Barking Road Runners — a brief history

Throughout May 1984 the local newspapers reported plans to start a running group in Barking and on Sunday 3rd June the club was born; 19 people met in Barking Park and jogged and walked approximately one mile.

By the end of August, Tuesday and Thursday evening meetings had started so that Barking Park was now the venue for three weekly runs attended by up to 20 people. September, October and November saw the fledgling Club featured in many local races.

April 1985 saw Barking Road Runners in the London Marathon for the first time and other members helped on the London Road Runners’ drinks station in Northumberland Avenue. June saw the Barking Park 4k race — the forerunner of the Club’s present-day August Bank Holiday 5k race.

The growth in membership, the search for a suitable base and affiliation to the sport’s governing bodies meant that the Club could no longer be run by one or two people. It needed structured organisation and on 7th August 1985 six people sat down for the first meeting of the Club Committee. The first Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place in November 1986.

In October the Club moved into the University of East London (then known as the North-East London Polytechnic) premises, on what is now the Academy Central housing estate in Longbridge Road; this remained our home until the new millennium. Somewhere to shower and change was very welcome after more than a year of car parks and street corners, and the opportunity to sit and chat over a drink after running improved the Club spirit and was a feature which helped to attract more new members.

Paris was on the receiving end of a visit by a dozen members for the 20k race in October 1985; it was a great weekend and the first of many enjoyable foreign excursions for the Club, including Benidorm, Malta, Split, Valencia, San Sebastian, Dublin, and Amsterdam.

In March 1986 Barking Park was the venue for the first ever race in the club Handicap series. The first Grand Prix series started with a 5 mile race in Feltham the same month. In April the Club entered a team in a county championship race for the first time, the Essex 20 miles held at Chelmsford, and races in May included an evening London League fixture in Battersea Park.

The Dagenham Town Show in July 1986 featured 5k and 10k races and another first: the Club’s own display stand at the show raised its profile and helped recruit new members. The August Bank Holiday Monday saw the club co-host a London League fixture with East London Runners at Hainault Forest.

In May 1987 the Club had its own London Marathon water station for the first time; located in Poplar High Street at Mile 15, it quickly became acknowledged as one of the best. The water station moved to Mile 14, just before the Limehouse Link tunnel, in 1990 and now sees up to 90 members, family and friends handing out tens of thousands of bottles of water to the marathon runners each year. The Club receives five places for organising the water station, which are allocated to members on the basis of their participation in Club competitions.

At the February 1988 Annual General Meeting Junior Membership was introduced and the regulations governing the Grand Prix and Handicap series were incorporated into the Club rules. In March 1998 and 1999 the Club was voted runners-up in the Club of the Year category of the Barking & Dagenham Sports Council awards. The year also saw the Members’ Cup awarded for the first time. 1988 saw the Club split, with some members leaving to form Dagenham 88 Runners (D88).

In 1991 the Handicap Series moved to Mayesbrook Park and increased to seven races. October saw the Club’s biggest ever turn out — over 60 runners — and its best ever placing — 13th out of more than eight hundred teams — in the National Fun Run at Hyde Park. In September we used the new Mayesbrook Park track for our multi-event night and began a year long, but – then – unsuccessful battle for regular use of the new facility.

May 1992 saw the Club’s eight-strong team win the 60 mile plus London-Brighton relay in a new course record and in September a 10 man team won the Essex Way relay — 70 miles plus from Epping to Harwich.

In 1993 the Essex Way relay was won again and in 1994 the club won the Essex County Team marathon title. 1995 saw a double in the Essex Way Relay — both A and B teams winning their races.

Membership had peaked at just over 100 in 1989 but the decline in running generally saw numbers drop and a host of local races disappear. Throughout the period 1996-99, several of the runners who had made our teams so strong moved on to other clubs or quit running to take up other pastimes. With costs at the University of East London becoming prohibitive, the Committee started looking for alternative premises and, in February 1999, talks started with D88 regarding a possible merger. The newly opened Barking Rugby Club premises in Gale Street was considered as a base for a merged club.

In January 2000, when the Club moved to a new base at Barking Abbey School, membership was below 40 and the Club seemed to be in terminal decline. Despite this the February 2000 AGM meeting threw out a proposal to merge with D88 and efforts began to revive the Club. The Club website was set up later that year.

Hard work by many people saw an upsurge in membership, particularly women, as well as a return of the social spirit which was such an important part of the Club’s early success. On June 19th, 2009 the Club celebrated its Silver Jubilee with a reunion run in Barking Park, attended by three runners who were there on that first day in 1984.

The new decade saw the Club go from strength to strength. In 2011 we began meeting at the Castle Green Leisure Centre in Gale Street for our Tuesday and Thursday evening training runs. In 20XX our Tuesday training sessions moved to the newly refurbished Jim Peter’s Track in Mayesbrook Park, allowing members to undertake speed work in a safe and controlled environment. Several members undertook England Athletics Leadership in Running Fitness (LIRF) training, to provide structured training.

In 2012, the Club was instrumental in launching the new parkrun in Barking Park. The first event took place on 28 July 2012. Parkrun has proved to be a great way to attract new members, with many parkrunners catching the running bug and deciding to get more involved by joining the Club.

In 2017 the Club invested in a new website, to showcase its activities to potential members in the Barking area.

The use of Mayesbrook Park as a 2102 London Olympics training venue meant that the Club handicap series had to move to Barking Park. The series returned to Mayesbrook Park in 2018 on a new course, as the Park layout had been changed, but the new course wasn’t as popular with members and it was back to Barking Park in 2019, on the parkrun course.

The Club’s August Bank Holiday 5k continues to be a success. Attendance has increased significantly in recent years. To cope with this, chip timing was introduced in 2019, when the race had a record attendance of 342 finishers.

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