PAUL Sinton-Hewitt’s back story is as compelling as the Parkrun phenomenon he started with just a dozen runners in a London park 15 years ago.

When he launched what was originally called the Bushy Park Time Trial, he was unemployed and couldn’t run himself due to a leg injury.

Growing up in South Africa, at the age of five he was made a ward of state and was sent to live permanently at boarding school. He was settled in the UK when he had the mental breakdown, in 1995, that opened his eyes to the therapy offered by physical exercise.

By the time he renamed his time-trials ‘Parkruns’ in 2008, there were dozens more such events all over the country, with hundreds of runners turning out for the 5k challenge each Saturday at 9am.

Today, there are more than 1,500 weekly Parkruns in 23 countries spread across five continents. By October 2018, more than five million runners were registered worldwide.

And on Saturday, Hexham joined the family!

It was the aptly named Neil Park who decided it was time the town had one of its own. The nearest one, till now, has been in Prudhoe.

He raised the £3,000 necessary, through donations from a number of local benefactors, to pay for the Parkrun licence.

Looking back, the Hexham resident said whilst he was generally a fit person, thanks to his passion for hillwalking and his duties as a volunteer Lake District national park ranger, he was “never a runner” until a friend persuaded him to go along to a Parkrun in Penrith.

“115 Parkruns later and I absolutely love it,” he laughed. “And so does my wife, Fiona, and my two daughters, my son and their spouses.

“It’s made a real difference to all of us. It’s the feel-good factor that comes out of such a powerful community event.

“There are not only the physical benefits, but the mental health benefits too - there’s nothing not to like about Parkruns!”

He was keen to thank the “tremendous team” of volunteers who had made the event possible. They had been out – and would be every Saturday morning - setting up at 8am.

In the best traditions of Parkruns, Hexham’s own attracted a varied mix of experienced runners, ad hoc joggers and the willing wannabees.

There were all ages, sizes and fitness levels, and quite a lot of first-time runners, inspired to simply give it a go.

That said, the first of the 241 participants across the finishing line was Tynedale Harrier Christopher Jackson, in an impressive 17 minutes 48 seconds.

James Ramshaw, of Blaydon Harriers, was 24 seconds behind him, while another Tynedale Harrier, Lisa Tang, took third place in 18 minutes 49 seconds.

Ten minutes behind them, Barbara Duggan and Julie Forster were also giving it their all. With their sights set on doing their second Great North Run in aid of charity, the friends, who first met at a support group for bereaved parents, are once again ‘in training’.

They have come a long way since Barbara’s daughter, Lucy, died in a car crash at the age of 18 and Julie’s seven-year-old daughter, Freya, died of a brain aneurysm.

They had joined local running group Jog on the Tyne as a means of getting out the house and focusing on ‘something else’. Barbara said: “Running makes you leave the stresses of life behind, at least for a short while.

“We’ve been going over to the Prudhoe parkruns, where we have coffee and scones afterwards – that’s the best bit!

“But we do love Parkruns, they are just so welcoming and encouraging. You pick up friends along the way.”