A WEEKLY run has become a familiar start to staff and prisoners at a prison near Wotton. 

A parkrun is held at HMP Leyhill in Tortworth every Saturday morning at 9am. 

The event is organised by specially trained prison officers -  physical education instructors (PEIs) - who help supervise and arrange the weekly runs, with help from prisoners. 

It is believed around 20,000 prisoners and staff take part in park runs across England and Wales in 21 different prisons. 

HMP Haverigg in Cumbria held the first parkrun in a prison in 2017.

Instead of scanning participants’ barcodes with a smartphone, prison times are recorded with a stopwatch and manually uploaded, with prisoners running under a pseudonym. 

The site located between Wotton and Thornbury is a category D men's prison and currently holds around 430 prisoners.

Gareth Segelov, from HMP Leyhill, said: “We try to make the parkrun as close as possible to the parkrun community outside of prison. 

“Regularity in prison is important and parkrun is part of the weekly routine here. It helps the men to feel normal, they feel part of something bigger. 

“The social aspect has been huge. It’s great that it has rolled out and is such a huge success! 

“It has attracted people who wouldn’t usually be involved with the gym. 

“The opportunity to volunteer has encouraged people to tail walk and scan barcodes which has supported social interaction. 

“We have tail walkers who encourage new participants if it’s their first time and it creates a community atmosphere. 

“Becoming a PEI is a career path open to anyone who joins the service as a prison officer. 

“Working with prisoners and staff in the gym and beyond is extremely rewarding and brings a real sense of achievement.” 

Keen runners who try to visit as many venues as possible - frequently ask if they can participate in a prison parkrun, but they cannot for obvious reasons

Gareth said: “We get requests from loads of people who go round the country and try and tick them off, but these are different - unicorn park runs. 

“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. 

“There is a lot of training and assessments to be done before you can become a PEI but it’s a great role to work towards.” 

Gareth has shared more about his job as part of a new Ministry of Justice recruitment drive.

For more information see here - tinyurl.com/pwyhk6pt