Wimpole National Trust and parkrun - CEO visit


Chris Jones and England Athletics club elected Board member Neil Costello pulled on their running shoes and headed for the Wimpole Estate to find out more about how the National Trust are working with parkrun and local clubs.

After running around the parkrun held in the grounds of Wimpole Hall they sat down with John Harris, who is the National Trust’s Sport Development Officer at the property, and David Irwin who, as well as being a member of local club Riverside Runners, is a parkrun ambassador.

John explained the work the National Trust are doing at Wimpole. The National Trust Sport Development Programme is a partnership between the National Trust and Sport England. Across the country, the National Trust have 12 people in similar roles to John. As well as having marked routes at a number of their properties they are also developing other activities which see them working in partnership with other members of the local sporting community.  John said, "Our aim is to get people from the couch and into the habit of doing exercise regularly. We are very much activity and events focussed, which includes having an annual calender of outdoor and sporting activities here at Wimpole for everyone to try.  We have a Family Games Weekend in June which includes Athletics on Fathers’ Day (19th June) in conjunction with Cambridge and Coleridge AC.  Other local sports clubs are also involved in the weekend.  The event includes canoeing, orienteering, bowls, cricket, yoga, cycling, rounders, Tai Chi, and Tennis."

Wimpole hosts an Introduction to Running Group that is held on Thursdays and has seen new people brought into running. John explained, "We advertise it through our close links with Living Sport [the Cambridgeshire County Sports Partnership], and the local School Sports Partnership who get the word out through parent mail."

The Introduction to Running group members build up to a parkrun or a Night Run at the end of the 10 session course with around 16 people attending each week on the latest course.  The Night Runs see around 400 participants and another activity held at the estate was the South Cambridgeshire Schools' Cross Country which saw 600 children in action last December. Wimpole also has a marked Run England 3-2-1 route. Most of the running activities are free to National Trust members with non-members simply paying the £2 parking charge.

Running at Wimpole Hall parkland

Wimpole has 3000 acres of grounds and John believes the parkrun held each Saturday is a great way of people getting to appreciate the full estate. “We want people to enjoy the magnificence of Wimpole and the parkrun does that. People come back, again and again and experience everything that Wimpole has to offer and not just the sporting events.”

The Wimpole parkrun is run with the normal parkrun volunteer set up. There are two routes used at Wimpole, one through the winter months and one in the summer. John said, “There is a real sense of community spirit amongst the parkrun volunteers and runners. We were going to be on the winter course this weekend until yesterday when we found that a tree had fallen down. The Run Director put out a call on Facebook for extra marshals and the running community pulled together providing the extra marshals enabling the parkrun to take place at short notice.

“We probably get 100 people coming into the Old Rectory Restaurant for coffee and cake after the run. It is a bit like the cycling café culture.  A lot of the runners are National Trust members. Additional experiences for running visitors include a working farm, with lambing taking place in the next few weeks. Runners bring their families back for lambing and other Wimpole events such as the recent Easter Egg hunt, which saw many junior parkrunners stay on and take part in the Easter offering.
As well as being a club member and parkrun ambassador David is also a GP and has seen the wider benefit parkruns can bring alongside resources such as the NHS’s Couch to 5K and events such as Race for Life. He said, “They all mean more people, particularly women, are coming into running.

Volunteer at funnel at Wimpole Hall

“As a GP I find I have to encourage people to do more exercise. I’ll often say go along to a parkrun and, first of all, just watch. They find there are people at the back walking, or walking and jogging and that changes their perception. It encourages them to participate, once they have seen the ethos of catering for everyone whether they are walking, jogging or sprinting off at the front.  The coffee afterwards is as important as running around.”

Drinking coffee and eating bacon rolls in the café surrounded by other runners it was clear that this is true. The café was full of a range of people sat together in groups with many wearing the kit of local clubs. David said the nature of parkrun means people who are away at weekends will look up the nearest event and head along as they know what to expect, it gives them their run and an instant connection with the local running community.

Neil commented, “It is easy for those of us who have been runners or involved in the sport for most of our lives to not realise how hard it is to get started, and how intimidating it can be.”

Since the Wimpole parkrun started in 2013 it has grown from weekly average participation of just under 150 to 250 this year.

Running at Wimpole Hall parkland

Chris commented, “We know the value of the work done by partners such as the National Trust and the parkrun volunteers across the country in bringing people into the sport and giving runners opportunities to enjoy a wide range of activities. But it is a pleasure to look beyond the numbers, be part of an event and meet up with the people who make the activities happen.

“The enthusiasm and expertise people such as John, David and the Wimpole parkrun volunteers have are fundamental to the sport. Seeing so many people enjoying running around the beautiful grounds at Wimpole, with many staying around to relax in the café afterwards was a great reminder of what our sport can offer people. Hearing about the other activities John has organised, such as the running groups, and the work David and parkrun do locally is very encouraging.

“Seeing the kit worn by many people and hearing about their experiences highlighted how many people from our member clubs are enjoying the activities they put on and how these activities can also bring new people into these clubs.”

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