INMATES at Haverigg's prison have become the first in the UK to take part in a weekly parkrun event.

Prisoners participated in the first of their new weekly parkrun events yesterday (Saturday November 4) thanks to a pioneering initiative between parkrun UK and HMP Haverigg, a Category C prison in Cumbria that has 286 prisoners.

Parkrun UK, a non-profit organisation that supports 670 communities across the country to co-ordinate free, volunteer-led 5k and 2k events for walkers and runners, was approached by the prison earlier this year.

The event, which will be known as Black Combe parkrun, will take place within the confines of the prison perimeter each Saturday morning and will see inmates and staff involved as walkers, runners and volunteer organisers.

If successful, the initiative could be rolled out across the country, with a further six prisons already expressing interest in starting their own parkruns.

There are two days a year where, instead of a regular visit, prisoners’ families can join in with activities. HMP Haverigg hope to arrange for one of these to be on a Saturday to coincide with parkrun.

Parkrun’s head of health and wellbeing, Chrissie Wellington, said: “In taking the pioneering and bold step of developing the inaugural parkrun on an HMP site, we are offering prisoners, their families and prison staff, the opportunity to reap the wide-ranging benefits of regular, enjoyable, social and safe physical activity and volunteering opportunities.

"The prisoners themselves will help to deliver the events every week, providing an empowering sense of responsibility and ownership. With more than 670 free, weekly parkruns across the UK, family and friends can also take part in parkrun, providing a unifying interest and shared experience.

"Although there is no one silver bullet that can be deployed in the battle to prevent offending and re-offending behaviour, we feel that parkrun can be a unifying force for good in the desistance from crime and changing lives for the better."

Shane Spencer, a PE supervising officer who has worked in the prison service for more than 20 years, came up with the initial idea and will be the event director of Black Combe parkrun.

He said: “A prison survey revealed that prisoners wanted to add an open-air run to their usual weights routine, so the prospect of starting a parkrun in our prison seemed like an exciting opportunity to deliver something unique to both prisoners and staff. Having volunteered at my local parkrun a few times, I knew how inclusive it really is. There were people of all ages and abilities, including two 70-year-old women who would walk around together.

“HMP Haverigg recently became a smoke-free prison and I want to get more lads involved who don’t really engage with the gym at present to try to encourage a more healthy lifestyle for them. I believe a parkrun would be ideal for this as it is available to all, whatever your fitness level.”

Dave Everett, a PE Governor at HMP Haverigg who is head of reducing reoffending, said: “Our core focus is to promote a culture of reducing re-offending, which involves working to improve the education of prisoners. This is achieved through improving the technical qualifications and work skills that are desired by many employers.

“Key to a prisoner’s prospects of a successful reintegration back into society is their ability to make good lifestyle choices and instil in them a willingness to take personal responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. Parkrun offers a unique opportunity in this regard and is an activity that we are keen to promote.

“Parkrun benefits from being accessible to a wide range of fitness levels. In addition, by doing marshalling and timing duties, it offers prisoners the opportunity to volunteer for roles of responsibilities that are of benefit to their fitness community. Parkrun also contributes to the development of a personalised and structured fitness regime that can be transferred with them through the gate.”

Professor Rosie Meek, best known for her work on the role and impact of sport and physical activity in prison settings and who is currently leading a government review into sport and physical education in Criminal Justice, said: “From my extensive studies, I recognise the immense value of sport and physical exercise in the secure estate. Sport is often the perfect vehicle for engaging the most challenging and complex individuals caught up in a cycle of offending, and providing an alternative social network and access to positive role models. I applaud parkrun UK for this initiative and look forward to hearing of its undoubted success.”

John McAvoy, a convicted armed robber turned sponsored Ironman athlete and a vocal advocate for the use for sport for rehabilitation, added: “I was labelled one of the most dangerous prisoners in the country, so 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? I am delighted to hear of parkrun’s fantastic idea. Physical activity breeds positivity and good habits, and linking it to the community in this way can help offenders change their behaviour for good.”

Quotes from prisoners:

Allan said: “I have recently given up smoking and got into my fitness. I heard about the upcoming parkrun and thought it would be a good target for me to complete the 5k and give me something to aim for.”

Lee said: “I enjoy running and think the opportunity to run in the open air is great. I help with lads who don’t currently come to the gym and a lot have shown an interest in joining parkrun. Even lads who don’t want to run are keen to volunteer, which is great and gets them involved.”

Jack said: “I am a prisoner involved in producing the HMP Haverigg newsletter, which is very focussed on initiatives which involve outside bodies. This now gets distributed throughout Cumbria and I think it would be great to celebrate the fact that we have an official parkrun within the prison.”