Our parkrun friends went to prison last week.
Two of the team who help organise the parkrun at our local event, Fell Foot, were given permission to take part in the Black Combe parkrun which is held every week inside HMP Haverigg.
Haverigg was the first prison in the world to be allowed to organise a parkrun and recently celebrated its first anniversary.
It was started by the gym manager, Shane Spencer, who is now the event director, and he has seen the idea take shape in other prisons in the UK.
“When I initially got in touch with parkrun HQ with my idea I had no idea the impact it was going to have, not just on me but also the men in our care,” he wrote recently.
While physical activity programmes are not a new thing in the custodial estate, the prominence of volunteering at parkrun and the variety of roles available on a weekly basis adds an extra dimension to what is currently available. Prisoners deliver the event for other prisoners.
Black Combe parkrun is named after a prominent hill that can be seen from the outdoor sports field where parkrun takes place. In its first year it’s not only had a positive impact on the 300 prisoners and staff who have taken part as walkers, runners and volunteers – the benefits have extended throughout the prison environment at HMP Haverigg and far beyond its walls.
“The changes to some of these lads is really significant, not just physically but mentally as well. It’s great to see their improvements – PBs are always nice – but the real benefit is to their health and wellbeing, including their attitude, mood and their behaviour on the wings throughout the week,” said Shane.
“The parkrun has also improved the relationship the men have with each other and the staff. Some inmates who never would have interacted on the wings before have met through parkrun and socialise outside of Saturday morning.”
Our local runners, Eileen Jones and Cecilia Flint, joined 20 inmates and staff to run the route, and were given a very warm welcome…especially Cecilia who finished in fifth place and proved to be a motivating influence.
“We wanted to do Black Combe out of respect for the initiative in bringing parkrun to prisoners, but also because we wanted to do all the Cumbrian parkruns,” said Eileen.
“We had no idea what to expect. What we found was the familiar setup, facility and friendliness that is our experience of parkrun everywhere. The staff and inmates were all equally welcoming, and were the most polite and courteous runners we’ve ever come across. We loved that they said: “Well done Miss” and stepped aside to let Cecilia fly past. They were friendly and open and disarmingly honest, a real credit to the establishment, and to themselves.”
Cecilia said: “We especially loved to hear that two, who were going home soon, intended to carry on parkrunning, never having done it before. We have seen, through our experience at Fell Foot, just how transforming parkrun can be to peoples’ lives and we congratulate the team at Haverigg for their vision in bringing this opportunity to our local prison.”
Shane Spencer said: “It is always a pleasure to welcome parkrun tourists into HMP Haverigg and I’m keen to breakdown any preconceptions or stereotypical views the general public have of prisoners and prison life. At Haverigg we strive to make Black Combe just another Saturday parkrun and I think we achieve that pretty well (despite the fence).
“One of the lads is still talking about Cecilia’s pace and how he was trying to keep up, to no avail!”
Black Combe can only be run with special permission, of course, but Fell Foot parkrun is on every Saturday, and we have a special offer for guests who stay here …we’ll delay breakfast till they get back after running.