New plan hatched to bring weekly 5km parkrun to Bradley Stoke

Photo of parkrun participants overlaid with the text: "Free, for everyone, forever … in Bradley Stoke?"

A new application to stage a weekly 5km parkrun on Saturday mornings in Bradley Stoke’s Three Brooks Local Nature Reserve looks set to be formally submitted to the landowner, South Gloucestershire Council, in the coming days.

The news comes seven years after a similar application was made following the controversial demise of the Little Stoke parkrun – after Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to levy a charge of £1 per runner for the use of Little Stoke Park, sparking national outrage.

Hundreds of parkruns take place around the country at 9am every Saturday. Each event is a free-to-enter timed 5k run that is open to everyone and designed to be safe and easy to take part in.

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The previous plan floundered when it was realised that it would not be possible to stage the Bradley Stoke parkrun over the planned route whilst construction activity was taking place on a section of Wessex Water’s Frome Valley Relief Sewer within the nature reserve. This work was originally planned to last six months from April 2017, but ended up taking a whole year.

The Journal understands that by the time the Wessex Water work was completed, most of the prospective volunteers behind the Bradley Stoke parkrun had moved on to help out instead at several other new parkruns that had in the meantime started up in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire areas, and so the impetus for the Bradley Stoke event was lost.

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Details of the new application are revealed in papers issued ahead of a meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council on Wednesday (22nd March 2023) where the matter is set to be discussed.

The new initiative is being driven by a volunteer individual who says they previously managed the ‘Active in Life‘ project set up by Southern Brooks and South Gloucestershire Council to help local people on a low income become more active and healthier. A letter sent by the individual to the town council states that “full funding [for the Bradley Stoke initiative] is being provided by Sport England”.

The letter adds:

“There is currently a list of over 50 people keen to get involved to volunteer and support the set up.  We have carried out initial consultation with the Conservation Group which was generally positive but [we are] awaiting written confirmation of this.”

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An ‘ecological assessment’ attached to the letter states that the event “would bring approximately 200 runners to the site on Saturday mornings throughout the year, for around two hours”. Car parking would be off-site, “provided by a local supermarket”.

The proposed route of the parkrun differs from the one specified in the 2016 application in that it starts near the Three Brooks Lake (a.k.a ‘the duck pond’) and extends further north-westwards to Primrose Bridge before making a U-turn and heading back to the lake. In common with the previous application, runners will first head south-west to Braydon Gate before making a U-turn.

Route map.
Proposed route of the Bradley Stoke parkrun in the Three Brooks Local Nature Reserve.

The Journal understands that the town council is merely a consultee on the application and so has no power to veto it. At the time of the 2016 application, many town councillors were less than enthusiastic, expressing concerns about runners potentially damaging paths in the nature reserve and causing a hazard for other users. They asked that a video/photographic record of the route be carried out to record the state of the paths before the first run takes place and then again after six months.

More information and related links:

Editor’s note: The public are invited to attend all council meetings. You can have your say during the 15-minute ‘public questions’ session at the start of each meeting.

ℹ️ An earlier version of this article suggested that the current initiative is being driven by “a department within South Gloucestershire Council”. This is not the case and the article has been amended to use the term “volunteer individual”.

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Town council debate (March 2023)

UPDATE added 27th March 2023.

At the meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council on Wednesday 22nd March 2023, councillors, local residents and a representative from voluntary groups who work on the reserve raised a number of points in relation to the parkrun proposals that had been circulated. The draft minutes of the meeting summarise the discussion as follows:

  • Acknowledgement that there is a need to support and promote a healthy lifestyle, but this needs to be balanced against the potential impact on the enjoyment of the nature reserve by the local community and therefore, before any decision is made by the town council, the local community need to be consulted on their views to ensure that all views are represented.
  • Feelings that the nature reserve may not be the ideal place for a regular event on this potential scale as the numbers attending will be difficult to control. It may be feasible if the run travelled through the reserve (as happens with other organised events that use the reserve) but not to start and finish in one specific location in the middle of the reserve.
  • The impact on wildlife (swans, toads etc.) could be significant and during bad/wet weather, the paths become flooded and unusable due to the types of surfacing  
  • Concerns regarding loss of parking provision at Willow Brook Centre through recent and current planning changes to the site, this will be exacerbated by potentially large number of runners using the car park.
  • Concerns regarding the good works being done by the local volunteers on the reserve being undermined/damaged by large numbers of runners in the reserve each week.
  • Concerns that the parkrun group have given the impression in their written submission that they have consulted with the local volunteer group who help to look after the reserve, when in fact, the conversation with a few of the volunteers took place in the reserve during a chance meeting during a dog walk. No formal consultation with the volunteer group has yet been undertaken.
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During the discussion, Cllr Roger Avenin said:

“The Three Brooks nature reserve is a totally inappropriate place to hold a parkrun. The thought that 200 people running down there all at once will have no effect on wildlife is just fantasy. The paths down there are just compacted earth; they’re not hardcore. There are puddles all over the place. Often it gets flooded. When you’ve reduced it to your version of the Somme battlefield, who’s going to pay for the repairs?”

Cllr Ben Randles shared that he was caught between the importance of the nature reserve and the positive benefits for runners. He said he would be more comfortable “if we did some kind of trial with lower numbers … a staggered ramp up to 200 participants with constant feedback and consultation”.

Following discussion Cllr Tom Aditya proposed that a decision be deferred to the next Full Council meeting in May, to enable the town council to “consult with the local community”. The proposal was carried with six in favour, four against and two abstentions.

Editor’s comment: Regardless of the less-than-enthusiastic feedback from town councillors, it is thought likely that the parkrun volunteer group will now proceed with its application to South Gloucestershire Council (SGC). This will trigger a round of formal consultation, which will once again involve the town council. However any decision by SGC might be delayed until after the upcoming local elections on 4th May 2023.

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