On Wednesday 23 March 2016 the chair of Stoke Gifford Parish Council wrote an open letter to residents regarding the future of Little Stoke parkrun. In it he put forward the Council’s reasons for insisting that parkrun should pay for the use of Little Stoke park.
At every meeting and in every communication since this issue was first raised in September 2015 we have explained why parkrun is free to participants and, without a local revenue stream, why it cannot pay for the use of the parks where our events are held.
We believe that parkrun has a light footprint in the parks it uses, imposing little or no cost to local communities while bringing substantial benefits in terms of health, community building, support for active lifestyle, and personal development through volunteering.
parkrun has been lauded in the press for its provision of free to participate community-led running events to every community that wants one. It has won numerous awards and its founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt received a CBE for his contribution to grass roots physical activity. It has been cited in the government’s recent Sporting Future strategy for its exemplary model of volunteer-led sports provision, and is supported by local authorities across the UK. In October 2015 Little Stoke parkrun and junior parkrun, together with neighbouring parkruns, won the West of England Celebration of Sport award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sport and Physical Activity’.
We respect the right of Stoke Gifford Parish Council to grant or withdraw permission for parkrun at Little Stoke Park. We believe that Councillors have a simple choice to make: do the community benefits that parkrun brings outweigh any costs associated with hosting the event.
A decision will be taken on 12 April 2016 and we urge Councillors to make a decision based on the facts of the issue. For that reason we have responded in detail to Cllr Brown’s open letter which we believe misrepresents parkrun in a number of important respects. The letter is reproduced below with our responses in italics.
Letter from Stoke Gifford Parish Council (with response from parkrun in bold)
parkrun organise weekly 5km timed runs around the UK, they are open to everyone with no limitation to the number of runners that can participate. The Parish Council has hosted parkrun for the last three years and with the increased wear on the park has requested parkrun to contribute a small monetary amount towards the upkeep to which they have refused stating they are free of charge and cannot pay.
Why should parkrun UK contribute towards Little Stoke Park Maintenance?
- parkrun are an organised group with paid directors and staff and attract over 300 runners using the park & facilities each week.
parkrun UK is a not for profit limited company. There are no shareholders and any surpluses are devoted to creating more community-led free parkrun events. It has a small staff of 12 but parkrun events are delivered entirely by volunteers - approximately 8000 people every week.
- There is no limit to the number of runners that use the park.
To keep parkrun as simple and inclusive as possible, anyone who has registered as a parkrunner can come along and run. However we monitor numbers carefully and would not allow a run to go ahead if large numbers made it unsafe for runners or other park users. As numbers grow at an event, new parkruns are started elsewhere which relieve the pressure: this has been the story in South Gloucestershire and Bristol where there are now 7 parkrun events with more in the pipeline.
- They are sponsored by national companies.
parkrun has a small number of national sponsors and it is their support that allows us to bring free running events to every community that wants one. Little Stoke parkrun and junior parkrun were jointly funded by parkrun UK and South Gloucestershire Council and brought to the Stoke Gifford community at no cost to local residents.
- They monopolise the park paths and car park between 0830 & 1030 each Saturday and Sunday.
We do not recognise this description of parkrun monopolising the park.
We are in the park from around 0830-1030 on Saturday and 0830-0945 on Sunday. Much of this time is used for set-up and clear-down and does not interfere with other park users.
The average number of runners on Saturdays in 2015 was 235 and during the pre-run briefing and in the early stages of the run parkrun is a large presence on the footpaths around the path. However, the runners quickly thin out when the run gets underway. Results vary from week to week but we would expect over 33% of runners complete the course in under 25 minutes and over 66% in under 30 minutes.
The average number of runners (children of 4-14 years old) on Sundays in 2015 was 84 and they generally all complete their run in under 22 minutes.
We actively marshal the car park and reserve approximately one-third of the spaces for other users, which is currently more than enough. We have organised overflow parking at Little Stoke Baptist Church and encourage parkrunners to walk, jog or cycle to the event.
- They use the parks toilets and washing facilities.
parkrunners use the toilets which we've been assured are available for public use. We do not seek to use changing or washing facilities, or make them available to parkrunners. (We understand that on a few occasions a shower might have been used with permission from the groundsman and we suggest that such permission should not be granted).
- They use Council storage space.
We use a small storage area with permission from the Parish Council. We are grateful to the Parish Council for offering this facility, but if it is imposing undue cost we are happy to make other arrangements for kit storage.
- A large number of runners are from outside the Parish of Stoke Gifford and come from all across South Gloucestershire, Bristol and further afield to use the facilities in this area (which are financed by Stoke Gifford Council tax payers).
46% of registered parkrunners are from BS32 and BS34, and approximately 60% live within 3 miles of Little Stoke Park. That is pretty local although we acknowledge that these postcodes extend beyond the Parish boundary. It’s in the nature of sporting and social facilities that their catchment is often wider than the local authority in which they’re located, particularly at the parish or town level. We imagine that many Stoke Gifford residents make use of facilities in Bradley Stoke, or further afield in South Gloucestershire or Bristol, financed by council tax payers there.
- Little Stoke car park is too small for their parking use.
See our response on car parking above.
- Complaints have been received from local residents relating to pavement & grass verge parking, park users and hall hirers regarding a number of incidents involving runners over the last three years.
As far as we are aware the number of complaints is very small, and if that is not the case we do not understand why they have not been passed on to us to address. Regarding these particular parking issues it's not clear that they are attributable to parkrunners rather than other park users.
We are committed to being a good neighbour to all other park users and local residents. We liaise regularly (generally weekly) with park staff, and other organised groups who use the park and community hall. We address complaints immediately and have an incident reporting system in place to ensure our response is appropriate and proportionate. We pro-actively manage the event to minimise the impact of parkrun on the park and its community.
We have been working with a small group of Councillors to develop a formal 'Good Neighbour Policy' that builds on our existing commitment to community responsibility and sets out a framework for partnership between parkrun and the Parish Council.
- parkrun are an organised group and like any other group using the facilities should contribute towards the maintenance.
We are an organised group but operate on a different basis from other organised park events. We do not charge for participation, and we do not seek or receive a service from the Parish Council or exclusive use of any part of the park. We simply ask for shared use of the park for a short period on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
- The Parish Council has only recently paid out £55,000 from public funds for resurfacing the car park and with the additional 300+ runners per week, will shortly need to replace / repair the path at an estimated cost of £60,000, so as parkrun are significant users of the path on a regular basis they should contribute towards the upkeep.
These headline figures are deeply misleading. The need to replace or repair the path is not due to use by parkrun. A properly made tarmac path or car park should not be adversely affected even by 300 runners using it once a week. There is a discussion to be had about the extent to which parkrun increases routine maintenance costs. However, as a free event (free in order to encourage active lifestyle and physical activity) parkrun is not able to make a contribution to routine maintenance.
- As a Parish Council we are proud of our green open spaces and 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 which is evidenced by the Parish Council being amongst the lowest tax rises across South Gloucestershire. Should we continue to support ‘free of charge groups’ then it is very likely the precept will increase each year resulting in residents funding additional maintenance / repairs caused by runners from outside our area.
The Parish Council have never quantified the cost they believe is attributable to parkrun or the precept that would be necessary to cover it. Their initial proposal to charge parkrunners would have netted more than £10k per year. Beyond that they have never explained what would constitute “a small monetary amount towards the upkeep” of the park.
parkrun respects the environment and an important aspect of our events is to encourage runners to appreciate the fresh air and green spaces in which they take place. We have offered to support the maintenance of Little Stoke Park by encouraging parkrunners to take part in occasional litter-picks or similar activities, but SGPC has failed to acknowledge or discuss this offer.
- To conclude, parkrun maintain it is their ethos to remain ‘free of charge’ and have repeatedly stated they will 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.
parkrun cannot pay for park use and therefore will not apply for grant funding for that purpose, or allow the Council or anyone else to make an application on its behalf.
The Parish Council insisted for several months that they could not apply for grants but this turned out to be entirely false.
Subsequent discussion with South Gloucestershire Council confirmed that in reality there is no source of grant funding that will support routine park maintenance, whoever applies.
parkrun has suggested ways in which its success could be harnessed to develop a potentially fundable 'project' to establish Little Stoke Park as a hub for wider community-led physical activity (possibilities include outdoor circuit training equipment; volunteer opportunities in association with the youth club and local schools; exploiting synergies with recreational running groups, Nordic walkers, seniors groups, mums groups, etc). We would happily assist the Council in making grant applications of this kind with supporting evidence from parkrun. Sadly these positive suggestions were dismissed out of hand by the Council chair.
- The Parish Council cannot & will not stop people from using the parks for exercise & running but when it comes to an organisation with paid directors, fund raisers and sponsors it would be unfair to expect the resident’s to pay.
We believe the decision that faces Parish Councillors and the Stoke Gifford community is whether any costs attributable to parkrun (and these have never been identified) are justified by the benefits that parkrun brings to the community. Those benefits include:
- Contribution to physical and mental health
- A truly inclusive and supportive event which encourages more people to take part in regular physical activity
- An opportunity for families to participate together in a non-competitive sporting event
- A vehicle for building skills and contributing to community cohesion through volunteering
- Pro-active engagement with the government's Sporting Future strategy in partnership with a successful and multi-award winning organisation committed to delivering grass roots physical activity at little or no cost to local communities.
- The volunteer effort that makes parkrun happen. On a conservative estimate, the delivery of Little Stoke parkrun and junior parkrun have involved over 2000 hours of volunteer effort in the last year (which, applying South Gloucestershire Council’s formula for valuing volunteer activity, should be valued at over £27800).
- In the words of the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, "parkrun and junior parkrun is community led, and community facing, allowing local authorities to benefit the health of their population by simply supporting parkrun with a location and helping it to be visible".