It has been quite a surprise to see our own Stoke Gifford in the national media headlines following the decision of our parish council to decide to levy a charge on park runs. I suppose the publicity has not exactly been favourable but hey ho that’s how it goes.
On the night the council decided to go ahead with plans to charge for park runs, I happened to be a few yards away from the meeting hall watching a football match in which my son was playing. For what it is worth, the pitch cost the football team £60 to hire, as well as £27 for a referee. Playing football at Little Stoke is not cheap. In exchange for that £60, players get cramped changing rooms, showers and toilets and the pitch gets marked out. They have to take the posts and nets down themselves.
My sons play cricket for our village team, too. Volunteers from the club do all the preparation for the wicket itself, the club provides all equipment and players play substantial fees in order to play. If you want something for nothing, don’t play football, cricket or for that matter just about anything else.
The park run situation is another thing altogether. In principle and in an ideal world, I would like nothing more than park runs to be free. It is a good thing that people are getting exercise. But I am wrestling with the rights and wrongs with this.
I have been to Little Stoke park on a Saturday morning when the park run is taking place and the car park is always rammed, which is very odd since all of those arguing the other night with councillors appeared to be locals. As well as that, there are football matches on a Saturday morning and players pay to play in them. Many of these players cannot get anywhere near the car park, so park in adjacent streets and the facilities the players pay for are routinely used by the runners. This is a matter of fact and some people I know have been very unhappy about these aspects of the park runs.
And there is a perception in these parts, not even vaguely recognised by the celebrity park run supporters or a compliant media, that there is an element of people wanting something for nothing. I certainly do not sense that there is unanimous support for the park runners’ argument, far from it.
Having said that, no one is against the very principles of park runs but by being pushed into the public arena, bigger questions are being raised about the need for people to take exercise and participate in sport and the level of costs that prevent many of them so doing. Let us be honest: gymnasiums, like the Active Virgin monstrosity behind us, are used by the affluent middle classes; its costs being way beyond the pockets of ordinary folk. But not everyone likes the idea of going to a gym and even those who do go obviously find it so dull they listen to music, presumably to take their minds away from the sheer drudgery of what they are doing. And running for running’s sake, including Park runs and 10ks – what’s that all about? Not all of us look at the prospect of running round a park as being an exciting thing to do. But I have to say this: if I went to take part in a council park in an organised run, I would not be surprised to be asked to make a subscription or donation to assist with the maintenance of said park. I am not someone who expects something for nothing.
This is how I see it all ending:
The pressure from media types and sporting celebrities will begin to tell on the volunteer councillors who will tire of all the grief and, I’m afraid, abuse they are getting and the police presence for the meeting (“in case it all kicks off”, as I was told by a police officer on Tuesday night) won’t be there all the time. They’ll cave in eventually, there will be scenes of joy unconfined with lycra clad joggers and it will all be forgotten within a week.
After all this, I am still on the fence because I can’t square the circle. On the one hand, we want people to be healthy and fit but on the other hand we are saying that the only free option is pounding the lanes in a public park. And everything else costs a fortune.
If nothing else, Stoke Gifford Parish Council has inadvertently put an important item on the national agenda. By imposing a minor cost on park runners, they have drawn attention to the extortionate fees charged to other sports people in exchange for minimal facilities.
Ironically, the parish council is the little guy in all this and the Park Run and its media back up represents an almighty establishment which will ultimately crush the opposition and get its way. No one is coming out of this very well, I’m afraid, and I’m not 100% certain who the good guys and the bad guys are.