How can we get more people with long-term health conditions involved in parkrun? A qualitative study evaluating parkrun's PROVE project

BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2019 Oct 17;11:22. doi: 10.1186/s13102-019-0136-6. eCollection 2019.


Background: People with long-term health conditions face barriers to physical activity and community health interventions despite potential life-changing benefits for self-management of their condition and wellbeing. A weekly mass participation running, walking and volunteering event called parkrun launched a project called PROVE in 2016 to engage people living with long-term health conditions in England. Over the 3 year project, parkrun appointed volunteer Outreach Ambassadors with a specialist interest in the health condition they represented whose role was to ensure parkrun was welcoming, supportive and inclusive. This qualitative study aimed to understand the experience of the PROVE project for people with long-term health conditions.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 PROVE Outreach Ambassadors representing 13 different long-term health conditions in England. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis. Rigour and transparency were sought in addition to utilising independent researchers to offer alternative interpretations of the data.

Results: Data analysis resulted in 4 overarching themes and 13 subthemes. Outreach Ambassadors believed that parkrun was already supportive of people with long-term health conditions, but that the PROVE project enabled the support to be delivered in a more structured way across health conditions and locations. Outreach Ambassadors believed that the PROVE project had the potential to create a welcoming, safe space for people with long-term health conditions to participate as walkers, runners or volunteers. Success of the PROVE project was believed to be dependent on being realistic about the potential to bring about change, challenging people's perceptions of parkrun and engaging with key stakeholders and advocacy groups. Challenges for parkrun were believed to be around communication, demonstrating impact and the project's dependence on volunteers for delivery.

Conclusions: This is the first study of its kind to explore the public health potential of parkrun for people with long-term health conditions. parkrun's PROVE project was regarded to be important for ensuring that people with long-term health conditions can engage in physical activity and volunteering in a safe and supportive environment. The findings have important implications for parkrun, policy makers and physical activity providers looking to deliver inclusive community physical activity opportunities.

Keywords: Disability; Evaluation; Long-term health conditions; Physical activity intervention; Volunteering; parkrun.