It was extremely disappointing to read the news this week about the Little Stoke parkrun. For those who haven’t heard, the local parish council has become the first in the world to impose a charge on parkrun organisers to host the weekly – free – timed 5k event.
Stoke Gifford Parish Council said it was “unfair” to expect non-running residents to pay for path upkeep. It voted six to four in favour of charges. (BBC news)
Naturally, the people behind parkrun have come out in defence of keeping parkrun free and they are considering whether there is any opportunity to appeal this decision. If not, and the charge goes ahead, then “the Little Stoke event would end” (Becky Bushnell, Event Co-director). Unsurprisingly, it is not just the organisers who have condemned this decision. As well as members of the public, Paula Radcliffe has tweeted her backing, and politicians have come out in support of keeping parkruns free.
The parkrun organisers have issued a statement, which you can read here.
What they have also done, which really cuts to the core message of parkrun, is to set up a simple site reminding everyone why we should all #loveparkrun. Do you know how many laps of the planet parkrunners have completed? Seventeen. That’s a lot. Thousands of people have contributed to that total and the numbers are only going up. Keeping the events free is an integral part of that success. As they say in their statement, “any fee passed on to participants has been demonstrated beyond question to create a significant barrier to entry, particularly amongst those who are currently inactive.”
Do the parish council have a point: is it unfair for those of us who make use of these parks to expect everyone else to pick up the bill? I don’t think so. For a start, we all contribute to the costs; we are all taxpayers. Admittedly, the costs in this case are stated as being over £100,000 (from the council’s statement) – presumably not all to be met by parkrun – and that is a large bill to pay. But the far bigger bill will face all of us as an inactive population grows ever-larger. The World Health Organisation predicts that 74% of men and 64% of women in UK will be overweight by 2030. If we don’t rediscover a more active way of life, the cost will be significantly higher than that in Stoke Gifford. Putting any barriers in the way of something that is trying to have a positive effect on that problem seems to be a shortsighted strategy.
Whilst we understand how passionate you are about protecting something so important, we ask that you always act with respect and dignity when defending parkrun. We must all remain calm and measured in our actions. We are all extremely disappointed but we will do things the right way, following the proper channels. (Paul Sinton-Hewitt, CBE, Founder, parkrun)
And that is a good message to end on. Support your local parkrun, support Little Stoke parkrun, and do it in a positive way. Because that is what parkrun has been for so many people, myself included: a positive thing. Participate in a parkrun and remember to say thank you to the volunteers, thank you to the organisers, and thank you to the land owners, all of who have contributed to the success of this great initiative.