The recent decision of Stoke Gifford Parish Council to start charging runners who take part in the weekly parkrun in Little Stoke Park, near Bristol, has been met with dismay by almost everybody affected.
Parkrun themselves have described the decision as ‘disappointing’ and ‘terrible’, and it seems totally bizarre to prevent people from running for free in a public park just because they are doing it with an organisation. If you’re unfamiliar with parkrun, it is an international organisation that organises free 5km runs across the world every Saturday morning. Southampton has its own in the Common, and it’s a great way to start a weekend or help you get fit. The Southampton Common event is relaxed and friendly, and the people who organise it are enthusiastic and committed to their job. Another advantage of parkrun is that everyone’s race times are recorded and uploaded onto an online database, so you can see lots of stats about your race afterwards. It doesn’t matter which parkrun you attend, all of your results will be in the same place for you to compare.
Stoke Gifford Parish Council’s reasoning behind this is that it would be ‘unfair’ to expect non-running local residents to pay for the upkeep of the park’s paths. This incredibly short-sighted move completely misses the point of what these events are for, and this new decision will do more harm than good for the local community.
The Council’s decision is logical aside from the fact that people who do parkrun are most likely to be local residents themselves, and will therefore already be paying council tax. Part of this council tax will go towards maintaining the paths in the park. To suggest that non-running residents should not be paying for the paths would indicate that they should be paying reduced council tax, which is obviously impractical and not what the council is suggesting. In the same vein, the Council has said that it does not want to discourage people from running and that runners are welcome in the park any day of the week. Runners will be penalised for deciding to run on a Saturday morning. How do you measure how much people who do parkrun are damaging the paths? If people were to follow the Council’s advice and run at different times during the week, then the same amount people would be running on and damaging the paths anyway. That, however, is unlikely to happen. Parkrun have said that it is likely that they will have to cancel their Little Stoke event, and so far fewer people are going to be running. A relaxed 5km run fits in perfectly with advice we hear from the government, doctors and yes, local councils.
Am totally against this short sighted decision. I fully support the right for this event for children to be free https://t.co/TnwMN9lFrF
— Paula Radcliffe (@paulajradcliffe) April 12, 2016
Of course, the cancellation of one 5km run will not cause people to become obese, but Stoke Gifford are shooting themselves in the foot. By charging parkrun for their event, they are discouraging people from keeping fit. It is a bizarre decision that has been condemned by prominent runners such as Paula Radcliffe and will do the council’s public image no favours. Local councils should be promoting and supporting parkrun, not penalising it.