By Jean-Marie Bart
Every Sunday morning I go to my local park, Brockwell. Not for taking my dog for a walk or pushing myself for a jog, or even a gentle walk. I have to admit, though; I am an enthusiastic runner. But, on the last morning of the week I go there for a different activity: to volunteer.
You might say that nowadays there is nothing special about volunteering. Everyone seems to be a volunteer at some point; either as a hobby or simply in a boost your CV. In this time of funding cuts, our moral responsibility as citizens seems to make us contribute a lot more to our community.
When I arrive in Brockwell Park, I shake hands with everyone and put on my yellow vest. I already know what I will be doing as I checked online for the various available roles. The event director briefs me of my responsibilities and introduces me to my working partner. Meanwhile, the crowd is already growing. Before long, the event director greets everybody.
After a quick warm-up with their mums or dads, the children line up at the start line. They are about to commence the Brockwell Juniors Park Run, a 2k fun race for children aged four to fourteen. The race course is two laps; it starts on the park’s North-western part and finishes near the lido. Supporter and creator of the event, Ivor Northey, explains that some of the children come from very far away as many other London boroughs are still awaiting their own local junior park runs to fall into the hands of an enthusiastic and motivated team.
The cold weather is far from putting off the young middle distance runners. Averaging seventy children at the runs, it shows that they clearly enjoy their Sunday initiation to physical activity. This is a relief and an antidote to the constant reminders by media of the increasing numbers of children who lack exercise or follow unhealthy diets. This is an event who proposes a weekly intervention to change children’s attitude with exercise and to prove the media wrong.
For those who strongly believe in the importance of exercise for children, here are some facts worth knowing about the Junior Park Run: it is free, it lasts a maximum of three quarter of an hour and you can get to know your local community. To be fair, some of you might say that running is not your cup of tea, or that helping out early on a Sunday morning is far from appealing. Then I would try to remind of your own school days. I remember being a pupil and doing something very well: prize-giving at the end of the academic year; providing the right answer and getting a ‘bon point’, or just keeping my books neat and tidy. I recognised that I was probably doing all this because it felt so good to receive praise. Praise makes such a difference in a child’s life. And, to a certain extent, to adults too.
For some parents, Sunday sport activities can occupy their children for the entire day. Others have to look for more creative ways to motivate their children to exercise. The Junior Park Run could be the answer: the combination of applause, cheers of “well done” and a smile can take a child a long way. Not only does it boost their self esteem, it also creates a positive attitude to sport. The Brockwell Juniors Park Run has become a chance for community members to make a difference in the lives of some children. As adults, we should not underestimate the extent to which our support to help children enjoying exercising can be so influential.
I volunteer because I am a parent. It is part of my children’s education and a way to show them how to relate and be involved with the community. It is also enjoyable to be part of a community event that makes a difference in people’s lives. Personally, I think there is no better way to start a Sunday!