Claire Solliss and Jenette Whitfield, co-directors of Chichester junior parkrun
We parents have all been there: Sunday mornings when the children wake so early that 9am feels like lunchtime and you’ve seen so much of Peppa Pig that you could cheerfully turn him into a ham sandwich. Happily, Claire and Jenette are part of a team that offers an alternative – one that’s healthy and screen-free for the children and, rather wonderfully, includes coffee for the grown-ups.
Every Sunday morning the pair and their children head for Chichester’s Priory Park, where at 9am junior parkrun sees a happy throng of young runners aged 4 - 14 embark on two timed laps (2k) of the historic park.
“It’s free of charge, everyone is welcome, whatever your pace, and we usually have a post-run coffee at Fenwicks café,” said Claire. “It is only for juniors, but there is an adult parkrun that takes place on Saturdays.”
Started thirteen years ago in London’s Bushy Park with the aim of providing a volunteer-led weekly run that was free, inclusive and fun, the simple concept spread fast. Now an international movement, parkrun and junior parkrun boast millions of weekly participants.
Initially taking up running with Chichester Runners as a means of toning up and clearing their heads after having children, the two ladies were approached by a representative from parkrun asking if they would take on the set-up of Chichester’s junior version. They didn’t need asking twice.
“I think we felt quite passionate about it because we wanted something that was fun and free that our kids could get involved in. My son enjoys running and my daughter loves the volunteering aspect. It doesn’t tie people up in the evenings and by 9.30am you’ve done it and can get on with your day. Fresh air, getting moving, being part of something that you don’t have to come ‘first’ at – there’s lots of advantages to parkrun,” said Jenette who is running the London Marathon with her husband next year.
“Children can run, hop, skip or walk it,” added Claire. “Some of the little girls run in their fairy dresses. It is about making running fun.”
But, she pointed out; they need volunteer marshals and people to take on other posts in order to ensure everybody’s safety and wellbeing.
“We get whole families volunteering each week, so it is very social. We have a great relationship with Fenwicks café, and Chichester District Council, Chichester Runners and the Friends of Priory Park have all been so supportive. It’s lovely that the park can be used this way.”
Nodding in agreement, Jenette added: “The general attendance is about eighty and we’ve never dropped below sixty. There is nothing like seeing the faces of the little ones who take twenty minutes to do their two laps and who have the biggest grins and who get the biggest cheers at the finish line.”
Right, kids: on your marks, get set, GO!
Register in advance of your first run. More details: www.parkrun.org.uk/chichester-juniors or find Chichester junior parkrun on facebook