Parkrun - what it brings to places

Public spaces need to be used by the community. Parkrun has taken community engagement into the 21st century and should be congratulated.

14.04.16 | -1

By Scott McCubbin

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Within 24 hours, a relatively unknown council in the outskirts of Bristol has hit the headlines, and set social media ablaze. All PR is not good PR. This is a disaster for the people running little Stoke Gifford parish council. They’re an easy target, and understandably so. As Public Health England launches its £3.5 million 'One You' campaign to encourage people to eat better and ‘do more exercise’, this is not good, not joined up as they say. The campaign includes advertising in public places, it does not say where, municipal parks possibly.

The tirade against the council could go on and on. Remember the Change 4 Life campaign? It originally had a budget of £75m - although it was slashed by the coalition, it was always double digit millions. The aim of such campaigns is simple; behavioural change.

There is another irony at play. It wasn’t long ago that councils would look to pay, not charge organisations for bringing healthy, physical activities to life. Why not? After all it saves them doing it and these are important facets of local life. But there is one factor that’s been missing from the conversation.

You remember Mary Portas, she who would attempt to save failing towns. The mantra was simple and accurate. As the town and city landscape changed, with towns losing much of their high streets, places had to reinvent themselves, to try harder, to do more. The overall strategies that most in placemaking agree on, us included, is that places need to create a reason to go there. They have to create attractions outside of the traditional (often dying) retail - focus on creating destinations. Tactical ideas have emerged, not radical but all credible; improving local markets, creating festivals (authentic ones that are relevant to the place), building community groups to drive these ideas. These are robust principles, not only due to the actual, physical events, but in terms of the re-engaging of communities.

People have been brought together to reinvigorate towns like Froome. Spirited, engaged, passionate local people making things happen, making good decisions for the benefit of their fellow citizens. As we say, good towns facilitate and coordinate these experiences, they don’t block them.

Enter Ernest Brown, chairman of the Stoke Gifford council, who wants a contribution, for the potential damage of 300 runners “pounding the paths” every Saturday. Pounding the park that they pay council tax to use. Three hundred runners who get together, mix, socialise, bring their families, go to local cafes, enjoy the park and the village. Meanwhile, across the country urban strategists are developing ideas to generate a sense of community and place, a feeling of belonging and vibrancy, and here via Parkrun, the village gets it free, packaged and operational. Placemaking from the ground up, not top down, just the way it should be.


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