Southampton Junior parkrun gets a step closer

Over the last 6 months or so, I’ve been looking for funding to start a junior parkrun in the area and have struggled. The local councils, who in 2012 had a focus on sport and getting their residents active, have had to tighten their purse strings and, in some cases, jobs have been lost in the departments where decision about funding for community sport were made. It seems the Olympic Legacy didn’t last very long in the Civic Centres locally.

Let me quickly explain what a junior parkrun is. It’s a timed 2km timed run aimed at participants aged from 4 to 14 years old. There are currently a handful of these events in the UK and the intention is to open several more I’m the next 3-6 months if there’s the demand and funding available.

Currently, the events are held monthly but 4 time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington who is working hard to expand and enhance the Junior parkrun series has the vision of making these more frequent to ensure they’re a part of the participant’s weekly schedule.

Some ask whether there’s a need to have a separate event from the main Saturday morning parkrun and that it could cause a loss of families at those events. However, I disagree. There are many children, typically 11 and under, who struggle to complete the 5km parkrun distance. From personal experience, Daniel loves parkrun but it’s often a challenge (often requiring some bribery) getting him to complete the 5km course if he’s tired or just not feeling it. We always adopt a run/walk strategy and, he probably runs about 2.5-3km of the 5km. As a 7 year old, that’s pretty impressive in my eyes. I know he could complete 2km relatively easily as he’s done so at the Eastleigh Fun Run, Olympic Anniversary Family Run and at Bushy Junior parkrun. I think he, and many children, would excel at an event of a shorter distance than parkrun’s 5km.

To be honest, I’d almost given up in trying to find the necessary funding to start a junior event. However, I passionately believe that in order to stem the childhood obesity epidemic that the media keep warning us of that has the potential to cause untold issues for the health of our nation in the next 30-40 years (and the associated financial cost of dealing with the healthcare resulting from increasingly obese and inactive generations) we need to find ways to engage with our children now and give them the opportunities to enjoy sport and physical activities with no or low barriers to entry. Junior parkrun fits the bill nicely as it’s aimed at the right demographic, free to participate, has a great and supportive community feel and, just like its grown up version, can, and will hopefully change lives.

Of course Junior parkrun isn’t just about the 4 to 14 year olds. It’s about getting parents to take a more active involvement in their children’s physical activity and fitness. For some, this may also encourage the parents to get off the sofa and get more active themselves. After all, some of the 4-14 year olds are going to feel more comfortable running alongside mum and/or dad. Having seen their siblings enjoying Junior parkrun, older brothers and sister may consider taking part in a grown up parkrun event. Before we know it, everyone will be at it!!!

Not only does it look likely that we have funding for the event but were starting to build a strong volunteer team and several Run Directors have come forward. There’s an ongoing discussion about potential single or 2-lap courses too. Hopefully within the next week, we’ll have the core team, the funding and a course chosen. If all goes well, we could have the new event starting in several weeks. Wish us luck!

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