A semi-planned break and parkrun gets me back on track (not the way you'd think)

Well hello! I know. It's been a while. I thought about writing lots. I have a backlog of blog topics longer than a very long thing which has been growing over the last month and yet, here we are and I haven't written anything for almost 30 days.

I knew that last month was going to be a quiet one for blogging and I'd acknowledged that to myself ahead of time. Since the beginning of the year my job had been getting more and more intense and I knew that with the end of my contract coming up it would be even more relentless. Plus, I'd have the extra time pressure of starting the hunt for a new job so I was giving myself a bit of mental breathing space by not trying to cram in a blog when I wasn't feeling it.

But I missed it. Even then, when I had the free time, the ability to write something I cared about or wanted to put out into the world just wasn't there. So, again, I didn't force it. I was getting excited for the end of my contract, for the fact that I'd hopefully be able to break through this block and also have the time to enjoy writing again, and I was just sort of trying to go with the flow of my insanely busy life without the usual blog-guilt in the background.

This week my blog inspiration changed for the better. Sometimes all it takes is one little thing or, in this case, a thing that feels very big in principle. Like the parkrun ridiculousness happening in Bristol. It made me feel pretty riled up and like I had something worth talking about again.

parkrun, Little Stoke Park

If you haven't heard about this, parkrun (the free, not-for-profit, global phenomenon that has gotten hundreds of thousands of people off their couches and on the path to healthier lives. Did I mention it's free? And helps get people active and healthy? Okay, sorry, I'm kind of riled up ;) ) had been challenged by a local council that their Little Stoke Park runners were causing wear and tear to the public pathways and needed to pay for maintenance, via a charge to each runner. The whole ethos of parkrun is a free service to get people active and, as many others before me have quickly pointed out, that's what council tax is for. These runners already pay for the council services, including park maintenance, through council tax. Also, I'm no actuary but let's take a look at the numbers: this parkrun says they get 200-300 people out each weekend. Parkruns are timed 5Ks so, even with set-up and tear-down (minimal that it is) let's be generous and say they're there for four hours over the course of a weekend. Now, assuming that this park is the kind that has gates and isn't open to the public between, say, 7pm and 7am, that means that it's open a total of 84 hours a week. 84 - 4 = 80 hours that the rest of the community uses the park (not to mention the fact that parkrun shares the paths and in no way prohibits other people from enjoying the park at the same time). What the council is saying is that in those remaining 80 hours a week they don't get 200-300 people using the paths and the park, because that's clearly the only way that they could possibly claim that the wear and tear on the pathways is due overwhelmingly to the parkrunners to the point that they need to be the ones to pay. WHAT?! That's less than four people an hour. With all the mums and dogs and old people and football kick-abouters and casual cricketers and teens hanging about and toddlers and people walking to work, they get less than four people an hour? I think someone on the council needs to check their math(s).

Little Stoke Park, Stoke Gifford Parish Council, parkrun

Not only that but the parkrun volunteer team had made several offers to the council to help find volunteers from parkrun to fundraise or commit to community volunteering to help with park upkeep, which the council have turned down or ignored. Sounds to me like the park maintenance and betterment of the local area isn't actually what the council care about...

Add to this the fact that the current national government (the less said about them the better) has on its agenda several items to do with improving the health of the nation and came up with that brilliant term 'Big Society' by which they mean volunteers do things that trained professionals used to do but can't anymore because wealthy bankers needed more money (or something), and this decision by the council to try to charge for this free service makes even less sense. Oh, and did I mention that Stoke Parish Council is reportedly one of the wealthiest councils in the UK? Yeah.

There are so, so many people who have benefitted and continue to benefit from parkrun and there aren't nearly enough free, easy-to-join initiatives like this one to encourage people to get into a healthy lifestyle, I feel really passionately that Stoke Gifford council have made a serious error in judgement to the detriment of the citizens they're supposed to act in the interests of. There's a petition doing the rounds trying to get them to reverse the decision, which you can find here.

I really hope that they will have a change of heart at Stoke Gifford. It boggles my mind that they could be so closed-minded about this given all the benefits and the outpouring of support shown to parkrun. In my case, although it doesn't affect me personally, I do care deeply about the impact it has on the people who it does affect and I suppose in that respect I have one thing to thank Stoke Gifford council for--the reminder of what I'm passionate about and what really motivates me. So thanks for reminding me, and clearly countless others, that there are good people doing good things in the name of health and fitness and that we should all thank them and get behind what they're doing. Now let's all go parkrun.

Are you a parkrunner? What did you think of this decision? Are there any other local, free-to-join activities near you like this that need support?

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