Business Insights Chat with Nick Pearson, CEO of Parkrun

Business Insights Chat with Nick Pearson, CEO of Parkrun

Chances are that your local park is swamped with runners every Saturday morning. Parkrun has become the world’s largest physical activity provider, operating in 23 countries, with 7 million members worldwide and over 2000 weekly events.

This charitable organisation prides itself on being an accessible access point to exercise for everyone. It works with local communities, relying on volunteer participation to make the events happen. You may wonder how these free-to-attend events make money and Nick gives a fascinating answer by discussing what it’s like to say no to giant corporations like Pepsi and navigating the ethics of commercial sponsors, making sure they fit the message and ethos of Parkrun.

As part of government initiatives to improve wellbeing in communities, Parkrun works with local authorities across the world to make these events happen. It’s not just about physical health, they are huge advocates of the mental health benefits that come from volunteering and taking part at their events.

Parkrun’s success comes from the flexibility it offers and its informal arrangements. Organising this many people every week takes serious people skills, especially when your global team consists of only 45 staff! Nick tells us how his retail background gave him the perfect skill set for his role, using his customer service experience to help create the culture and PR strategy at mission-based Parkrun.

Nick reflects on lockdown, and how although the financial future of the business was secure, there was a great deal of uncertainty around events starting again. He talks openly about being caught up in UK bureaucracy as restrictions were being lifted and his involvement in applying pressure to cautious local authorities to reopen events, when the Government had advised that Parkrun should go ahead but had handed down the decision-making to local levels. Nick didn’t want the attention, but with Parkrun’s high profile, it meant that this ‘spat’ was in the spotlight. Nick persevered because he knew it was important for the mental health of so many members, particularly those who access Parkrun, in part, because they can only afford ‘free’.

This is a great peek behind the scenes of a huge, not-for profit organisation, and a fantastic place to pause series 2 of Business Insights Chat for the summer. We will be back with more guests in the autumn!

You can learn more about Parkrun here.

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