Find out where Gloucestershire's 'unicorn' parkrun is held every week — just don't expect to get a place

Have you ever heard of the 'unicorn' parkrun which takes place near Wotton-under-Edge every Saturday? Despite requests from parkrun tourists across the UK, entry to this particular event is strictly controlled...

By James Fyrne  |  Published
Gloucestershire's 'unicorn' parkrun takes place in an unlikely location each week...

While some 1,225 parkrun events take place across the UK every weekend — and budding participants are always sure of a warm welcome — there is one Gloucestershire parkrun where spaces are strictly controlled, despite plenty of interest from those keen to add the Wotton-under-Edge event to their parkrun bucket list.

And that's because this particular parkrun takes places behind the walls of HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire, which is one of 21 prisons in England and Wales to regularly host the parkruns as part of the national initiative.

Statistics reveal that, in fact, around 20,000 prisoners and staff from across the country enjoy taking part in prison parkruns each year, with research pointing towards the social, physical and psychological benefits of doing so — helping to boost mental health and reduce reoffending.

First introduced at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria in 2017, His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and parkrun are working together to support custodial events and increase the number of prisons able to host them.

Specially trained prison officers supervise and organise the weekly runs, with help from prisoners. Instead of scanning participants’ barcodes with a smartphone like most parkruns, prison times are recorded with a stopwatch and manually uploaded, with prisoners running under a pseudonym.

Gareth Segelov is a physical education instructor at HMP Leyhill who helps organise and supervise the weekly 'unicorn' prison parkrun.

Parkrun ‘tourists’ — keen runners who try and tick off as many venues as they can — often ask if they can enter a prison parkrun, but for obvious reasons are not allowed.

'We get requests from loads of people who go round the country and try and tick them off, but these are different — unicorn parkruns', said Gareth Segelov, a physical education instructor at HMP Leyhill.

'We had funding to put up a permanent track, which is perfect now. It’s a gravel path which works really well for parkrun as it doesn’t get boggy in bad weather. The guys do six-and-a-half laps of the path, which is 5km. The prisoners are constantly trying to stay under a certain time.

'The best part of my job is helping prisoners focus and achieve results. Keeping active is a great way to improve their mental and physical health and seeing improvements in people is what makes my job so worthwhile.'

To find out more about Gloucestershire parkruns you can take part in, see 9 Gloucestershire parkruns to complete.

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