Today is a sad day for the parish of Stoke Gifford; it's citizens are going to become grumpy, unhealthy, less engaged and fatter thanks to their parish council's decision to force Little Stoke parkrun to pay for the use of Little Stoke park on Saturday mornings for their weekly free parkrun, effectively shutting down Little Stoke parkrun. Their parish councilors are also counting the number of days they're councilors 😉.
As you can imagine, their decision to charge for the use of Little Stoke park has gone down in the parkrun world (all of it, not just in the UK) like a fart in a lift with many top athletes and organisations condemning the decision. I can understand the balancing act parish councilors have with working out how they're going to spend their diminishing budgets thanks to less funds coming down from central government, but I can't help but feel their decision is very shortsighted, ill-informed, lacks any understanding of parkrun, it's ideals, visions and structure and how it benefits the local community and to me feels like a greedy money-grabbing act. They also clearly didn't think about this when they submitted their budget for their portion of their local residents' council tax bill; my parish council raised their rates this year, Stoke Gifford probably did too.
To me it seems the parish council think parkrun is like Vitality (aka Prudential): a sub-component of a large organisation with mountains of cash and in the business of making even more money off people excited by running - reminds me, I need to write about how I feel about Vitality-sponsored events. This isn't the case. parkrun is a non-profit organisation that employs very few people to run their worldwide operations, supported by hundreds of volunteers across the globe, who do it for the love of their sport and community. They don't have a huge budget to spend on parkrun events and they're certainly not going to change their vision and ethos because one small council wants to charge them for the privilege of using their patch of land.
I also find the parish council's argument of "it is unfair to expect residents who do not run to pay for the upkeep of the paths in Little Stoke park" laughable and clearly an ill-thought excuse. For a start, the path appears to be mostly tarmac - that substance we make roads out of because it's long-lasting and durable - and the Little Stoke parkrun site details the course as being mostly on tarmac. How much damage can 300 pairs of feet do to tarmac each week? What about all the residents that do pay towards the upkeep of their parish as part of their council tax? Most people who run a parkrun do so on their own doorstep so are very likely paying for the upkeep of their local park already. What about the swings, see-saws and roundabouts in the park? Are they going to become coin-operated too because not everyone benefits from their use and it would be unfair to charge non-users for their upkeep?
Jokes aside, I really hope that this is a little temporary lapse of judgment and the Stoke Gifford parish council will become better informed and review their decision and allow Little Stoke parkrun to continue to use the park without charge for the foreseeable future. The benefits it brings to the local community far outweighs the cost and inconvenience.