Runners across the UK were outraged today at news that Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to charge the Parkrun organizers a fee to use Little Stoke Park on Saturdays. One of the reasons Parkruns are great is because they are free, and now with the new fee in place, organizers said it would mean the end of the Little Stoke event, a tragedy for the hundreds of runners that took part in two weekly timed runs held in the park.
Despite hundreds of emails against the move, the Council remained firm that the money was needed for the upkeep of the park and aligned with their rules related to group use of the park. A local football club that hires the pitch every week has to pay £60, they said. So how is this any different? In fact, people were so outraged, a petition was started and since its creation this morning, has already garnered more than 30,000 signatures.
Clearly, I am biased. As a regular Parkrunner, I likely wouldn’t go if there was a fee involved. Otherwise, it’s just another 5K race. The reason Parkruns are great is because they are for everybody of every ability. They foster a sense of community and they get people together, being active and enjoying the outdoors. And really, isn’t that the actual purpose of the Park in the first place? I understand there is some maintenance involved in the upkeep of a park, but by this logic, you should also consider charging everyone that uses the park. What about the man that walks his 3 dogs there every morning? Surely, they create wear and tear and garbage that needs to be disposed of. The Parkruns are only 5K. Most people are done in less than 30 minutes. How much wear and tear could they actually be causing? If you took those 100 runners and spread them over the course of the day, there wouldn’t be any issue. But because they run as a group, suddenly we have a problem. Seem tenuous, at best. What’s more, Parkrun organizers said that volunteers offered to do regular maintenance activities or litter pickup to offset any of the perceived damage from the runs, but to no avail. Council said no.
That said, I can equally convince myself that the Council has a point. This was not, as many maintained, a way to charge innocent runners to use the park. This was related to their policies around group use and Parkruns clearly fall into this category. Just because this particular group gathers for free vs. paying a team fee to an organization doesn’t make them any less disruptive to the Park. Equally, because the events are free, they attract a large number of runners. Hundreds each week. That’s not a small gathering of runners in the Park. This is an event. There is undeniably some wear and tear that wouldn’t happen with individual people.
While I can understand the point of the Stoke Gifford Parish Council, I can’t help but feel this sets an ugly precedent for the beloved Parkrun. If other Councils were considering this, but didn’t want to rock the boat or upset a community, someone else has now done it for them and, if successful, it paves the way for a nice, new revenue stream while someone else takes the heat. I understand the decision, but I don’t like it. Keep Parkruns free please. It’s part of what makes them great.