Parish Councillors are not used to publicity. They do their job in their local communities quietly, representing their electorate and providing access to facilities, such as parks.
This week, however, Stoke Gifford Parish Council in South Gloucestershire managed to gain coverage on every major media outlet as they told parkrun that they could not use Little Stoke park to run their weekly free timed 5k runs.
No big deal, you might say. Are they not merely representing the views of the locality? Well, this is a big deal, and it is questionable whether they really are representing the views of their electorate.
Two years ago this group of 9 individuals seemed delighted to have a local parkrun. The Parish Council supported the event and the benefit it provided for the local community. In a country facing terrible rising obesity levels and a breakdown in community relations, it is not hard to work out why a volunteer organised parkrun that encourages everyone (from children, to mums, to the elderly) to run 5km in a friendly, non threatening environment is a good thing.
Yesterday, they dramatically changed their mind because the park needed maintenance as a result of people using it (is that not what parks are for!?). They clearly have a gap in their budget, and wish to have a not for profit community running event fill it for them. And instead of asking volunteers to help through giving of time to help maintain the park, they have instead insisted on being paid.
The Stoke Gifford Parish Council is practising parochial economics. They talk about maintaining a low council tax, yet they completely ignored the economic benefit gained from having hundreds of people come together to exercise in their community. The savings for local health services are evidenced in parts of the country who actually care about these things, as are the upsides for local shops and cafes with increased trade from those coming from outside the immediate area to the parkrun.
It’s an ill thought through position by the Parish Council and sets a dangerous precedent. Anyone that cares should be encouraging the UK Government, Opposition parties and media all to come out and condemn the dogmatic and ill advised decision as soon as possible.
Parkrun has been one of the best and most exciting examples of how to increase participation and encourage people into exercise in a positive environment. Millions have been attracted to running as a result. How can that be a bad thing? If anything, Stoke Gifford Parish Council should be paying the parkrun volunteers for the work they are doing to help their local community.
So, please, Stoke Gifford Parish Council, see the big picture, stop practicing parochial economics, and start embracing this amazing local community service you are getting free of charge.