Heather was instrumental in taking the event to North Tyneside and is the driving force behind it's continuing success.
HG: I’d been to the Newcastle parkrun in October 2011 and there was just such a sense of community I was hooked straight away. I’ve lived on the coast for 15 years and ran with local club North Shields Poly for 10 and just knew from that day we had to have a parkrun in Whitley Bay. Newcastle’s do-able but it’s quite a hike out for 9am on a Saturday morning so I started to look into how to set one up here.
It’s not easy but helps if you’ve got a crack team behind it. Here at Whitley Bay we have Colin Winter who does the IT, Viv Stapley who is our chief fundraiser and Clare Swift who manages our relationships with the local police and councils as core roles but we interchange. Clare and Colin I met through NSP but Viv is a Sunderland Stroller – we don’t think of Whitley Bay as belonging to a club, it belongs to the local community.
Viv was instrumental in sorting out the funds needed – she’s worked in fundraising before so we knew she’d do great job and managed to source the £3k needed from RW Mann, William Leech, Sir James Knott Charitable Trust and North of Tyne PCT. Parkrun then gave us the other £3k for set up costs and we were able to buy the equipment needed.
NERunner: So was it all a smooth ride then – October 2011 until now seems quite a long time ...
HG: No, it wasn’t quite a smooth ride and we did have some persuading to do with the Council – that’s pretty well known. But it was worth the perseverance and the Council are now well behind the run supporting it with their running groups Run North Tyneside and Sport North Tyneside.
In fact it’s proven to be so good for the local community that North Tyneside Council are really keen to see another parkrun in Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend. Richardson Dees is undergoing a total refurbishment following a £7.2m investment (more here at the Chronicle ). It’d be great to get more people to benefit from the work in Wallsend but a request for a parkrun must come from someone in the local community, so if anyone out there in Wallsend fancies taking up the challenge and starting up a run around the new facilities then I’m sure Council would support them!
NERunner : Has it lived up to expectation?
HG: Absolutely! There’s a great sense of community down at Whitley Bay which is great because we just want to help local people do a local run. You do become quite well known in the area mind – Ill get stopped on the high street or in Sainsbury’s – which is a bit odd sometimes when you’re not in running kit, but it’s great! And even at the Great North Run this year – amongst the 1000s of runners there were shouts of “Eee there’s the parkrun ladies!” to me Viv and Clare, brilliant!
It’s an absolutely delight to do this, there’s such a feel good factor that goes with it every time you see those new runners out and the sense of achievement from everyone at the end and the kids giving it their all – even better. We’ve had a young boy running ours a few times now, first time out he was clearly nervous and not the most natural of runners but we cheered him off at the start and off he went ... 200m from the finish he stopped and sat down, exhausted, but the marshals got behind him and literally carried him through to the finish with the encouragement and he did it and has been back loads since – that’s why we do it!
We even had a GCSE class come down one week who’d been given the task of running it as their homework! We’re not sure if any came back but it was great to have them come down anyway and join in our event – you just never know what’s gonna happen down here – every week really is different.
You get to know so many people too – when I do the barcoding instead of just scanning Ill sneak a peek for names – people are amazed when you say “well done John” instead of just scanning their barcode and letting them past – I like the scanning job for that alone, it adds a personal touch which people seem to like.
NERunner: What’s next then for Whitley Bay parkrun, anything planned to keep the numbers growing?
HG: We’re not pushing it heavily, as we’re seeing a lot of natural growth already and it’s a nice size, particularly for newcomers. What we do now with the Twitter and Facebook and weekly report works well.
We are hoping to get the course measured and recognised as we know that’s important for club runners.
We’re also constantly on the lookout for more volunteers – parkrun do suggest that as a runner you volunteer at a minimum of 3 events a year – if our runners did that we’d have no problems but now and again it is a bit frantic in the last few days in the run up trying to gather people – that’s why FaceBook and Twitter are so good to have. The run really genuinely can’t go ahead without volunteers.
We usually do have enough though, so I do get to run occasionally – every 6 weeks or so I’d say.
HG: No – and none for putting out 1k markers either. It’s just for fun and we’d like to keep it that way – people can obviously choose to use it as a time trial, but that’s their choice and for the most of our runners it’s not competitive – it’s a run with friends.
NERunner: Anything else on the cards?
HG: A naked parkrun
HG: Yes. Naked parkrun – no heartrate monitors, no headphones, no Garmins, no watches and at the end you have to tell us your best guess at your time – we might even give a prize out for the closest! But it’s just about maybe seeing what you’d do if you basically just went out and ran. It won’t be mandatory of course – it’s just a bit of fun to keep it fresh.
NERunner: Any other final bits of advice for anyone thinking of starting up a parkrun?
HG: Just do it! Seriously, just get your team together and do it. Everyone who’s involved in it loves it. Even my mother – she’s 72 and has absolutely no intention of running but she volunteers anyway as she just likes to be involved.
It is cheesy but “it’s not a race, it’s a run with friends.”
North East Runner would like to thank Heather and her team for their time – Whitley Bay really is a great event for newcomers and old hats alike – with an interesting course and a truly none competitive or pressurised atmosphere and we can recommend the butties at the Boardwalk afterwards too – remember your barcode for your 10% discount – all part of the parkrun fun!