A celebration on the promenade at Morecambe brought together a host of sporting celebrities on the third anniversary of the town’s parkrun. But the event was about much more than running, or sport, as the community came together to raise awareness of mental health issues and inclusivity.
At the heart of the celebration was the unveiling of a plaque, embedded into the promenade, by the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. Begun back in 2004 when 13 people ran 5k round Bushy Park in London, parkrun now has more than seven million people signed up worldwide, operates in 22 countries, and is still free, for everyone and anyone to walk, jog or run, every Saturday morning.
Visitors included Graham Hicks, the former world champion strongman who hails from Morecambe (and ran the route with one of his daughters on his shoulders), members of the Morecambe Ladies and Girls football club, Morecambe and Lancaster Open Water Swimmers, and Morecambe Community Runners.
This group, established by Stuart Nevin to encourage people suffering from addiction, depression, physical and emotional stresses to get into running as a form of exercise, with the aim of giving people space and support to “clear their heads and connect with others”, won the 2021 North West Community of the year award for supporting people to improve their mental health through running.
Playing a key role on the sidelines was the local Bay Medical Group who are working with parkrun to promote physical activity as an antidote to many health problems and issues, and whose GPs are actually prescribing parkrun in some instances instead of medication. They also contributed to the cost of the plaque. Also there were representatives from the Samaritans, and Alzherimers Research UK.
The event – and the commissioning of the plaque – was organised by David Hewitt, one of the core volunteer team at Morecambe Prom parkrun, who has a background in many different sports.
He said: “We are very proud of our town and the sporting celebrities who have come from here, and we are thrilled with the way that our own parkrun here has become so popular in the last three years.
“But we know that parkrun has become much more to so many people than just a sporting event. There are those who say it has changed their lives, even saved their lives. And that applies to the volunteers as well as the particpants.”
Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who was running the Morecambe event for the first time with his wife Joanne, had no grand, all-encompassing plan to create a global phenomenon. “I simply invited some of my friends to the park because I was injured, and lonely. I was solving a problem for myself.”
But what began as an excuse to be with his friends, became something with worldwide impact. “I had a need to be active, outdoors and social. What I didn’t know was so that so did everybody else. parkrun brings people together in a way too often overlooked by modern society, in a way that empowers the most wonderful aspects of the human spirit.
“It offers everyone the opportunity to be involved in something positive that is constructive and joyful, to be part of their community, and to contribute to the health and happiness of their fellow humans.” Paul was awarded the Albert Medal by the Royal Society of Arts for building a global participation movement.
“We wanted to find a permanent way to celebrate sporting achievement at any level, and we couldn’t think of a better time to do so than on a Saturday morning when parkrun is enjoyed by so many people here,” said David Hewitt.
Most of the funding for the plaque – and a smaller one at the turn-around point of the parkrun route – came from Morecambe BID, along with David Hewitt, Debra Bunting, and Graeme Moorby, as well as the Bay Medical Group.