Delays at Croydon Council could force the abandonment of the post-covid return of hundreds of popular Parkruns across England. Following the government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown, national organisers have been targeting June 26 as their English resumption date – but unless they have permission for all venues, they are reluctant to fire the starting gun at others.
Using an army of volunteers, before the pandemic, Parkrun staged more than 700 events each week around the country, where hundreds would regularly turn up to race, run, jog or amble around a three-mile course. Seb Coe, the former Olympic champion and London 2012 organiser, has described Parkrun as “one of the nation’s greatest public health initiatives”.
But the Parkrun organisation is “fearful for its future” because of needless administrative delays blocking the events’ return after lockdown.
In a letter sent yesterday to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Parkrun said they face “significant and unjustifiable barriers” from a number of councils.
The events were meant to resume on June 5, but the return was postponed. “Despite the government’s best efforts, Parkrun finds itself trapped,” the letter said.
They said last month that 250 locations in England had given them permission to return, but that this fell “far short” of the number needed to prevent overcrowding at the areas given the go ahead.
“We are deemed both legal and safe to return yet cannot do so because of uncoordinated and often unwarranted blockages by a number of local authorities who do not understand nor recognise the national framework,” the letter said.
“We are a small charity and as a board we are fearful for our future. We need your help if we are to find a way through the added bureaucracy.
“It is clear that we need a significant intervention from the top of government to convince a few councils that their actions are inappropriate and that Parkrun should be allowed to continue to benefit the mental and physical health of local communities in a safe and responsible manner.”
Croydon is one of the local authorities who have caused Parkrun’s false start.
The national organisers say that they have had co-operation from other landowners across England and been given permission for 76 per cent of their events.
Until the pandemic prompted the lockdown in March 2020, weekly Parkruns were staged in Croydon’s Lloyd Park, South Norwood Country Park, Riddlesdown and at Roundshaw Downs every Saturday morning.
The Parkrun organisers already have the backing of Oliver Dowden, the government’s culture and sport secretary and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, as well as Lord Coe of Olympus.
Parkrun say that, since their free 5-kilometre runs are organised by unpaid volunteers, they cannot take a chance that some events will be over-subscribed in runners’ eagerness to return to action, turning up at some venues when others – such as those in Croydon – have still not received clearance from their local authorities.
Parkrun said yesterday that they will issue an announcement tomorrow about the June 26 return.
Runners have been lobbying their councillors and MPs to get officials at Fisher’s Folly to pull their collective fingers out.
Council insiders suggest that the problem is that there is simply not the staff available to carry out all the functions that might be expected of an effective local council. Even before the mass redundancies began last year caused by the council going bust, the council had all but erased its parks department.
As one local runner wrote to the council, “It is disappointing that Croydon is one council that has not been able to consent to the return of the events within the borough.
“There doesn’t appear to be any valid reason for withholding permission, and it seems it should be a trivial administrative exercise, which hundreds of other organisations have already completed.”
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