2012 and the magic of the London Olympics ‘crystallised’ a phenomenon that had been bubbling for a number of years – the role of volunteers in modern sport. Of course, all kinds of sporting activities have been made possible for many years by people offering their time and supporting clubs, events, organisations etc. But today volunteering seems to have captured the public’s imagination and is achieving great things especially in running.
The growth of the ‘mega’ running events started with London Marathon and the Great North Run and has gathered pace over the last decade with Edinburgh Marathon Festival, Brighton Marathon, the Great Manchester Run and many others. Much of the success of big running events is down to the contribution of volunteers who marshal along the route, man the drinks stations, hand out goody bags at the end and generally ‘roar their heads off’ in support of participants. There’s often a charity angle here so volunteers are making events possible and assisting their favourite good cause at the same time.
There is another event at the opposite end of the running scale which has made an even greater impact than the ‘marquee’ events that we know so well from TV coverage, and that is parkrun. parkrun is the quintessential volunteer led initiative. Who would have thought 10 years ago when the first run was held in Bushy Park that in 2015 there would be 350 locations across the UK staging parkruns with average attendances of 150 plus every Saturday? 50–60,000 people running 5k each week for free. And all on the back of some inspired leadership, clever organisation and, most significantly, a huge volunteer effort.
The 2012 effect carried on in Glasgow in 2014 where ‘Clydesiders’ were a big part of the success of the Commonwealth Games, once again highlighting the importance of volunteers but also the benefits to volunteers themselves of getting involved. No one talks any more of ‘giving up’ their time or making ‘sacrifices’ because there is growing realisation that volunteering comes with a load of pluses. It’s something you do because you want to so that’s a good starting point. And research has shown that volunteers feel happier, healthier and closer to their community. There is a huge ‘feel good’ factor and as well as it being really worthwhile helping others to get active and enjoy fitness, it’s just simply great fun.
Volunteering can provide many opportunities and varied benefits. It can help you to develop skills - hundreds of people have graduated from RunEngland and jogscotland’s leadership courses and gone on to organise groups while higher level coaching qualifications are a route to working with young and promising athletes and enjoying the sense of satisfaction as they progress.
Beyond coaching - events, clubs and groups need a whole range of skills - admin, computing, marketing, fundraising etc to make them function effectively. So lots of opportunities to bring your own particular skill set to the party. And a chance to get the kind of experience that looks good on your CV and will improve your job prospects.
Helping to make community-based initiatives happen creates a terrific ‘espirit de corps’ and almost invariably means new friendships and a more positive view of life. Great for developing potential and also for good mental well-being. One of the case studies highlighted by Join-In, the 2012 legacy project that promotes the value of volunteering and brings together volunteers and opportunities to contribute, is the Highgate Harriers Night Of The 10K PBs. Here Ben Pochee has harnessed the energy and enthusiasm of his club and local community to create a unique evening that celebrates the iconic 10k distance from junior to elite level and provides a great spectator occasion.
The success of the various strands of the world of volunteering – global and national events, local clubs and groups, and parkrun – has been reinforced by high profile endorsements. Eddie Izzard is a powerful advocate for all things volunteering (and patron of Join In) while Dave Moorcroft, former 5,000m world record holder is director of sport at Join In. Big name backing reflects the realisation of the enormous potential of volunteering to make a very serious impact in areas like health and fitness, community action, and personal and skills development.
It seems like such a small thing – ‘I’ll head along to parkrun on Saturday and help out for an hour’ or ‘count me in for water station duties at Brighton’ – but its ripples spread far and wide and end up changing the lives of our communities and our own lives quite dramatically. And did we mention it’s great fun too?