As I ran to the train station this morning for the first part of my RunCommute I thought about all the damage I was doing to the grass verges and pavements I ran on. Those same verges and pavements I run on every day, the ones that are run on by lots of my local community every day, the ones that help keep me and my local community fit and my thought led me to wonder what the hell Stoke Gifford Parish Council are on about.
I’m sure you know by now that Stoke Gifford Parish Council want to ‘tax’ runners for running at Little Stoke Parkrun – yep that’s right – we might already pay for the upkeep of our roads, parks, etc by the taxes we pay but this parish council think we should dig deep once again to take part in a community, volunteer led initiative.
I don’t want to lambast the council too much because that’s not going to help but I thought I’d tell you about my Parkrun experience and why I believe it’s important that it remains free.
Sadly I don’t Parkrun every week because of the amount of racing I do but I do it a reasonable amount, especially with my daughter, who loves the early morning get together and seeing people congregate around a love of community running.
She has no siblings so Parkrun is a great way for her to meet other babies while I get to do some running with her. I’m trying to encourage both her participation with and her understanding of people and the diversity and the positive energy that emanates from Parkrun is an easy win. I don’t go to Parkrun to annoy other park users, I don’t go to get a PB, I don’t even go on the off chance there’s a bit of cake or chocolate floating round as a reward for running 5km, I go because it’s good and I go because it’s free running with new and interesting people.
Is Parkrun free?
Parkrun isn’t really free – to the individual there’s the cost of transport, possibly accommodation, the cost of running kit, the cost of tea and cake afterwards – all worthwhile though. On my last visit to a Bristol based Parkrun I stayed in the city for the weekend and ate out, went to the zoo, did touristy things, perhaps I should have saved my money and put it elsewhere? I’m not the only one who does this – just look at Parkrunner and ultrarunner extraordinaire @abradypus who has racked up this weekend 250 Parkruns – I’m sure she’s kept the entire British economy going on her outlay!
There are so many benefits to doing and having a free Parkrun, these are some of my favourites;
- Parkrun helps brings to life (sometimes underused) green spaces
- Parkrun is a community event drawing on people from all ages and backgrounds – important when as a country we need to build bridges in community not divisions
- Parkrun gets people who might not normally exercise, exercising
- Parkrun allows you to run with your child (something very important to a buggy running parent like myself)
- Parkrun draws in tourism and these people can and do contribute to the local economy
- Parkrun is good PR for any council
- Parkrun will perhaps be the lasting legacy of the Olympics, I wonder how many of our greatest athletes have started here, will start here or have been to Parkrun – imagine if Kelly Holmes had rolled up to Little Stoke – would you have charged her to run?
- Parkrun as an initiative does more to help the nation remain healthy both physically and mentally than any other
So if there’s so many benefits what the heck are the council on about? Let’s look at the response from Stoke Gifford Parish Council.
Why should Parkrun UK contribute towards Little Stoke Park Maintenance?
- Parkrun are an organised group with paid directors and staff and attract over 300 runners using the park & facilities each week.
- There is no limit to the number of runners that use the park.
- They are sponsored by national companies.
- They monopolise the park paths and car park between 0830 & 1030 each Saturday and Sunday.
- They use the parks toilets and washing facilities.
- They use Council storage space.
- A large number of runners are from outside the Parish of Stoke Gifford and come from all across South Gloucestershire, Bristol and further afield to use the facilities in this area (which are financed by Stoke Gifford Council tax payers).
- Little Stoke car park is too small for their parking use.
- Complaints have been received from local residents relating to pavement & grass verge parking, park users and hall hirers regarding a number of incidents involving runners over the last three years.
The response from Parkrun is well worth a read but I’ve got some responses, not as fact and figure filled but still …
The the bit from the council that gets me the most is the ‘runners from outside the area’. I’ve run at Little Stoke and Ashton Gate in Bristol but I live in Kent and I’m from Liverpool – I travel a reasonable amount and where I lay my hat, well that’s my home. So which Parkrun should I go to? Come on Stoke Gifford Parish Council perhaps you can advise me? Am I supposed to stay at home and not go to events all over the country? Hmm.
I was amused by ‘they use the toilets’ – well yes I do and I’ll be honest you don’t want me leaving my case of GI distress all over your park do you Stoke Gifford Parish Council?
As for complaints I’m curious about this – as a runner I’ve been subject to unwarranted verbal abuse, being pushed into the road and other unpleasantness. However, I’ve never bothered to complain in any meaningful way – maybe some people are complainers and some of us just get on with life.
Then there’s monopoly – there were about 250 people in my train carriage today – we monopolised that, however, stood on the small concourse area we didn’t. I’m not sure 300 runners have the volume to monopolise an entire park.
The council are overreacting and blowing a half hour run out of all proportion.
…it’s true runners use the park, it’s true it’s an organised event, your car park probably is too small but maybe rather than complain about the car park size you could promote car pooling, cycling and running to the event itself more vigorously. I’m not convinced that your arguments are good enough to warrant discrimination against this free running event.
The Bigger Picture
Then there’s the bigger picture and this is what it’s all about really. Parkrun gets people up and about – inspires them to fitness, keeps them off NHS waiting lists, make them feel good, therefore keeping them out of the shrinks office and off the happy pills. If it disappears it’s sad to say but people will suffer.
I met an older retired lady at Ashton Gate Parkrun last year who told she had met many wonderful people since she joined Parkrun after her husband passed away. That she looked forward to her Saturday morning jaunt and catch up with people she would not have met in her normal day to day life. I wonder – will any of the six councillors go round to this lady and keep her company when her council too decides that they’d rather runners paid?
The funny thing is I’ve met lots of people like this – with stories to tell – about how Parkrun, a free, community event made life better.
Don’t ruin this for the people of your Parish and ultimately anywhere a Parkrun runs.
I’ll be writing to the individual councillors over the next few days if only to ensure that my voice is heard and to express my dismay at this act of vandalism to the health and wellbeing of the people you claim you want to support.
You have an opportunity to back down, to consider the corner you’ve backed yourself into and realise you’re wrong. Stoke Gifford Parish Council do something positive today and reverse this decision.