After a few days off following my 401 Challenge marathon on Friday, feeling a bit bleurgh after finally catching Tom’s cold, and after much deliberating, I eventually decided I would go for a run after all last night. And I thoroughly enjoyed it – funny how that happens!! I even went 2 miles further than the 5 miles I’d planned, and threw in some hill reps for good measure! After 3 days off, my legs felt super springy and it turns out I’m really not that ill after all…
Perhaps part of the reason I eventually had a really good run was to burn off some anger following some really quite shocking news concerning parkrun.
If you’ve never heard of parkrun, it’s a free, timed 5km run that happens in parks all over the country (and indeed the world!) at 9am every single Saturday. It’s absolutely brilliant – I actually volunteered as a marshall at my local event in Redditch on Saturday past. Parkrun UK is the non-profit organisation that oversees the events, and through sponsorship by a few companies they are able to provide each event with basic safety equipment such as hi-vis vests for marshals and route markers, and the basic timing equipment needed to ensure every runner who wants one gets a time for their run. This keeps runners coming back week after week as they try to better themselves and chase that elusive PB.
Other than sponsors providing this basic equipment, no money is received by local organisers: each and every one of the 395 events is entirely run by unpaid volunteers, and takes place in free-to-use public parks. A big part of parkrun is that it is, and always will be absolutely free for absolutely anyone to take part. It is all-inclusive for able-bodied and disabled runners, children, elderly people, people who run with dogs and prams, everyone. It’s no wonder more and more parkruns are popping up all over the country (a new one started in Stratford-upon-Avon just a few weeks ago!), and numbers of parkrunners are growing by the week.
But one stupid, stupid parish council in Bristol has decided to ruin it all for the parkrunners of Little Stoke. They have been threatening for months to impose a fee for Little Stoke parkrun to use the park, (unfoundedly) claiming that as “an organisation with paid directors, fund raisers and sponsors”, it would be unfair to expect the tax-paying residents of Stoke Gifford parish to cover the (undefined) costs of the “wear and tear” that parkrunners (allegedly) cause to the park. You can read their full, ridiculous statement, with Parkrun UK’s very fair and logical responses here.
I must confess I never thought this ludicrous proposal would go ahead, but last night, at a Stoke Gifford Parish Council meeting, the motion to charge parkrun to use the park was passed by 6 votes to 4. I am dumbfounded.
I take particular umbrage with two of the parish council’s points. Firstly, the suggestion that parkrun should pay for park maintenance because it is an organised event with paid directors. As with any large organisation, whether for profit or not, of course some paid staff are needed – that website isn’t going to get updated by itself and the logistics of managing over 8,000 volunteers each week isn’t going to happen by magic! The number of people on parkrun UK’s payroll? 12, including the founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt who was awarded a CBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours (because, y’know, if the monarch of our country thinks you’re doing a great job, that’s kind of a big deal).
But, as mentioned above, each and every one of the events is managed at the local level by unpaid volunteers. Parkrun is a non-profit organisation. Any money left over after paying 12 people their wages goes back into parkrun events. By Stoke Gifford’s logic, it would seem fine by them if 300 runners just decided to get together for a run but didn’t call it ‘parkrun’! (This would also surely be far less safe!) Likewise, if they have a problem with giving free community access to organisations with paid staff, then they should also take a cut from poppy and Big Issue sellers, or charge nannies and childminders for using the park.
The second thing I am stunned by is the insinuation that the goodly people of Stoke Gifford should not have to pay for park repairs caused by the “many” Little Stoke parkrunners who come from outside of the parish. FFS! Parks are meant to be used! What is the point of any of us paying council tax or parish precepts to maintain parks if no-one ever bloody uses them, and who gives a flying fig if – gasp! – outsiders from 5 miles down the road come to enjoy them as well! In reality, almost half of Little Stoke’s regulars live within the Stoke Gifford parish, and 60% live less than 3 miles from the park. Apart from a few visitors or parkrun tourists, the rest are likely to live in a very nearby area of Bristol, because if you travel much further away you’ll find another parkrun that is closer to home. Heavens forbid anyone should use a park in a different postcode to the one they live in! I live 7 miles away from my nearest parkrun and that’s in a completely different county!
Sadly, it looks like the end for Little Stoke parkrun. Standing true to parkrun’s values, they refuse to accept the fees that the council wants to impose, so are looking to move to another venue. In the meantime, the runners who used to enjoy their Saturday morning run around Little Stoke (and the children who used to enjoy their Sunday morning junior parkrun) will have to run without the safety and camaraderie of the parkrun banner, or drive to another parkrun nearby. Such a shame!