My musings on the wider story of the recent happenings at Little Stoke parkrun.

I Love parkrun

Back on the 17th November 2012, I turned up at Memorial Park in Coventry, bar code in hand, to run my first 5k parkrun, trying to find some way to keep fit as I just didn’t have the time for cycling any more with young children. 128 parkruns later, I’m still turning up with my barcode to what has become far more than a mere run in the park but a chance to be part of a fantastic community helping many people on a journey into fitness. My journey has since led to becoming part of a local running club, Massey’s, and running races of all distances up to a marathon. Along the way I’ve met some fantastic people who’ve been enormously encouraging and I’ve become a parkrun evangelist, spreading the word everywhere I can.

So that’s my story … what about parkrun at Little Stoke Park?

Again there have been people turning up, barcode in hand, no complicated entry process and importantly no charge to take part in their fitness journey. I’m sure many, like me, have gone on to do things they never dreamed possible since taking that first tentative stride at parkrun.

parkrun’s popularity has been in no small part driven by its “free at point of use” basis. Anybody can just turn up and take part at no cost.

But at Little Stoke parkrun the local parish council, citing funding needs, have voted to charge parkrun users at the park to take part. This goes 100% against the parkrun ethos and will therefore potentially prevent parkrun continuing at this venue.

Everyone from government ministers to high profile sportspeople and medical professionals have come down in condemnation for the parish council’s decision.

But is there more to it?

Free at point of use, a very British tradition

Actually “free at point use” is a very British tradition. Perhaps the most well known of which is the NHS, but it’s actually a part of British life generally. I can access great local museums here in Coventry for free where I can explore everything from art to the history of transport. I can go along to my local parks which have some fantastic facilities with my children free whenever I choose, my children are educated for free, I can drive along almost all our roads for free, I can visit  my local library and borrow books, I can spend days walking in our beautiful National Parks, the list goes on.

But “Free at point of use” doesn’t mean free

But these things aren’t actually free, we all pay for them, even if we personally never make use of them. Collectively we pay, out of the founding belief that a healthy, culturally rich environment accessible to all, without exclusion based on wealth, is important for the well-being of our nation.

But there’s a challenge

Increasingly the story we are told is that we can’t afford to continue with this … increasingly, just as as proposed by Little Stoke Parish Council, we are being asked to consider a model whereby if you want to use a service then you pay for it … “at point of use”. After all isn’t that fairer? Surely it’s not fair to pay towards something you don’t use?

My closing plea

I believe that this is a dangerous route. I believe that for us to thrive and grow as a nation we need to ensure that everyone has access to the essential cultural and health and wellbeing resources that we need to be rich in the true sense of that word.

So a plea to Little Stoke Parish Council, reconsider. Don’t be a part of the momentum which moves us from a free at point of use culture, to an “only if you can afford it” culture.

And a plea to us all, in order to fund “free at point of use” we all need to pay into the pot, yes none of us like paying taxes etc. but let’s remember that the alternative could be a bleaker, unhealthier future for us all.

Long live “free at point of use”.