit trite maybe, but a nod to a shared commitment, irrespective of ability. There is no elite race first, followed by a race for ‘the disadvantaged’.
- There is no body or clothing prejudice. All shapes and sizes are present, and each is valued equally. Yes, there’s a lot of lycra, but I also have seen a guy running in his jeans. Take note, Golf Clubs of the UK.
- It highlights the eccentricity and enthusiasm of the great British volunteer. Our part of the country gets a bad press for a plethora of anti-social behaviours, but wow, there are a lot of people who give up their time for others. What’s more, these volunteers know the names of so many of the runners. Is this the culture of encounter that academics and theologians talk of?
- There’s just the right amount of competition. Each participant gets their own race information, detailing their performance against everyone, but also those in their age group. Just enough to aspire to an objective. There are even pacemakers to help you.
- It’s free. There is no money exchanging hands anywhere as far as I’m aware. No Parkrun merchandise being shoved down your throat. No corporate sponsorship.
- Finally, it’s inter-generational. It brings together young kids, teenagers (my boys even do it) adults and the elderly. The septuagenarians tend to make it more of a ParkWalk, with club runners dodging past them as they laugh and chatter. There are too few activities today that bring together the generations.
How interesting it is to apply these points and imagine how our school system could improve as a result. Try and follow me…
- Stop the disparities between school catchments, or ease the private/state ‘worlds-apart’ conundrum.
- Get more parents and volunteers into schools, giving up their time to work with our most vulnerable children and families.
- Promote pupil assessment that is individualised for each child, not high-stakes, generalised and vulgar accountability, meaningless for the actual learner.
- Move away from the fill-your-pockets behaviour of some (but by no means all) academy trusts. Schools should not be money-orientated.
- Promote inclusive schools as communities, bringing together all; the old, the poor, the disabled and the…yes, eccentric.
Sounds like I’m back to moaning, but I’m not. On the contrary. We have it in us, the Brits. We have the people to get things back on track, plenty of them.
The ParkRun movement has shown this, one of many superb civic projects that can give us great optimism for the future.
We now need out elected leaders to help us.