Inmates take part in the first ever prison parkruns

Three prisons have become the first in the UK to host a weekly parkrun, with others expressing an interest in doing the same

A fitness phenomenon that has taken the world by storm has now arrived in prisons across the UK. Allowing inmates to take part could reduce reoffending and help people better reintegrate post-release, say organisers.

The series of free, 5km runs began with a group of friends in London’s Bushy Park in 2004 and now take place in 18 countries. Thousands of people gather in parks around the world every Saturday to take part in the runs, which usually have a strong community atmosphere and are organised by teams of volunteers.

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Last month, HMP Wayland in Norfolk became the third prison to host a parkrun. On 14 April, 37 people ran or walked the 5km and 10 prisoners volunteered.

In November, parkrun added a group of prisoners at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria to its runners list – the first jail in the world to hold the event within its grounds. The Category C prison, which currently houses 286 prisoners, came on board after its PE supervisor, Shane Spencer, suggested the idea to bosses. It has been named Black Combe parkrun after a large nearby hill.

HMP Haverigg became the world’s first prison to host a parkrun within its grounds. Image: HMP Haverigg

“The prospect of starting a parkrun in our prison seemed like an exciting opportunity to deliver something unique to both prisoners and staff,” he told Positive News.

“Having volunteered at my local parkrun a few times, I knew how inclusive it really is. There were people of all ages and abilities.”

Since January, inmates at Magilligan prison in County Derry, Northern Ireland, have also had the chance to take part. “Although there is no one silver bullet that can be deployed in the battle to prevent offending and reoffending behaviour, we feel that parkrun can be a unifying force for good in the desistance from crime and changing lives for the better,” said Chrissie Wellington, four times Ironman triathlon world champion and parkrun’s global head of health and wellbeing.

Governing governor of HMP Magilligan, Gary Milling, being cheered across the line by race director Colin Rice. Image: Lorcan Doherty

“The prisoners themselves will help to deliver the events every week, providing an empowering sense of responsibility and ownership.”

John McAvoy, an armed robber turned Ironman triathlete, is passionate about how running can help rehabilitate people. “I was labelled one of the most dangerous prisoners in the country. If I can change my life through sport, why shouldn’t every one of the other 90,000 prisoners in the country be given that chance too?” he said.

I was labelled one of the most dangerous prisoners in the country. If I can change my life through sport, why shouldn’t every one of the other 90,000 prisoners in the country be given that chance too?

“Physical activity breeds positivity and good habits and linking it to the community in this way can help offenders change their behaviour for good.”

Featured image: Coleraine F.C. manager Oran Kearney, with Gary Milling and race director Colin Rice at the official launch of Lower Drummans parkrun, HMP Magilligan, photographed by Lorcan Doherty


This article is featured in issue 93 of Positive News magazine.

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