parkrun is a growing movement that organises 5k timed runs for thousands of people every week. I first talked about it in my blog post The volunteering phenomenon of the decade. Since then the numbers have grown, and currently 253,000 people take part in parkruns at 170 locations around the UK.
If you are not familiar with parkrun, this is how it works: Each event will have a Run Director who leads a team of helpers, and these helpers can be runners or local community members. Runners can help as much or as little as they like; there is no obligation to help. Results are published and there are tables of fastest times and numbers of runs. parkrunning is addictive and competitive – not in terms of medals or places as it is not a race – but in terms of how many you have completed. There is a small but growing band of stalwarts who get to wear “250” t-shirts. Some events find it easy to get enough volunteers, others find it harder. Apparently only around 10% of active parkrunners volunteer. Anyone that wants to run just needs to register for parkrun and can turn up and run every week for free.
There has been a debate recently about the right level of recognition and reward for volunteers. Should volunteers get more recognition? Should volunteers not get any reward at all? Should all parkrunners be made to take a turn?
“It is absolutely our belief that volunteering should be done simply for the pleasure of doing it, not because you think you will receive some kind of material reward. ….I firmly believe that we should engage in volunteering because it is something we would love to spend time doing, and not because we will receive material goods in return. That doesn’t mean I don’t think volunteers should be recognised, they’re changing people’s lives every day through their amazing actions.” says UK Country manager, Tom Williams, who deals with the issues surrounding volunteers on a daily basis. parkrun weekly-newsletter-30th-January
Tom adds “They are contributing to the greater good of a healthier society, building communities, bringing friends and families closer together, creating true quality time in a World where that is lacking and building toward a greater good for altruistic reasons. Surely that is reward enough?”
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I believe that volunteering is not at all about “doing good” but instead it’s all about “making things you believe in happen” and enjoying yourself while you do. I think volunteers need to get something for themselves out of what they do. But this something is not a material reward. It is usually satisfaction, camaraderie, or a sense of community. If you are volunteering out of obligation then you won’t do it with good grace, you probably wont enjoy it and you certainly won’t keep doing it.
But despite all this, I had started to think of parkrun as more of a cooperative – that everyone who took part was obliged to take their turn organising, rather than truly volunteering. As a runner, and a Run Director, I had even started to fall into the mindset of feeling that I was “sacrificing my runs in order to volunteer”.
Whatever happened to altruism? I’m pleased to say that Tom has helped me to find it again. I enjoy my runs, but on my Run Director days I am happy to get cold fingers and toes and a warm feeling inside.