Cash-strapped council wants to levy charge on popular parkrun

Little Stoke Parkrun trial event on 22nd August 2012.

The future of a hugely popular, free weekly running event held in a Little Stoke Park for the past three years could be under threat after the local council said it planned to levy a charge of £1 per runner to cover ongoing maintenance costs of the park.

One of hundreds of similar events that take place around the country at 9am every Saturday morning, Little Stoke parkrun is a free-to-enter timed 5k run that is open to everyone and designed to be safe and easy to take part in.

The Little Stoke event began in November 2012, with support from South Gloucestershire Council, and has seen its number of participants grow from fewer than a hundred per week during its first six months to an average of 243 per week in October 2015.

The increasing numbers have put a strain on car parking at the Little Stoke Lane venue, which the organisers have attempted to solve by encouraging runners to walk, jog or cycle to the venue. Additional car parking has been made available at Little Stoke Baptist Church and car sharing is encouraged.

The event is organised on an entirely voluntary basis, with a core team of helpers supplemented by participants who, from time to time, “give up” their run in order to help.

After a unanimous decision to levy a charge was made by Stoke Gifford Parish Council’s Finance Committee on 8th September, representatives of parkrun were invited to attend a meeting of Full Council on 13th October, where the matter was thrown open for debate.

Chair of council Ernie Brown told the meeting that the park had significant running costs, including maintenance of the car park and perimeter path (both of these are used by parkrun participants), and, in these times of austerity, needed to be “run as a business”, adding “nothing is free in this day and age”.

Geoff Keogh, director at the nearby Ashton Court parkrun and a local parkrun ambassador, explained to the meeting that it is a founding principle of the parkrun organisation that events should be inclusive and have no barriers to participation. This, he emphasised, was “non-negotiable” and ruled out any compulsory charge being made on participants and any handling of money by parkrun volunteers.

Mr Keogh and other parkrun supporters who spoke at the meeting said they believed parkrun’s “added value”, through a range of positive personal and community impacts, represented a considerable benefit to local people.

Possible revenue raising ideas discussed at the meeting included having a profit-making refreshment stall at parkrun events and asking car park users for a voluntary donation. Applying for a grant towards maintenance of the park was also suggested, but it was stated that local councils are not permitted to apply for many types of grants, so councillors asked if parkrun might consider this instead.

During further discussion, Cllr Brian Allinson said he regarded parkrun as an asset to the community and didn’t want it to leave, but added that he had “a responsibility to all citizens of the parish”. His proposal to delay the imposition of a charge for six months, to allow time for other revenue raising avenues to be explored, was agreed by a majority vote.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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  1. the parkrunners are only one of three groups that regularly use the car park first thing on a Saturday morning; there are also dance-class-parents and footballers (let alone all the other people who use it during the rest of the week!). Why pick on the runners? As you explain, Little Stoke Parkrun is strictly free to participate, and does not “handle money” in relation to the event. If the Council is so desperate, why not make the car park a pay-and-display so that all users get charged equally? This would be much more fair. Or is the Council a bit shy about the idea of actually organising parking fees for itself, and just trying to pick on a community group that looks successful to do the donkey work for them?! It would be a shame for Little Stoke to lose its parkrun and for the 200-300 people who come every week, to go to the neighbouring events instead – this would reflect very poorly on the Council for forcing it out, which it would in effect be doing, by asking it to do something that is so firmly against park’s rules and ethos.

  2. This plan is insane. If they try taxing people trying to stay healthy I will take direct action.

    I’ve got a few ideas. Bring. It. On.

  3. “nothing is free in this day and age” says Councillor Ernie Brown.

    Indeed; it’s already been paid for once via council tax.

    If the parish council didn’t take this into account when pitching their budget for 2015, well……..bad luck I’m afraid.

  4. As a keen parkrunner and health professional who is increasingly worried about the health and fitness of the population this is very sad to hear, the whole ethos and spirit of parkrun is that it is free, and also entirely inclusive, from first time runners, families, those with disabilities and learning difficulties, and people not confident enough to do other sports, dog walkers, buggy pushers you name it, if you start making your conmunity feel unwelcome, or a nuisance for using facilities that were set out for just this purpose then they will go elsewhere, but maybe that’s what they want. Well done Mr Keogh for fighting for it! I wholly agree there are a good few ideas for raising the money they need ( as said above- that they didn’t budget for) they should put some work in themselves and shouldn’t point the finger.. I hope there is some serious work in the next six months rather than dilly dally and then threaten parkrun again. #loveparkrun

  5. I’m livid at this totally predictable opportunism by this short sighted small minded council who think they are so clever. Further, I am very concerned that even debating this idea could spell the end for parkrun across the whole network. The whole point is people are starting to look after themselves.

    At parkrun people put themselves out to help others get started, get fit, get friends, learn skills when they volunteer and much more. The health benefits of doing exercise(previously pushed very hard on national television by government) are enormous and could make a massive difference to NHS expenditure in the long run too.

    Park runners are responsible and considerate to the surroundings, much more than those who use the parks to hang out drinking or worse in the evenings. (will they also be charged to use the park now?) Public green spaces as far as I recollect have always been there for the public to enjoy, not be charged entry for. We have already paid our entry fees when we pay our council taxes.

    Maybe Stoke Gifford Council should consult the red trousered genius who wasted so much Bristol money on the hugely unpopular and largely unworkable 20 mph speed limit he put in place, an unmitigated disaster and biggest waste of money Bristol has seen for quite some years.

  6. A great many Councils in the UK actually help to fund their parkrun’s – we regularly get grants to help with equipment needs etc as we are seen as a benefit in increasing health and therefore reducing the burden on the NHS etc. This is totally outrageous and the councillors should be ashamed of themselves for supporting this idea. Local residents have paid for the upkeep of that park so that they can get together and run in it on a Saturday morning. How about offering the council 50% of the income that the run generates? That will confuse the hell out of them. So parkrun do not charge for attending, but the local council do? That seems like profiteering. As suggested above, make the carpark pay and display – that will solve lots of issues at the same time.

  7. If alternative funding can’t be found parkrun MUST pull out. This would be a precedent too far and would undermine the principles of parkrun as a whole.

    The benefits of parkrun far, far outweigh the costs to the parish council who appear to have taken a very short-term approach.

    Cannot understand why they don’t make the car parks – pay and display would seem the fairest approach to impact all park users, not just those who run/jog/walk at parkrun on a Saturday morning.

  8. Councils keep going on that people need to get out and exercise and now thay want to charge for one of the only free things thay can do. Thay should be ashamed of them self’s if thay need money that much take a pay cut

  9. So parking is free and there sounds like no cafe is near where the run is held.

    Problem = costs money to maintain the park.
    Solution = charge for parking and set up a cafe to make the most of having several hundred people in one spot for a couple hours!

    Seems ridiculously simple…so simple that it appears to be much easier for the council to kill off an event that gets hundreds of people from the local community active that would otherwise be at home getting fat.

    Well done council.


  10. A great shame – if the council needs to raise cash – pay & display carparking.

    The council’s proposal would lead to the parkrun shutting down there so it wouldn’t generate any extra funds anyway.

  11. I recently ran the Cambridge Park Run with 400 other like minded individuals. There is an existing £2.00 charge for the car park which is collected by the marshals, but this is only to avoid congestion and stop the machines from going in to meltdown. In Stoke I can only assume that there is no existing charge and therefore council would have to start charging and put in to place some infrastructure at some cost. Consequently all park users would have to pay. Essentially this is a public open space that the council needs to manage in a fair and even manner and simply charging the runners is not fair or even. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of the value added impact of park run. community spirit, health benefits, not to mention a very positive vibe. In many ways this is a cah generating opportunity which is fine but must be FAIR AND EQUAL.

  12. Every parkrun has its difficulties, but I find it incredibly difficult to believe that there is no alternative than to charge runners.

    This council seem out of touch and out of date. If they cannot see the cost benefits of having a free run in a local park, ran by volunteers for each member in their community I don’t know why they became councillers!

  13. Some councils do so little to create opportunities for the people of their town and then jump to exploit what someone else created, I find that so sad. great councils support Parkrun not exploit it.

  14. If they really want to run the council like a business then they would have thought about investing in a Cafe to benefit from 200+ people visiting the park for a couple of hours.

    Missed opportunity clearly.

    If parkrun is to be closed, are they going to show a deficit of close to £10000 in park’s maintenance ? As they were clearly planning to raise that sum based on £1 per runner per week.

    It all looks like the council has already decided to get the runners out of the park for whatever reasons and hitting Parkrun’s Achilles ( free 5k run , no charge ever ) to ensure that happens. The footfall of other park users all around the week is way higher than the 45 minutes of 200 runners on the Saturday.

  15. Why pick on parkrunners, who probably respect the park more than most? If charges are to be made, why not charge dog walkers or pic-nic-ers or people strolling through the park having a fag.

  16. And don’t forget the parish council would be quoting the level of park users when applying for grants or funding there or elsewhere in their area. (that’s how grants and funding are often based). Also if they levy this hour usage of the park – what will they be charging people who use it the other 167 hours per week? parkrun uses the park less than 1% of the time each week. Try encouraging folks to use your park and public areas, they all benefit. Go along and try joining in before you vote to finish it.

  17. Insanity is all I can say. The health benefits, the sense of community and the encouragement provided by Park run would be a sad loss. It is free, well attended and run by volunteers. It encourages health and well being, supports new runners, has vital links to running clubs who help with ‘couch to 5 K’. Money grabbing, poorly thought out idea.

  18. If Stoke Gifford council are short sighted enough to bring in this charge, I’m pretty sure Patchway would welcome the use of Scott park with it’s new marked out 1-2-3 course.

    Why the quickest growing council in SGC with the many 1000’s of new houses being built in Stoke Gifford each generating extra council tax for SGPC and a large amount of S106 money can’t make ends meet seems strange!

  19. I am the E D. of hillsborough parkrun in Sheffield. The council tried to charge £60 a year for use of the park but we came up with an alternative. This was once or twice a year each parkrun (5 in Sheffield) would donate an hour of 4-5 volunteers to tidy/clean/trim the parks.

    After a year of this the council realised the benefit of parkruns and decided to waive both the charge and volunteering.

  20. Black Park charge £2:50 pay and display parking fee. It works well and the funds raised, largely from parkrunners, has allowed the park to extend the parking available. Can this council not get it’s act together and do the same?

  21. We are very fortunate to have an enlightened council in Poole. From an inaugural 60+ at the first Poole parkrun we now regularly get 600+ each week.
    This has led to some congestion on the local roads, so the Council has made the “Pay and Display” car park opposite the Park free of charge on Saturday morning.

  22. Always surprises me how some people get in to positions of power & influence when they’re clearly incompetent. You don’t charge for parking but what to charge runners of a free event that is organised & run by volunteers. What is wrong with some people???

  23. I do hope that the seemingly unanimous comments in support of Little Stoke parkrun are fed back to the Parish Council – and its apparently totally out of touch members. Do they not realise what they are meddling with? From its beginnings eleven years ago, parkrun has grown and grown and is now a truly wonderful success story. The latest figures are for the 14th of this month and in the UK alone there were 66,536 people taking part in parkrun. There were 7,531 volunteers who were giving their time totally for free – without whom parkrun could not happen. And these figures are for a very wet Saturday. Apart from anything else, the health benefits and subsequent NHS cost savings, plus the wonderful spirit of community participation alone should be reasons enough for this debate not even to be taking place. The attitude of the Parish Council and its members is absolutely farcical.

  24. My local ParkRun (Huntingdon/Cambridgeshire) has a pay and display parking requirement (£1 per 2hrs or £2 for 6), which is obviously for all park users, not just runners. I think that; whilst running will obviously degrade certain areas of any park more than normal use; it is ridiculous to target ParkRun events to pay a fee for the use of the “public” park. Create pay and display parking for everyone that uses the park and you will drum up a lot more funds than if you were to simply target the ParkRun users, who will more than likely just not use the park and move somewhere else.

  25. This is so sad to read. I totally agree with all of the above comments. It is just so narrow minded to penalise a hugely successful community project that encourages a healthy lifestyle and volunteer participation.

    Instead, the council should be looking at how parkrun can encourage more people to get out and enjoy the facilities available, as well as increasing those facilities, opening a cafe (small business project) and increasing revenue to sustain the park, in a fair manner.

  26. Incredibly short-sighted decision, as so many others have already commented. I organise a parkrun myself, and it has not only helped to improve the health of those who participate, but is helping to build community cohesion among a diverse group of local people. Charging the runners won’t earn the council any significant sum, it will drive the parkrun away to a location with less blinkered local leaders.

  27. If anything the parkrun should be charging the council for the service they deliver to their community. Large sums are spent by both local and national governments on campaigns and activities trying to get people healthy and to build communities. Here is something that delivers both and it is being done free of charge!

  28. ‘Cash-strapped Council’ – unfounded and untrue.

    At the October Stoke Gifford Parish Council meeting the Editor of the Stoke Gifford Journal was informed that his headline was unacceptably misleading, Stoke Gifford Parish Council is well managed with stringent fiscal control to ensure residents get ‘value for money’ which has resulted in the precept only being raised by 1.75% in the last five years.
    We are proud of our open spaces and spend considerable time & effort to ensure that our parks are well maintained. We have no intention to, and indeed would not stop runners from using the park for exercise and to keep fit! However Parkrun is an organised group which should, like any other user group, anticipate contributing towards the maintenance of the facilities they use.
    Little Stoke currently hosts two of the four organised runs in South Glos, with up to 300 runners per week impacting on facilities maintenance, and therefore Parish expenditure.
    As an organised group Parkrun is able to apply for grants to contribute towards the upkeep of the local facilities they use. We should now be considering on how we can work together to keep Parkrun at Little Stoke! Negative comments, especially those from outside the Parish, serve no purpose in moving forward, whilst positive suggestions would be most welcome.

  29. Cllr Brown, I hesitate to get bogged down in a discussion about a brief headline for fear of it detracting from the points reported in the main body of the article. However, you seem to interpret it as a commentary on the council’s financial housekeeping over the last five years, which it is most definitely not.

    “Cash-strapped” means “not having as much money as you need” and says nothing about how you have arrived at that state. My use of this term reflects several comments made by councillors at the October meeting which implied that the council needed to boost its income in order to cover anticipated future expenditure such as running the parish youth club after the district council ends its funding next year, repairing the perimiter path at Little Stoke Park and and the (albeit distant) future cost of resurfacing the car park at Little Stoke Park. For each of these, the meeting was told/asked: “We don’t have the money to do that. Where are we going to get it from?” In this sense, the use of the term “cash-strapped” is, I believe, justified.

    I welcome all comments, whether from within the parish or not, and hope that they prove useful in finding a way forward on this issue.

    Stephen Horton, Editor

  30. I completely agree with virtually every other commenter that this is a short-sighted ill-conceived grasping idea from the council.

    But people need to see the bigger picture. This is a council elected by the local residents, attempting (sometimes misguidedly) to represent those residents. Councils are being backed into stupid straw-clutching decisions due to the draconian cuts imposed on local governments by the ideological policies of our current government.

    It’s lovely to blame someone else, but if you deride this council suggestion, and vote Tory, then please be aware that you’re part of the problem.

  31. Being charitable, it must be assumed surely that when the Finance Committee discussed this £1 per runner fee, they were unaware that it was an impossibility in the form they proposed given the parkrun ethos (i.e. the prior research was poor).

    I hope everyone comes together to find a (fair) solution that works for all, as forcing the parkrun to move to another parish is surely not in anyone’s interests.

  32. For me, and perhaps for many, the “running” part of parkrun is surpassed by the social benefits it provides. The parkrun community is truly incredible, you have an instant rapport with your fellow runners, you get cheered (and you thank) the wonderful volunteers for making it happen, you make friends easily (people tour from parkrun to parkrun), you have a chat. All in a pleasant leafy park – which we thank the Parish Council for.

    parkrun juniors is linked to Little Stoke parkrun, this event is even more incredible as you see children being healthy, being overjoyed when they beat their pb, earning wristbands, learning about volunteering, and, above all, building confidence. All in a pleasant leafy park – which we thank the Parish Council for.*

    It goes against the grain that something so great and community based should have to be financially paid for (i.e. money changing hands). Money, the greatest divider is dividing here. The amount has no relevance but, if levied, would be something that would be a barrier to taking part.

    It goes against the grain that the parkrunners might, to some degree, cause deterioration to (what I hope we can call “our”) pleasant leafy park.

    There is a brilliant idea floating above that should be explored further. I, a Little Stoke parkrunner, would be extremely happy to volunteer my time (manually/professionally) to the Parish Council to do some kind of work which will help “balance the books”**. I believe that the community spirit of parkrunners would also contribute. Would that be the basis for a viable solution?

    * I am aware of comments from the Parish Council that the junior parkrun will be unaffected but I see juniors as helping build children’s confidence to grow to take on the 5km course as a natural progression, should the 5km run have to move, then the juniors would surely follow too.

    ** Based on the proposal of £1 per person per parkrun with an average of 250 participants I really do not think parkrun’s impact is £12,500 per annum on Little Stoke park but I accept there is something.

  33. Extract from the minutes of a meeting of Stoke Gifford Parish Council on 12th January 2106:

    EB reported that Councillors had met with parkrun representatives in the last week but the meeting had only lasted an hour. Parkrun confirmed that it had Safeguarding and Risk Assessment policies in place. Parkrun representatives’ position with reference to facilitating a contribution towards maintenance costs of Little Stoke Park remained that they cannot and will not apply for a grant as it would set a worldwide precedent. Councillors raised continuing concerns about potential loss of revenue from other park users, who do contribute to maintenance via the booking fees they pay, if they felt swamped by the number of parkrun attendees. Parkrun representatives present spoke about the parkrun ethos and how they had rearranged their parking provision to address concerns of other users. They suggested that Parkrun’s presence provided a net benefit to Little Stoke with their volunteer input representing a £10k “payment in kind”. They recognised local concerns about the fact that runners can just turn up without any restriction of numbers, stating that they do monitor usage and are looking at another venue in Bristol, They reported that 40% of the runners had BS32 and BS34 postcodes and that they had taken no part in the recent negative publicity. A volunteer from Horfield explained how he had become involved as a runner
    and then volunteered to support the Junior run. He came via public transport. In closing EB stated that he anticipated a decision would be made at the next Council meeting [on 9th February 2016]. He suggested that without any contribution towards maintenance costs by parkrun Council would have to consider implementing measures to include limiting the number of runners attending and not providing storage facilities on site.

    (EB = Cllr Ernie Brown)

  34. I’m a bit of a parkrun tourist and have run at several venues.
    Many parkruns use pay and display carparks. No one minds and getting there a bit early to factor in time to park/ get ticket etc is re norm for us and the majority of other runners.
    I’m sure no one would mind paying £1-2 for the carparks.
    Adding a coffee shop to the pavilion would add to the community and generate additional income. The coffee shops at the parks we run at are full of runners/ family and friends after the run all happy to spend their cash on post run cakes/ breakfast/ coffee. Although I appreciate black park in Bucks also has a go ape, their set up is great. Pay and display parking or an annual permit and a couple of coffee shops which are always busy! Come in councillors – use your initiative and charge all users of the park rather than allienate one group. Where’s your entrepreneurial spirit?

  35. Woeful suggestion by Council and clearly they haven’t heard about stopping digging when you’re in a hole. They fall into the category of “know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Perhaps the Conservative Councillors will recall their party’s policy of selling off playing fields or reductions in central govt subsidy to local councils? Doubtless they’ve made their opposition to these party policies known? Pigs might fly (although council will consider surcharges for any flying pigs)

  36. This is what we have to deal with now in the UK. A place where pompous politicians forget they are there to serve the public. Please do the sensible thing and take the Park run away from these idiots. Please find a receptive council nearby and take it there.
    Volunteering, all inclusive, where people can experience the joy of racing no matter their ability. Park run is a fantastic embodiment of what people power can do. You should never yield to these self interested, expense claiming, pricks at the council; who no doubt have forgotten we are the midst of a diabetes epidemic.

    Unbelievable incompetence. I am outraged by these morons.

  37. as an impartial observer, park manager and sportsman a few points need to be made. 1) 500+ feet running over the same route each week has an impact on the site and the repairs and maintenance are not without cost. 2) I am a rugby player, I take part for the health and social benefits of the sport; there is an annual membership fee and weekly subs to help maintain the pitches & facilities that we use. 3) both parties need to sit down look at the challenges and find a mutually beneficial way forward – parks are sadly discretionary services and are often one of the easiest targets for budget cuts – unfortunately, and contrary to popular belief, these facilities do not look after themselves and they have to find new ways to maintain and support parks activities.

  38. All that is good about Britain is represented by parkrun, all that is sour in this land is represented by Stoke Gifford Parish Council.

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