Yes, you read the headline right. Cancelling Little Stoke parkrun is a GOOD thing.
We all need to remember that.
I'm sure I won't be the first person to have an opinion on this. Nor the last. Runners across the country, including former Olympians Paula Radcliffe and Dame Kelly Holmes, have been supporting the campaign to keep Little Stoke free after Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to charge runners £1 each to use the park.
That might not seem much but it’s a matter of principle – parkrun is, and should always remain, FREE to all. It represents everything that’s great about running – community, inclusivity, health and wellbeing. We run parkrun to feel part of something. To push ourselves to achieve more. To be healthier, and happier. To bring people together, and build a better future for us and our children.
Over 8,000 parkrunners this week were first timers. Running participation has increased hugely over the past few years, with one million more people running every week than a decade ago. parkrun is helping to change the world into a healthier place.
After much discussion from both sides, this week the final decision from the Council was to revoke permission for the event - much to the huge disappointment of parkrun and its many thousands of participants from Little Stoke and beyond.
Tom Williams, Chief Operating Officer for parkrun, said on this week’s parkrun news page:
"Over the past 12 years parkrun has grown from 13 runners in one park to 150,000 runners at 900 locations around the world, every week. Key to this success has been our determination to remove as many barriers to participation as possible, with cost being one of the most critical.
Stoke Gifford Parish Council's initial request for us to charge our runners £1 per week went completely against our most fundamental principles and, as a free event, their subsequently revised requirement for parkrun to contribute financially to the maintenance of the park is also something we are unable to do.
From the outset, and despite significant efforts from many people inside and outside of parkrun, we were unable to convince them of the true value that a parkrun event provides to its local community.”
This is so backward.
Part of the Council’s rationale behind charging parkrunners was that the extra runners should contribute to the upkeep of the park.
As parkrun is an organisation “with paid directors and staff” and is “sponsored by national companies”, it should pay. Local football clubs pay to hire use of the pitch – why shouldn’t parkrun contribute to the maintenance of the park?
The official statementfrom the Parish Council states it has only recently shelled out £55,000 from public money to resurface the carpark, and with the additional 300+ runners per week will shortly have to replace / repair the footway at an estimated cost of £60,000.
Right… bear with me while I climb up onto my soapbox here, but:
- The national sponsors and investors who contribute to parkrun are what allows it to be free – covering staff costs, running costs, etc. Each new parkrun costs £6k to set up – new teams raise £3k and parkrun funds the remaining £3k back into the event for setting up websites, equipment etc. There is no profit for parkrun. (Thanks to a friend who recently help set up a new parkrun in Brighton for this info).
- After extensive and incredibly unnecessary research into the lifecycle of pedestrian-only asphalt footways in the UK (I’ve got a lot of time on my hands at the moment, don’t judge…), the average footway will last around 25-30 years. So that’s £60,000 every 30 years, already contributed to in council tax by the thriving and close-knit community of healthy, happy parkrunners using the park.
What about other park users? Dog walkers? Families, children, those practicing Thai Chi or slack lining between ancient oak trees? I’m sure they all pay their council tax too.
Maybe we should have single-file coin turnstiles at the gates of all open spaces, just in case, you know, anyone thought this was a free country, and our green spaces were there for us to enjoy.
I understand that the Parish Council might be strapped for cash right now, but they’re looking at this all wrong. The benefits of 300+ people running in the park every week far outweighs the potential ‘damage’ from overuse and cost of upkeep.
If they REALLY have to charge, how’s this for a solution:
Since its beginning in 2012, an average of 187 people take part at Little Stoke each Saturday across 173 events, and another 76-ish children aged 4-14 on Sundays across 94 Junior parkruns. The parkrun website states there are 6,745 runners per year, adults and juniors. Multiply that by the number of years it’s been running (five including 2012), and you’ve got 33,725.
If everyone who’s ever ran Little Stoke (juniors included, get that pocket money out...) gives £2 each for every year it's been running so far – not every week, just once, right now – that’s £67,450. £60k of that can go into the Parish Council’s pocket to pay for the resurfacing of the path, £6k can go to parkrun to set up a new event.
The £1,450 change can be spent on a shit load of cake every week for everyone after they’ve scanned their barcodes in. And in 30 years, when the path needs resurfacing again, the children of today's Little Stoke Junior parkrunners can join other runners to throw their tenner into the pot.
What do you think about the closure of Little Stoke? Would you pay £1 per week for parkrun?