How parkrun is building a community through stories

Cropping up in parks all over the world are groups of people that make up the parkrun community. parkrun is an organisation that holds weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are free, friendly, open to anyone and joined by more than 2.5 million participants – including me. parkrun is now the world’s largest […]

Cropping up in parks all over the world are groups of people that make up the parkrun community. parkrun is an organisation that holds weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are free, friendly, open to anyone and joined by more than 2.5 million participants – including me. parkrun is now the world’s largest running event, and how did it get there? I think it’s through stand-out storytelling, creating a global community of parkrun runners, ambassadors and volunteers.

So what can charities learn from how parkrun is harnessing storytelling?

User-generated content
User-generated content (UGC) is a really effective way of gathering stories from your ambassadors, helping to demonstrate your impact, and reach larger audiences of potential volunteers and supporters. parkrun is brilliant at motivating its supporters both on and off the track. They crowdsource content from their runners including powerful blogs, quotes, photos and videos. They have a dedicated website to publish regular blogs from participants and volunteers that share their experiences of running, encouraging others to join in. Read Dawn Nisbet’s blog that she wrote after her parkrun photo went viral last year, describing the impact the parkrun community has had on her happiness.

Themed photography
Each week parkrun create a new theme and encourage their followers to dress up under that theme and snap and share a photo. This is a great way of tying the communications around the runs into topical events and awareness days. Themes have included Christmas, ‘bring your parent to parkrun’ and Where’s Wally?, to name a few. It also means the call-out for content remains fresh and interesting, meaning people can engage with the ask week-on-week. Take a look at the Northala Fields parkrun celebrating Chinese New Year and Valentines.

Email encouragement
On the Friday before the Saturday and Sunday runs subscribers get a motivational email in their inbox, acting as a reminder but also sharing stories, news, articles on the benefits of participating, competitions and putting a spotlight on a different parkrun location each week. These emails give an extra opportunity for people to get involved; sharing stories of the week and putting a call-out for more anecdotes and photos for Facebook and Twitter. And if you miss a few weeks, you receive an email to let you know you’ve been missed, keeping it feeling personal.

Engage, don’t broadcast
If you want to grow your community through social media its vital that your using your channels to engage and interact with people, rather than broadcast. parkrun harness their Twitter and Facebook channels not to broadcast information but to interact with their followers. They have regular conversations with parkrunners around the world. Keeping this personal element to their social media makes their communications feel a lot more authentic, and their community feels valued. The #Loveparkrun hashtag bring together all of their communities.


Play to your platforms
parkrun are across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Each channel harnesses storytelling in a different way. On Instagram they share photographs on-location at parkruns with quotes from their runners. Twitter is all about gathering UGC and talking to their supporters. Through their Facebook page they share news, offers, stories and have dedicated pages for each parkrun city – maintaining the local feel to each run. They also harness Facebook Groups, which is a great way to nurture communities, allowing participants to post questions, share experiences and connect with each other. The main Parkrun discussion group on Facebook has over 20,000 members. What remains consistent across all their platforms is the celebration of their participants and volunteers. This is key to their organisation’s storytelling.

while the numbers are impressive, it’s the friendships, the life-changing stories and the positivity that I have always seen as the true measure of our success.” Paul Sinton-Hewitt, parkrun founder

So if you’re working for a charity and in need of storytelling inspiration; take a look at what they are doing and sign up for your local parkrun.

p.s. A special thank you to all the Ally Pally runners for supporting me on my Parkrun journey, and find your local Parkrun here.

Jude Habib

A version of this blog was first published on the JustGiving blog on the 9 April 2018. 

Be kept in the loop, don't miss out on our latest news

%d bloggers like this: