Keen athlete Ross Blackman had packed a lot into 15 years of running, including a marathon and runs across Europe, but did not expect to ever compete inside a prison.

Ross joined members of Southfield Running Club in Bristol as special guests behind the gates at HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire to take part in their regular parkrun on a Saturday morning.

The open prison is one of 21 establishments in England and Wales to regularly organise a run, with around 20,000 prisoners and staff seeing the benefits every year.

HMP Leyhill invited the running club to take part to build links in the community, with Ross enjoying the unique experience.

“My uncle who works in the prison said why don’t you come in and run – and I didn’t know whether he was joking or not,” said Ross, 37.

“I really enjoyed the day, what an experience running in a prison with prisoners. My older brother had been in prison so I had some understanding of what it was like - I had been apprehensive and anxious about visiting as a teenager but this was different.

“If you have no experience of it you can only form an opinion from the news and the TV, but this was just another great parkrun community event. Anyone who turns up on the day and does a parkrun gets my respect because they’re out there doing something.

“I had a chat to a few of the prisoners and they were open about their running journeys and how much they have progressed. They were proud of their achievements.

“It's helping them, it’s a community event when external runners come along so the prisoners get the chance to interact with people. If a prisoner takes up running for the first time and finds it improves their mental and physical health, that can only be a positive thing to me.”

His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and parkrun are working in partnership to support custodial events and increase the number of sites able to host them. Physical Education Instructors (PEIs) - specially trained prison officers - supervise and organise the weekly runs, with help from prisoners, and see the events as a key part of their working week.

Gareth Segelov, 44, a PEI at HMP Leyhill who helps organise and supervise the weekly parkrun alongside Ross’s uncle, says:

“We run the parkrun at 9am every Saturday and try and make it 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.

You do not need qualifications to become a prison officer or to join in a support staff role. HMP Leyhill is looking for caring people with good communication and influencing skills and effective decision-making.