Regular readers will know that I’m addicted to Parkrun. Every Saturday morning I possibly can, I’m running 3 miles (or 5k if you’re modern) around the park, usually with my daughter, teenage son and husband in tow.
Parkruns are run in towns, cities and suburbs across the UK, every Saturday morning at 9am, as well as another 11 countries around the world. And they’re ALWAYS FREE. That’s the principle of Parkrun. It’s essentially a run with friends. It’s people getting together, enjoying the fresh air and running (or walking) a manageable distance before they get on with their weekends.
Parkrun is for everyone – super-fast competitive runners, small children, families running together, older people, overweight people, people running with their dogs, people running pushing buggies (even double buggies). Everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter if you run it in 16 minutes or walk it in 45 minutes. You’ve all got yourselves up and out of bed and covered the distance.
For some people, it is the first step towards a healthier lifestyle. For some people it is the only exercise they get all week. Without Parkrun, they may not get any exercise at all.
And that is why it is so important.
So the news that Stoke Gifford Parish Council, just outside Bristol, is planning to charge for Little Stoke Parkrun has come as huge shock to the Parkrun community. Because you can’t charge for Parkrun. If the Parish Council insists on charging, the Parkrun will cease to exist.
The council claims the Parkrunners are damaging the surfaces and it is unfair on other park-users.
The Parkrunners are already paying for that park, through their council tax. Parks exist so that people can get fresh air and exercise. What is better exercise than running three miles?
By doing that exercise, they are getting healthier. They are saving money on other public services, particularly health services.
But what about the football teams? They have to pay!
Football teams are paying to use a pitch, they are paying for exclusive use of an area of the park. Parkrunners do not have exclusive use, they are using the park like anyone else would do who was running or walking in the park. The Parkrunners are not getting in anyone’s way. They always give way to other park-users.
I’m pleased to say that people have come out in their droves against this council and in support of Parkrun and all it stands for. I really hope that this isn’t setting a precedent which will snowball and spell the beginning of the end for Parkrun.
Because Parkrun is so important for so many people and has so many health and social benefits. Parkrun has to continue as it always has done – free to runners.
I was asked to go on BBC Radio Gloucestershire this morning to talk about the importance of Parkrun and why it should always be free. Want to hear me? I’m here talking at 1 hour 38 and it’ll be there until 12th May.