0 Out to grass: is your local park under threat?

EatonPark ScottPoulsonHere's a cracking article from The Guardian looking at the threat to our parks - you can read the full article HERE, but below is a flavour of the content

At 8.45am on a grey Saturday, having trudged through Norwich's Eaton Park to join a milling crowd of 500 people, it hits me that what I'm about to do is unwise. I am the kind of sedentary home-worker whose heart pummels his ribcage when he thinks of running for the bus, a former Sunday morning footballer whose only reason to sprint around a park is after a five-year-old daughter who has mastered her bicycle's pedals but not its brakes; and here I am surrounded by fit people, the sort who seem happy standing in a cool breeze wearing skimpy garments made of Lycra and polyester mesh.

After heading to the start line we're off, the crowd diverging within moments into a bounding vanguard with one eye on their fitness apps, and the rest of us experiencing that strange horizontal sinking as we move back towards our natural place in the hierarchy. In my experience, parks are better appreciated at a walking pace, but for now we must puff our way around a 5km course that I have compartmentalised into manageable stretches: from the skate park to the football pitches, to the model boat pond by the grand circular colonnaded pavilion, to the miniature railway and the rose garden, the playground, the cycle speedway, the pitch and putt. And repeat three and a half times.

This is Parkrun, one of many ways in which parks are now reasserting themselves as important civic spaces in a society where fewer people have jobs that keep them fit, or budgets that stretch to gym memberships. Every weekend tens of thousands of people all over Britain are doing this, or attending military-style boot camps, or working out at a growing number of outdoor gyms.


Earlier this year the parish council at Stoke Gifford, near Bristol, controversially tried to charge Parkrun for using Little Stoke Park, a sign of the financial pressures that parks are under - despite the fact that many have lately been regenerated by national lottery money after decades of decline. Stoke Gifford's organisers preferred to close the run.

Rowntree Park in York was recently refurbished at a cost of £1.8m and is a well-loved place. On a sunny summer afternoon it looks impeccable, even though its position beside the river Ouse meant it lay beneath metres of water during last December's floods. The only blemish is the paths' coating of droppings from a resident flock of Canada geese - enough of a problem for the council to have erected signs requesting visitors not to feed them. Here on any given day you might find young children enjoying a forest school session, or adults engaged in tai chi, orienteering, volleyball or gardening, or a purposeful march along the paths in a Nordic walking group.

Joanna Ezekiel, 46, has recently taken up Nordic walking, but when I meet her she is sitting on a bench, happy to be distracted from reading War And Peace on her Kindle. A novelist, poet and Open University tutor, she tells me she values parks as a place to reflect or find inspiration. In 1993, she and her father saw Rachel Whiteread's House (a concrete cast of a Victorian terraced house) at Wennington Green in London's East End, when Ezekiel was working nearby as a newly qualified teacher. "I hadn't heard of it, but was absolutely fascinated by its startling and haunting presence on an ordinary east London green," she says. It inspired the plot of her young adult novel, The Inside-Out House.

Images copyright Simon Roberts for the Guardian

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