I hate cars on pavements.  Seriously there’s nothing that gets me more angry so I wouldn’t ever mention it to me unless you want an hour long rant.  My friend has just had a baby, she’s partial sighted so pavement parkers are bad for her at the best of time but she’s trying to be proactive and get back to being healthy by running with the baby in her pram.  On her very first outing so was blocked by a pavement parker.  Sometimes I spend more time on the road than the pavement when I’m out for a run just getting past the cars.  Isn’t it great then that we have open spaces and parks free from traffic where we can go and run.

I have to admit that I’ve always taken the ability to be able to run around my park for granted.  I guess most other people have too otherwise there wouldn’t be so many shocked voices today after Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to start charging Parkrun to use Little Stoke Park every Saturday morning.  For those who maybe live on another planet and don’t know, Parkrun is an organisation offering a free and timed weekly 5k (Or 2k for kids).  It organises over 850 runs  in 12 countries and has a strong ethos about making running free and accessible for all.  I started running at a Parkrun as did many other people I know because it’s pretty much embedded in most running journeys now.  You do some type of couch to 5k, then you move on to Parkrun and build up the fundamentals.  As a tail runner a few times for my local Parkrun I’ve seen it in action.  People who took well over 40 minutes their first few time are now faster than me because they just kept coming back and getting better.

The beauty of Parkrun is that every runner is treated the same regardless of how fast you are.  Somehow Parkrun has managed to create an environment that can still be competitive for the front runners but at the same time encourage those who cross the finish after everyone else (often to a louder cheer than the guys who came first) because it’s a community and not only that, it’s a community with out segregation or limitations.  You can come and do a Parkrun regardless of age (with an adult), race, gender, ability.  Everyone is welcome, no one is turned away and everyone is treated the same.  For many it makes running accessible and gives them the confidence to try. Even on Saturdays when I’m ill and can’t talk or move very well I know I can get up and go over the road to Warrington Parkrun because it doesn’t matter how long I take.  It gets me out and forces me to interact with people.  Yes, it may be an organised event and you could argue that it’s no different to charging to use a rugby or football pitch but it really is different.  People play rugby or football because they want to play rugby or football, it might be still getting people to be fit and active but is in no way that same as the driving force that Parkrun has been towards promoting and encouraging (nurturing even) exercise.

Parkrun is a force for good.  In a world where you generally get nothing for free it holds out a hand and in turn has helped so many many people with no agenda other than to get us moving on a Saturday morning.  I can’t think of any other organisation that has achieved the same yet kept it’s principle. It is something that has to be cherished and protected, that’s why we need to show in unity that we #loveparkrun and we’re not going to let it become a source of funding for cash strapped councils.  Parkrun is priceless and should remain free for all.

You can read the BBC coverage of the vote here.  A petition against the charges currently has 13,000 signatures.

And this is Parkrun’s statement in response to the vote:

We are extremely disappointed that Stoke Gifford Parish Council has voted to impose a charge at Little Stoke parkrun.

parkrun has 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 that this opportunity is to be removed for the residents of Little Stoke.

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 an uncertain and difficult time for everyone involved with Little Stoke parkrun and our entire global community of more than two million parkrunners is behind them as we discuss our next steps.