Thursday 2 January 2014

'I wish there was such a thing as Dartford parkrun'

I recently moved to Dartford, which is currently parkrun-less. But as you'll notice from this blog, I don't mind travelling for miles to get my Saturday morning fix, but I don't think I can be described as an average parkrunner.

In my experience, the average parkrunner doesn't become a parkrunner in the first place unless they have an event in their own backyard (community) and ideally doesn't want to have to get up too early in order to get there in time. So even though a runner who has already been bitten by the parkrun bug might have no problem with travelling, the average potential-Dartford-based-parkrunner, who could go to say Bexley or to Shorne Woods for a parkrun, probably won't travel or may not have even heard of parkrun.

The tweet that kickstarted the current Dartford-parkrun-ball rolling, was made on the 21st of December 2013 when Richey Estcourt (aka @driver_8_ace ) tweeted 'I wish there was such a thing as #Dartford parkrun'. A conversation followed that lead to him drafting a letter to Dartford Borough Council. Here it is...

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Dear Sir / Madam,

I'd be grateful if you could direct this enquiry to your officers concerned with sports and parks in the Dartford borough.
You may be aware of an organisation called Parkrun ( which organises 5k running events, free of charge to competitors, on open public spaces.  These are growing in popularity (and benefit to their communities and public health) throughout the country, and I sincerely hope that Dartford can host its own weekly Parkrun.

You may be aware that a similar entry-level running club, the Sweatshop Running Community, will withdraw from Dartford and host its final run tomorrow (23rd December). This leaves the town without an organised running event which is aimed at beginners, and does not require payment or commitment from the participants.  These SRC runs attracted an average of around 50 runners per week on a Tuesday evening.  It is reasonable to assume that a Saturday morning event, with the cache of the Parkrun brand, and some promotion from DBC, could very easily attract twice or three times the numbers, bringing great strength to community relations, and promoting Dartford as a place of active, healthy and sociable people.

My understanding is that DBC would be required to do three things:

1. Identify a 5k course within it's public spaces.  The obvious choice involves Central Park, as it has public amenities in place.  It may be possible to include the lakes area, although there is the Princes Road traffic, wildlife, and the angling community to consider.

2. Assure the Parkrun organisers that they are committed to the scheme by allowing the park to be used for such events.

3. Fund the set-up costs, which I understand to be £6,000, although the council only sponsors 50% of this - the remainder is met by a group of companies trading in the sports & leisure sector.
I'd be grateful if you could let me know what studies and enquiries have already been undertaken with regards to a Parkrun for Dartford.  I am in contact with many other people from the local running community, and there is a consensus of opinion that Dartford needs, and deserves its own Parkrun, not only because of the loss of the SRC, but because we have the three basic building blocks in place:

1. A large, strong, and sociable running community of runners
2. Superb open spaces that are a ideal to visit and use for sporting activities
3. Excellent transport links which benefit visitors from outside Dartford.
Yours sincerely,

Richey Estcourt

- - -

As it stands, there are a few local people that are keen to see one started in Dartford, but there is not one of us that can (or wants to) commit to taking on the key role of event director. This blog post isn't supposed to be an advert for volunteers, but if you are Dartford-based and think this is something that appeals, please get in touch.

So once the festive break is over, I hope Dartford Borough Council will respond to Richey. I also hope it is positive - there is much to gain in terms of health and in community from having a local parkrun event. I just hope the initial set-up funds or other concerns (which aren't actually that high if you ask me) don't scare them away.

There is a Kent parkrun ambassador who has assisted in the set up of all of the current (8 to date) Kent parkruns, so if things move in the right direction we know we'll have an experienced person on hand to guide us through the process.

I'll post on the subject again once Dartford Borough Council have responded to the letter. Hopefully the event will one day be a reality.

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