10 April 2017, 4:05 p.m.
The Big Half joins a family of endurance events under the London Marathon Events Ltd banner. As such it will contribute to helping the company continue to fund projects across the capital that encourage inactive segments of communities discover and enjoy health and fitness-related activities.
One such initiative is Our Parks, whose founder Born Barikor has a special affinity with The Big Half’s big brother, the Virgin Money London Marathon. Barikor grew up on the Marathon route in Narrow Street. Year after year he stood handing out water to the thankful masses who poured past his front door every April.
For the 34-year-old Born, it set him on a path that took him on to athletics and then a career as a community development officer for a local authority leisure provider.
It was here he sensed a chance to help people.
“As a community development officer it was my job to get people to exercise and charge them a fee. But even I couldn’t actually afford to go to the gym I was working for at the time.
“If the guy who is passionate about getting other people into exercise doesn’t have the money to pay for the gym he’s trying to get them to use, something’s wrong.
“How can we then justify trying to get disadvantaged communities who are overweight to spend their money there?
“I felt that everyone needed to have access to affordable, high quality exercise in outdoor spaces – it’s the most obvious thing to do in London because you’re never more than a mile away from a park. We already had space and we already had the need.”
And that’s where the idea for Our Parks was conceived – a London-based initiative to provide accessible, affordable fitness opportunities to people across the city, in parks local to them.
One such park is Ropemakers Field in Tower Hamlets – just off Narrow Street – where funding for sessions has been provided by London Marathon Events Ltd.
Ropemakers is one of 200 venues across the city now, serving and 40,000 ‘Parkers’.
“We made a pact to say anything we do deliver has to be fun,” says Born. “Then we went down the route of finding fun coaches – not just recruiting them based on their qualifications but holding auditions, and if they passed their audition they had some social media training – which goes back to that first lady who turned up. In my eyes, now, every session we run, if the photo isn’t taken and shared it hasn’t worked. Once you share it, it’s open to their friends and their friends’ friends.”
From general back-to-exercise sessions to yoga, hula hooping and more, the types of classes offered in Our Parks locations are based on what the users want and enjoy.
Ropemakers, though, holds a special significance for Born.
“That’s where I used to play as a kid. The fact we’re delivering fitness in that park is amazing. There are lots of affluent houses on the river, then all the estates further back. I remember feeling that divide.
“Now we’re delivering there and it’s an opportunity to bring the community together, so whether they live in the council estate or in the nice riverside apartments, they’re coming together to talk.
“That’s the chance I never got as a kid, to integrate with different social classes. That’s what Our Parks is trying to achieve – to show there aren’t any barriers, everyone can socialize and social mobility can be what you want it to be.”
In Ropemakers, a high proportion of ‘Parkers’ are women, and, crucially for Born, over 70 per cent of those who joined were classed as inactive – doing less than one 30 minute session of exercise per week.
With sessions taking place seven days a week in its different locations, the frequency in each park is based on hours funded by the individual boroughs.
And with the need for funding in mind, the support from London Marathon Events has also allowed Our Parks to develop a new App that will eventually include a payment function.
“After two years the aim is to make it sustainable through a minimum fee that the Parkers will pay,” says Born, who would ideally like Our Parks to be free forever, but recognises the reality of keeping such a large programme going.
“The most annoying thing is when you get 1,000 people fit and the council says ‘we can’t continue any more’. So we have to make it sustainable through a small charge of £4.99 a month and that will allow people to access their sessions – whether it’s nine or two a week. We want to keep it really cost effective and affordable.”
Now with a core team of six and 250 coaches delivering sessions across London, the next aim is to have 100,000 people ‘parking’ every 30 days across the capital and to expand beyond London, says Born. “We’re already in Cambridge and Peterborough an are starting in Stafford. The idea is that across the UK, everyone should have access to affordable exercise one hour a week, whether that’s free or £4.99 or – as long as it’s affordable.”