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The Brenda Shawshank Redemption: a parkrun inside the walls of a prison!
Brenda trying to get into Magilligan Prison!
Brenda trying to get into Magilligan Prison!
Brenda with Tim and Morgan!
Brenda with Tim and Morgan!

On International Parkrun Day and World Mental Health Week 2018, Stranmillis Early Childhood Studies lecturer Dr Brenda McKay-Redmond was very privileged to be asked to be a visiting parkrunner to Lower Drummans Parkrun, which is inside the walls of a prison! 

The first ever Lower Drummans parkrun took place at Magilligan on the 6th January 2018 and continues every Saturday morning with prisoners and staff taking part. The official name does not include the word ‘prison; instead it is known as Lower Drummans Parkrun after the townland in which it stands.

Brenda has now completed all 28 parkruns in Northern Ireland!  Brenda said: “After having completed my challenge of 21 parkruns for the Early Childhood Studies Degree 21st Anniversary Celebrations I was inspired to continue the journey to complete all 28 in N.I. That amazing journey has ended with a parkrun inside the perimeter walls of a prison. I would never have imagined that my last parkrun in N.I. would have been with inmates and staff at a medium security prison which is embracing the parkrun fitness phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. Parkrun definitely involves the ethos of inclusivity.”

As Chrissie Wellington, Global Head of Health and Wellbeing has said, “Parkrun’s mission is to help create a healthier and happier planet, and to do this our events need to be accessible to as many people as possible, including people who do not otherwise participate in parkrun.  This is the case for HMP sites and parkrunning within prisons will provide regular physical exercise and volunteering opportunities for prisoners, building hope and aspirations, recognising and celebrating people’s strengths and progress, promoting skill development and fostering agency and empowerment.”

It is thought that parkrun can be a unifying force for good in the desisting from crime and changing lives for the better.  Allowing inmates to take part can reduce reoffending and help people better reintegrate post-release.  The staff register the prisoners, print off personal barcodes, process results and manage the website.  Inmates do not include their surnames, and emails about the results are sent to family members.  Matt Shields, Parkrun Ireland’s Lead Ambassador has said: “Lower Drummans parkrun is blazing a trail in Northern Ireland by demonstrating the positive and significant impact that parkrun can have for both prisoners and staff.” 

New research by Morris and Scott (2018), has found that the impact of parkrunning on mental health extends far beyond physical activity and has the potential to support people outside the traditional mental health services. Participants in the study reported that parkrun gives them a sense of identity – being part of the ‘parkrun community’ and increasing confidence.  It also helps to reduce isolation, depression, anxiety and stress, and gives participants space to think.  Volunteering opportunities at parkrun events increase inclusivity as people who do not want to, or are unable to, run or walk can participate by volunteering.  The flexibility of parkrun – which can be for whatever purpose an individual chooses, means goals include simply attending, getting faster, visiting different parkrun events and regular participation.  In addition to achieving at a parkrun, it is about a sense of self confidence to achieve in other areas of life. 

When parkrun was established 14 years ago on what has now become known as International Parkrun Day, its founder Paul Swinton – Hewitt successfully created what is now a parkrun community of 5 million registered park runners in 22 countries worldwide.  Parkrun is having a tangible impact as it is the largest free physical activity and the largest provider of volunteering opportunities on the planet. It is the leading light in breaking down barriers to participation, combating inactivity, fostering diversity and promoting inclusion.  Parkrun is a community of equals, whose friendships, community cohesion and personal empowerment are just some of the reasons why participation in parkrun can lead to improved mental and physical health.

Just 21 more countries to run in now, Brenda!

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