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Talking Point: Should we be charged for running in a park?

A parish council has decided to charge the popular parkrun movement for the use of its open spaces. Stoke Gifford Parish Council near Bristol feels parkrun should contribute to their upkeep as local sports clubs do. The decision caused a furore, with everyone from Paula Radcliffe to Tracey Crouch wading in. Was the council right to ask for a contribution, or was it a short sighted move which places a barrier between people and physical activity?

Published in Sports Management 02 May 2016 issue 119
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The free parkrun sessions are growing in popularity across the UK / PHOTO: flickr / Jonathan Pearce
The free parkrun sessions are growing in popularity across the UK/ PHOTO: flickr / Jonathan Pearce

Ernest Brown,

Chair,

Stoke Gifford Parish Council

Ernest Brown
Ernest Brown

The Parish Council has hosted parkrun for the last three years. With the increased wear on the park, we’ve requested parkrun contribute a small monetary amount towards the upkeep.

Parkrun is an organised group and – like any other group using the facilities – it should contribute towards maintenance. The Parish Council recently spent £55,000 on resurfacing the car park and will shortly need to repair the path at a cost of £60,000. As parkrun is a significant user of the path it should contribute to the cost.

As a parish council we’re proud of our green open spaces. We believe in giving value for money to our residents and through stringent fiscal control this has been achieved by keeping the precept to a minimum over several years.

Should we continue to support ‘free of charge’ groups then it’s very likely the precept will increase each year, resulting in residents funding repairs caused by runners from outside our area.

Parkrun maintains it’s their ethos to remain free of charge and has repeatedly stated it’ll not pay towards the upkeep, even when the council offered to complete a grant application on their behalf and all that was required was their signature.

We will not stop people from using the parks for exercise, but it is unfair to expect residents to pay for an organisation with paid directors.

"Parkrun is an organised group and should contribute towards maintenance"

Toby Kingsbury,

Principle consultant,

The Sport, Leisure and Culture Consultancy

Toby Kingsbury
Toby Kingsbury

The Stoke Gifford parkrun furore has highlighted important issues relating to the role of local authorities in public health.

Public health is now a local authority responsibility, but whole systems thinking does not often cascade down to parish level. Parishes are increasingly responsible for many green spaces, highlighting a need for greater collaboration between local government and parish councils – often a challenge in this current climate.

The parkrun organisation itself may benefit from undertaking more research on the socio-economic and demographic makeup of its runners. Using the evidence to make the case for the wider benefits to target groups in communities could help join up thinking, attract funding from Public Health England and avoid future Stoke Gifford scenarios.

Parkrun route planners may need to work more collaboratively with park owners in future to ensure wear and tear is managed and routes are rotated.

This incident could inadvertently deliver some greater longer term benefits to ensure a more collaborative and joined up approach – we may end up thanking the good citizens of the Stoke Gifford Parish Council after all.

"Parkrun route planners may need to work more collaboratively with the park owner in future"

Steven Ward,

Executive director,

ukactive

Steven Ward
Steven Ward

Ukactive supports any measure which proves successful at getting people more active. At a time when we are faced by the most inactive generation in all of human history, community-driven grassroots success stories like parkrun should be celebrated, rewarded, and held up as pillars of good practice.

We can see through the outpouring of support for parkrun that communities, advocates and runners are flocking to keep the events free, with good reason.

There’s a wider issue here, however. No local authority in the UK wants – through any measure – to discourage the use of their facilities or to prevent a barrier to a scheme which promotes health and wellbeing of the population.

The fact is, local authorities are facing very real pressures to keep their parks open, well maintained and accessible to the public. The situation for some local authorities over the coming year – if we’re not very careful – is that they’ll have to make the harrowing choice between keeping parks maintained or keeping health and social care services functioning.

This underlying debate, which has been brewing for some time, now gives us the perfect opportunity to open a dialogue between providers, government, local authorities and the general public to build a robust forward plan for how we will protect our parks and make them safe, sustainable and enjoyable for future generations.

It’s a debate we need to have and one we look forward to facilitating, along with the physical activity sector.

"The fact is, local councils are facing very real pressures to keep their parks open"

Tom Williams,

Chief operating officer,

Parkrun

Tom Williams
Tom Williams

“We are extremely disappointed that Stoke Gifford Parish Council has voted to impose a charge at Little Stoke parkrun. We’ve had unprecedented success in engaging the least active and encouraging them to exercise regularly. Providing free weekly access has been fundamental to this and we are disappointed the opportunity has been removed for Stoke residents.

Our aim is to break down barriers to participation in, and delivery of, physical activity and this is consistent across 850 parkruns worldwide, which are all delivered by volunteers and are free to take part in. Imposing a charge at one event is something that contradicts our founding principles and would set a precedent that threatens our future.

As a nation we must make a decision about whether we want to be healthier or not. The costs to all of us of inactivity and poor health are immense. Parkrun has had enormous success at bringing communities together and promoting physical activity in safe and welcoming social environments.

The past six months have been a difficult time for everyone involved with the Stoke parkrun and our global community of more than 2 million runners is behind them as we discuss the next step.

"As a nation we must make a decision about whether we want to be healthier or not"

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