It’s ten years since parkrun first appeared in Beeston. Whilst runners and walkers celebrated on 1 April, we spoke to some of those most involved in its success.
Mark Hodgkinson, the driving force behind Cross Flatts parkrun, dates its origins to a football injury that led him to take up running. Mates took him to Woodhouse Moor parkrun, the first event outside London, and he saw the potential for an event in Beeston.
parkrun is now a global phenomenon. It’s a free, weekly, measured, timed, 5km run, jog or walk staffed by volunteers. The simplicity of the model has got people in their millions to give it ago with many taking up running as a result.
In its ten years Cross Flatts parkrun has seen 440 events – it only stops for icy weather, Beeston Festival and the Covid lockdown. 7,403 people have completed the course and 584 people have volunteered to help make it happen.
Mark says it was stretch to get started, finding enough people to make up the core team and raise the funds to get started.
“Our first event was set for Saturday 23 March 2013, but it snowed heavily the night before and we had to cancel which was gutting” he says.
It did start the following week and soon settled down to 30-40 runners a week. It’s since grown to 100-150.
“One week we were really short of volunteers so I asked Sue (Richardson), who was a good friend of ours and lived really close to the park, if she would come and help us” Mark explained.
“She said she would but that she would never ever run it – she’s been there nearly every week since and has run 320 parkruns at Cross Flatts – she is amazing and remains one of my highlights of the whole thing. She has since taken on sorting out all the volunteers and doing the results each week and basically makes everything work.”
Sue’s not the only long standing volunteer. Cross Flatts parkrun seems to attract people who then want to contribute to its ongoing success. Mark picks out Phil Hodgson and Jeni Sword-Williams, Jane Ramsey, Alan and Viv Swithenbank, Brian Hilton, Ian Pickles and Hannah Marshall.
“For me it is the community spirit of the Cross Flatts parkrun that kept me coming back and then becoming involved as the report writer each week. Seeing so many people come together each week and the smiles from everyone each time are fantastic.
“We have a reputation for putting on a good party, whether for our birthdays, Christmas or parkrunner milestone celebrations. Fancy dress is very much encouraged with people feeling comfortable to join in. It is the turning up and taking part that is celebrated.”
“In the first couple of years someone said to me, ‘I’ve lived in Beeston for 40 years but I’ve made more friends since coming to parkrun in just a few months.’
“It’s all about the relationships and the community for me (and the running and fitness and physical health benefits are a massive bonus). It’s genuinely one of the best community initiatives I have been involved in and it feels like it is developing a real legacy in our community.”
Part of that legacy has been the running boom in South Leeds which went to a further level in 2015 when a few Cross Flatts regulars got together to form the South Leeds Lakers. The Lakers have gone from strength to strength in the last year 8 years becoming affiliated to England Athletics, hosting races and forming a highly successful junior section. A number of Lakers then went on to form the equally successful Morley Running Club, the butterfly effect. It was great to see members from both clubs at the birthday celebration.
Phil Hodgson, one the founders of the Lakers said:
“Before parkrun it was a novelty to see anyone running round the streets of Beeston. Now it’s the norm. People who didn’t consider themselves “sporty” have taken to running and achieved personal goals they never thought attainable. Long may it continue.”
Cross Flatts parkrun takes place every Saturday morning starting at 9am near the bowling greens. Register for your barcode before your come at www.parkrun.org.uk. Everyone is welcome.
Photo: Mark Hodgkinson briefs the runners and walkers before the tenth anniversary Cross Flatts parkrun
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