Unless you live under a rock, or have absolutely zero interest in running, health or fitness (in which case, I’m impressed you are reading this!), you’ll know the big ticket news item this week has been the decision of Stoke Gifford Parish Council to levy a charge for the use of the park for parkrun.
People use parkrun for different reasons. I for one have never needed parkrun as a motivator to get me out of the door and go for a run, but it has helped countless other people do just that, without having any barriers around gym fees or paying to use facilities. And surely that’s what we need to continue to do?
There was a decision recently that the NHS would be funding overweight and diabetic patients to receive PT sessions and nutritional advice free of charge – surely the need for this can only go up and up if we start to put BACK the barriers to exercise such as cost, location and the intimidation of entering an unknown world that parkrun have worked so hard to bring down.
Thing is, you take any paid for 5k race – the standard is bound to be much higher as people who are more committed to running are more willing to pay. So, if you do take that jump into a more traditional 5k race and you are that bit slower or less experienced, where does that leave you? Feeling chided for being at the back or demotivated for being slow? The beauty of parkrun is that it’s open to everyone – the annoying people like me who are there mainly so that can keep banging on the door of 20 minutes, right the way through to someone who is walking it with their friends because it gives them an organised time and place that they can’t back out of. If you are lacking confidence or need that regular weekly slot to get you motivated to get out the door, how likely are you to search out a 5k race, pay a fee and turn up – especially if you aren’t even sure if running is for you! Entering a ‘race’ sounds intimidating – whereas a run is much more open.
But when you can get to something free and local, come rain or shine, where you have an incredibly friendly reception (I mean come on, when was the last time you were clapped and heartily welcomed for it being your first time going to the gym, or visiting a pool that wasn’t your local), plenty of knowledgable people on hand for any questions AND an incredibly straightforward way of being able to see your improvement – why would you want anything else?
Counter argument state that sports clubs and personal trainers have to pay for use of the park, so why shouldn’t parkrun for runners? Where does the line stop where I have to start paying every time I dare to run around Clapham Common, let alone when we have it on our regular running club routes? I recently posted about the true cost of running, and one of the best things is that it can be done anytime, anywhere, without having to pay entrance fees. Yes, organisations like BMF are levied with hefty charges for park usage, but have you seen the prices of their classes? Same with football clubs – yes there are some membership fees, but there are goalposts to maintain and white lines to paint. I pay to be a member of a running club, but so many people would never consider themselves able to join a running club. parkrun means they don’t have to.
Parkrun was set up as a not for profit organisation designed to help reverse the current trend of inactivity that is sweeping our country. It’s spiralling and growing in so many countries around the world – my uncle was delighted when the first Parisian parkrun was launched earlier this year, having attended several events whenever he is in the UK. There are countless people taking to social media to talk about how parkrun was the trigger to change their inactivity and improve their health. Yes, parkrun has some paid employees and yes, they do attract sponsors, but that is all funneled back into running the events we know and love.
The decision is that parkrun should have to contribute to funding (rather than the initial £1 per runner), however, if other councils started to take this on board, there would be no other choice than to start charging runners to participate, because how else would they be able to raise sufficient money to fund over 850 events? The beauty of parkrun is its diversity and accessibility. Without it, there would be hundreds of people whose usual activity on a Saturday morning is lying in bed…and so far, there are over two million registered runners who have started to buck the trend.
Apparently it’s unfair for non-running residents to have to pay to cover upkeep of the paths. If you continued in that matter with regards to any sort of tax or public funding, it’s ridiculous. Do we then stop any ‘non-runner’ from using the path because it was funded by runners? Do parks then stop becoming public? I haven’t been to the doctors this year but I’m still paying for it because it’s there when I need it (lighting the touchpaper here!)
Obviously yes, some areas will take more wear and tear (e.g. anything run on grass in the mud can get a bit battered), but there was probably a more strategic way to go about asking for support. If the other councils can cope, why is this one so different? At Tring, there was support from the local council to get things set up, and the Woodland Trust contributed to kilometre markers- and both organisations continue to do so. The council decided it was a worthy cause for a grant – so why don’t others think the same?
You take away parkrun and you take away support for the local community – local cafes get an influx of people at 10am on a Saturday morning, and plenty of councils gain a little bit extra from parking charges. It’s great to see support from some high profile athletes and government support – but it’s a story I will be keeping a close eye on.
So, tomorrow’s Little Stoke parkrun has been cancelled, however I have a feeling it won’t stop people rallying for support. So I urge you to get down to your local run tomorrow and just appreciate what it is there for – even if you’ve never run before. It takes 5 minutes to register and print out a barcode. Take some time to appreciate what the volunteers do week in week out. Take some time about the benefit it brings to the community and all those whose journey to health started with parkrun.