Community 17.01.18

Improving access to parkrun for people with disabilities

The parkrun PROVE project (parkrun: running or volunteering for everyone) aims to increase levels of participation at parkrun for those living with disabilities or long-term health conditions whether that’s through walking, running or volunteering. Around 9% of people currently participating in parkrun have some form of disability or long-term health condition and researchers at the University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) have been asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the PROVE project.

Conditions targeted to date include; asthma; blood pressure; cardiovascular; deaf and hard of hearing; dementia; diabetes; endometriosis; learning disabilities and autism; and obesity and parkrun are now starting to further engage with other conditions such as; mental health, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and arthritis.  parkrunners who are visually impaired have also been targeted as part of a separate project.

The three year evaluation study will involve researchers surveying parkrunners to understand the prevalence of different health conditions in the parkrun community. Surveys and interviews with parkrunners will help researchers understand whether PROVE is successful in supporting the positive experience of parkrun by people with long-term health conditions.

The evaluation aims to demonstrate whether the PROVE project has been successful in improving the experience of parkrun by parkrunners with long-term health conditions. It also hopes to identify ways to improve accessibility of parkrun for non-parkrunners living with long-term health conditions.
Since the evaluation launched last year, the researchers have found the PROVE project is making good progress.

Leading the evaluation, Dr Helen Quirk, a researcher in exercise psychology at the AWRC, said: “Observations of the project activities show that a range of interventions and activities have been implemented to date, such as accessibility guidelines for parkrun event teams, take-over events, blog posts, newsletters, and other interventions such as a new sign language support volunteer role.

“Facebook groups have been created for the condition groups, attracting a growing figure of over 3,000 Facebook members. This provides a supportive place for parkrunners to share experiences and advice with others who have the same health conditions.

“The focus now needs to be on how we better understand the range of conditions parkrunners have and the barriers that non-parkrunners face so we can support them to become active through parkrun and help them to improve their quality of life.”

Chrissie Wellington, parkrun’s head of health and wellbeing said: “Breaking down the barriers to participating in regular physical activity and volunteering has been one of the cornerstones of parkrun’s global success.

“We are in a position to genuinely improve the nation’s health, and through the PROVE project and the peer support networks that have been established we are able to reach out to people on a national scale who potentially have the most to benefit from the welcoming, supportive and social environment that parkruns provide.”

Situated at the heart of the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, the AWRC will be the most advanced research and development centre for health and physical activity in the world, dedicated to ‘improving the health of the nation’.

It will tackle key issues affecting the nation such as; static levels of physical activity, rising obesity, drug and alcohol misuse as well as seeking to develop preventative measures against life-limiting diseases and illnesses.

The AWRC will undertake research focused upon taking services and products from concept to market – acting as a hothouse of innovation, bringing together those who make apps, activity loggers, sports equipment, orthotics and clinical devices.

Confirmed partners of the AWRC include parkrun, Toshiba Medical and Westfield Health and the Centre is due to open next year.