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Tom Williams - MSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science, 2005

Tom Williams - MSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science, 2005
Parkrun global hosts 2,100 events with more than 350,000 participants each week. As Chief Operating Officer, Sport & Exercise Science graduate Tom Williams is responsible for growing the organisation whose mission is to make the world a happier and healthier place through free, weekly timed 5K and 2K events.

Tom joined the organisation in its infancy, setting up the first parkrun event outside of London and only the fourth event in the world in 2007. He continued his involvement organising events in the north of England before joining the organisation full time in 2011, a few years after completing his masters degree at Leeds Beckett.

He explains: “For me, the masters was about professional development. When I started I was most interested in sports performance, and by the time I finished the course I was much more interested in physical activity and public health”.

“The majority of things I learned during my degree were about human behaviour and psychology, around relationships with people and understanding different ways to motivate people and engage people. I was inspired by my lecturers. Professor Sue Backhouse, who was my dissertation supervisor, was great. My dissertation was about membership retention in the private health club industry, looking at why members do and don’t come, when they stop and why. We still use a lot of the things I learned then at parkrun, looking at how likely people are to come to an event after registering and how likely they are to come again.”

“In my role I am responsible for the global growth of parkrun – for what we do and where we do it. We have just started in the Netherlands, the year before in Japan, and the year before that in Germany.”

“To me the impact on individuals is the most important thing. Our mission is to make the world healthier and happier, and our research shows this. If we can really impact people in a profoundly positive way and if we can do that for a million people, or two million people or three million people that’s clearly better than doing it for one person or two people or three people. We are also working with custodial sites and GP practices in the UK and Australia to ensure that those people are directed to and have access to parkrun. We know that those with most to gain won’t necessarily find us without direct intervention.”

The spread of COVID-19 in the UK and globally has been one of the key challenges facing parkrun and Tom at the start of 2020.

“I’ve been right in the middle of making decisions as to when to and when not to cancel. This involves liaising with people from Public Health England and the World Health Organisation and trying to interpret the evidence and guidance as best as possible, balancing the need to do the right thing to stop the spread of the virus and knowing that closing parkruns could have an adverse effect on people’s physical health and wellbeing”.

“During this period we are looking at how we can use technology to keep our communities connected. For the first weekend without a parkrun in 15 years, we organised an online parkrun quiz to have a bit of fun and lift everyone’s spirits, and we engaged over 20,000 people, and we’ll be continuing this weekly. For children we are going to be running ‘The School of parkrun’, setting daily parkrun-themed tasks to help people who are home schooling, and every Sunday we’ll be running an online junior parkrun warm-up to keep children active and entertained. Our social media channels will be full of exciting parkrun related content, including Q&As with staff and special guests, so that people feel like they are not in this challenge on their own”.