Keep Parkrun free!
By Parkrunning Socialists
Local councils and central governments (of whatever shade) regularly tell us that they want us to keep fit. However it appears that a worrying precedent may have just been set to make money from people exercising.
Parkrun is a weekly free 5km event which has grown from a handful of runners in Bushy Park London to one which is now becoming an international phenomenon. On the latest figures, Parkrun could boast an incredible 932,917 runners with events at 185 locations, and that is just in the UK. Internationally over 1.4 million people have signed up for events in a growing number of countries. In Coventry, where the event takes place at the War Memorial Park, an average of 326 people take part each week.
The events are free, they are run by volunteers – runners are encouraged to take turns to marshal, time keep through the year etc. Runners of all standards, from club runners to people running their first ever event, are encouraged and welcomed. People come to socialise, interact with others, keep fit, push themselves, everyone has their own reason for doing it. There is a basic sense of solidarity between runners.
Many events take place on parks owned or managed by local councils, and it now appears that one such parish council are seeing an opportunity to make a bit of cash out of people living healthy lives.
On Tuesday night Stoke Gifford Parish Council in Gloucestershire voted by 5 votes to 4 to ask runners for a contribution. It does not take a massive leap of the imagination to see that local councils across the country could see this as a way of bringing in cash and start to charge people for what has been a free run.
According to reports here, there were tears from Parkrunners when councillors took the decision and shouts of ‘shame on you’ directed at those voting to charge.
Parkrun should be kept free. Taking part should be free for all. Any attempt to start ‘voluntary contributions’ should be fought – how long before charging could become mandatory. Parkrun actually brings in money to many local cafes and shops that are situated close to where the events take place.
Parkrunners across the UK (and world) should support the campaigners from Little Stoke Parkrun by signing their online petition here. There should also be discussions regarding stepping up the protests, for example turning up on mass to Little Stoke Parkrun to show the strength of feeling. Stoke Gifford Parish Council need to be shown the strength of opposition, and this opposition will need to act as a deterrent to other councils who may be thinking of doing the same.
There are wider questions as well. In austerity driven Britain, this type of thing is going to increase right across local sporting events and also with cuts to services. People need to be put before making profit and bringing in money to the coffers of local councils or central government. The Panama Papers show that the money in our society is there, it just needs to be in the hands of the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent.