Written evidence submitted by parkrun UK to the Community and Local Government Select Committee Inquiry into Public Parks, October 2016
- parkrun is the biggest recreational running event in the country, offering free timed 5k and 2k runs every weekend.
- We operate mainly in parks, working in partnership with landowners to improve health, encourage exercise, build community cohesion and maximise the value of open spaces.
- Each week, over 100,000 people formally take part in a parkrun, with an unknown number supporting informally
- We believe that the responsibility for the amount and quality of public open space within their boundaries should remain with Local Authorities, however this is managed and funded
- We believe that parks are a vital asset in the drive to tackle inactivity
- The discussion about how parks are funded should sit within a much wider framework of how we are going to tackle inactivity
- Free-to-use, well-maintained parks are essential if we are to increase the number of people taking exercise and if we are to use social prescribing at scale
Reductions in funding for parks could affect our service in a number of ways:
- Closure of parks could mean loss of events
- Reduced maintenance could mean increased risk (eg from badly-maintained paths, overhanging branches etc)
- A requirement to generate revenue could mean we have to relocate or close events
Although parkrun cannot offer any financial support to parks, we are keen to investigate other forms of local support that we could provide (eg litter-picking, simple maintenance etc)
Changes to the management of parks could offer benefits:
- new opportunities for partnership
- a greater sense of local ownership
- increased community cohesion
But also carries risks:
- that altruistic organisations such as ours could be denied free access to open space
- that the self-interests of a limited group of users could come to dominate the activities and facilities on offer
- that income generation takes precedence over broader measures of value for money
- parkrun UK is a non-profit organisation that delivers free 5k and 2k timed running events in parks and open spaces every weekend at 545 locations around the UK. It has demonstrated phenomenal success in engaging an increasing the number of participants every year since its conception in London in 2004. parkrun is now the biggest recreational running event in the country, and is a significant contributor to ‘Active Lives’, the survey for measuring sport and activity undertaken on behalf of Sport England.
- All our events take place in open spaces, with the vast majority being public parks.
- Our model is a valuable example of a phenomenally successful, inclusive physical activity provider, which has received very limited governmental support despite having more than 1.75 million registered participants in the UK, and (as of September 2016) attracting up to 95,000 runners per week supported by more than 9,000 volunteers. Weekly registrations in the UK are currently running at almost 10,000 per week.
- parkrun UK provides opportunities for people to regularly participate (through running, walking and volunteering) in a non-competitive and non-threatening environment, supports community cohesion and development, and promotes a range of health related benefits.
- Despite declining levels of participation in many sports, parkrun UK bucked the trend and continues to generate impressive growth in the number of events and participants.
- Whilst there is diversity in the location of events, the mainstay of our operations is the public park. Parks play a central role in community life in the UK. They encourage health and well–being, provide safe places for children to play, promote civic pride, support biodiversity and are increasingly seen as a key resource for helping urban areas adapt to the challenges of a changing climate.
- parkrun is helping to place parks at the heart of the local community – vibrant spaces that provide space for play and exercise, meeting places for all and a key contributor to defining the character and cultural identity of neighbourhoods, towns and cities.
- Parks provide an outlet throughout the life course of individuals – places to play and explore for children and young people, to pass through on the way to work, to exercise and take time out from the pressures of everyday life, a safe and convenient place for older people to take their exercise.
- With busy schedules and alluring electronics inside the home, it is often difficult to give our children the time outdoors that we enjoyed as children. We know that spending time outdoors can benefit children’s physical, mental and emotional development. Making Britain Great for Children and Families – a manifesto launched by 4Children, the national charity working towards a more integrated approach to children’s services – includes better provision of parks in its list of ways to create good places for children to grow up in.
- parkrun is actively encouraging participation among young people by establishing a series of junior parkruns exclusively for those aged between 4 and 14 years of age.
- There’s also a socio-economic factor in use of our parks; in their annual Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) surveys, Natural England recorded an increase in visitor numbers, particularly in urban parks. There were fewer visits to the countryside and a significant increase in visits to green spaces in towns and cities. This points to the growing importance of parks as the only place some people encounter nature.
- parkrun is actively encouraging participation among groups who will most benefit from physical activity by seeking to locate events in areas of high deprivation.
- We feel that the very act of exploring different funding mechanisms is to undervalue the role that parks can play in tackling inactivity. Rather than viewing parks as a ‘nice to have’, peripheral leisure resource we should place parks at the heart of our drive to make the world a healthier and happier place.
- Inactivity has a huge cost, both financially and emotionally; one in four of the adult population is classed as physically inactive falling into the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) “high risk” health category. Those not achieving the CMO guidelines are at a much greater risk of up to twenty chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Over the past 50 years, physical activity levels have declined by 20 per cent in the UK, with projections indicating a further 15 per cent drop by 2030. If we are to reverse this decline we need to make public parks a central strand as a free resource to the end user.
- A report by the Association of Public Health Directors showed that if everyone in England met CMO guidelines for activity nearly 37,000 deaths a year could be prevented. So how would we get this phenomenal increase? Without a network of well-maintained, local public parks it is inconceivable that we would have the capacity to accommodate an increase in numbers of individuals getting active.
- There is also a persuasive financial case for seriously addressing turning this trend towards inactivity. Inactive people spend 38 per cent more days in hospital than active people and visit the doctor almost six per cent more often. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), inactivity is costing the national economy in England £8.2 billion per year.
- If we are to tackle inactivity not only do we need to re-educate ourselves, we also need to ensure that we have resources that people want to use. Social prescribing is a way of linking patients in primary care with sources of support within the community. It provides GPs with a non-medical referral option that can operate alongside existing treatments to improve health and well-being.
- The Department of Health have previously proposed the introduction of social prescriptions for those with long-term conditions: the aim being to promote integrated health and social care, partnered with the voluntary and community sector. Schemes such as exercise-on-prescription projects have been established or piloted in a number of areas and said to have been ‘very successful’. 
- If we are to shift prescribing away from illness and towards wellness, then we will need to ensure that we have a place for people to go to take their exercise.
- There is growing evidence from other countries – particularly New Zealand, Australia and the USA – that better results are achieved if the exercise is taken outdoors and in a social context. parkrun fits the bill perfectly, but there is reliance on a network of public parks to make this a solution for whole of the country.
- There is much evidence about the many benefits of well-maintained parks and open spaces; there should certainly be enough to make looking for fragmented alternative funding mechanisms. Funding for parks should be ring-fenced – they are a valuable resource and local authorities and other managers of public open space should be fully supported to maintain our parks.
- Almost all of the persuasive arguments for maintaining and improving the current funding mechanism are contained in an excellent document from the Design Council – The Value of Public Space. Whilst this is not the most recent of reports the information and insight it contains are pertinent. There are sections on the economic value of public space, impact on physical and mental health, benefits to children and young people, reducing crime and the fear of crime, the social dimension of public space, movement in between spaces and the value for biodiversity and nature.
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