The health benefits of volunteering at a free, weekly, 5 km event in the UK: a cross- sectional study of volunteers at parkrun


Objectives The objective of this study was to investigate the impact of volunteering at parkrun and the motives for first participating as a volunteer, compared to those who do not volunteer. Methods A cross-sectional survey was emailed to parkrun registrants, resulting in 60,680 survey returns from parkrun participants who self-identified as volunteers (n=681), runners/walkers who volunteered (n=21,928) or runners/walkers who did not volunteer (38,071). Surveys were matched to respondents’ parkrun registration information (gender, age, index of multiple deprivation score, activity level at registration) and parkrun statistics (years registered, number of volunteering occasions, number of runs or walks). This study focussed on two survey questions: motives for first participating in parkrun as a volunteer (26 measures) or runner/walker (11 measures) and the perceived health and wellbeing impact from volunteering (17 measures) or running/walking (11 measures) at parkrun. Groups were compared using Mann Witney U, χ2 tests and effect size calculations. Results More than half of volunteers were female and were predominantly from a white ethnic background. Compared to runners/walkers who volunteered, those who volunteered exclusively were older, more likely to be retired and more likely to be inactive at registration. Volunteers were motivated by wanting to give something back to the community (45.8%), to feel part of a community (26.1%), to help people (24.5%) or because they were unable to run (21.1%). Runners/walkers who volunteered were more likely to volunteer because they felt obliged to (49.3%). A large proportion of volunteers reported improvements to connections with others such as feeling part of a community (83.5%), the number of new people met (85.2%) and time spent with friends (45.2%). While mental and physical health were ranked low as a motive for participating in parkrun by volunteers (4.7% and 2.7% respectively), 54.5 and 29.3% of volunteers respectively reported improvements. Conclusions Volunteers were much less likely than runners/walkers who also volunteer to be motivated by a feeling of obligation or moral duty, but equally likely to volunteer to help people or feel part of a community. Large proportions of parkrun participants identifying exclusively as volunteers reported improvements to connections with others due to volunteering at parkrun. While improving mental and physical health was ranked low as a motive for volunteers, over half reported improvements due to volunteering at parkrun to mental health, and a quarter to physical health. The data shows that volunteering at parkrun without participating as a runner or walker can deliver some of the components of the Five Ways to Wellbeing advocated by the NHS. The characteristics of parkrun (free, regular, local, accessible and optional) make it a viable social prescribing offer that can be used as a model for other community events seeking to attract volunteers.

Keywords: volunteering; community event; health; social capital; social prescribing,; Five Ways to Wellbeing
Academic units: Faculty of Health and Wellbeing (HWB) > Research Centres > Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC)
Faculty of Health and Wellbeing (HWB) > Research Centres > Centre for Sports Engineering Research (CSER)
Funder NameGrant NumberFunder ID
Sheffield Hallam UniversityUNSPECIFIED
Copyright Holders: Sheffield Hallam University
Publisher of the data: SHU Research Data Archive (SHURDA)
Publication date: 1 December 2021
Data last accessed: 7 March 2024


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