Every which way you look, we are being urged to be more active, be more of a community, be more sociable, and give more back to the community by volunteering. From the ‘Big Society’, to ‘NHS Live Well’ to ‘Active for Life’, these messages are consistent from all sources.
Except one! Stoke Gifford Parish Council have taken it upon themselves to go against the grain. A council should be there to serve its population. I am part of that population. But now I’m potentially going to be told that I must pay to run in my own park.
Parkrun is a truly, truly wonderful thing. Run entirely by volunteers, it manages to lay on 800 events worldwide, and every single one of them is free to the participant. It provides a community spirit that is not, and cannot be, matched by any other organisation that involves payment. The simple reason is that without a payment changing hands, there can be no doubt over the intentions of the organisers. They are not there because they have to be, or to collect a paycheck. They are VOLUNTEERS simply there to help others be active, to help others connect with each other, to help others become healthier and fitter, to give back to the community, and to help foster a sense of belonging and team spirit.
As for my personal story, I had never ran for anything other than to catch the bus occasionally and none of my family had run either. Now…
- I run regularly at the Little Stoke parkrun, and volunteer too.
- My wife started running and completed her first full parkrun. Something she would not have dreamed of previously.
- My 11 year old runs regularly. He has steadily improved his fitness, and now loves to volunteer too.
- My 9 year old runs regularly. His confidence has improved massively, and he also volunteers too.
- Even my 4 year old runs regularly and loves meeting his friends at the junior parkrun. He started off walking the course, but now can run the whole way without stopping.
Without parkrun, this is one family in Bradley Stoke that would be significantly less healthy, and far less integrated into the local neighbourhood. I’m sure we’re not the only one. It is that sense of community and friendship that gets us out there on a weekend.
It is more than a weekend run. It is getting to know local people. It is to regularly see someone on the street or at the supermarket and say hello and chat, because you have met them at parkrun.
Parkrun is not a race. It is not elitist. It is open for all ages and all abilities – the person who gets round in an hour is treated the same as the person who gets round in 20 minutes. Families can run together, from grandparents to grandchildren. People in wheelchairs go round, and babies in pushchairs. And they can do this every single week. The absence of a charge for this whole event makes that a truly inclusive proposition.
The freedom to run free must be preserved.
Save Little Stoke parkrun!
Waseem Ahmed, Bradley Stoke
[Ed: This is just one of more than 30 emails that The Journal has received on this matter.]
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