For me, one of the best things about last year was being introduced to Parkrun for the first time.
Parkrun is a free, organised 5 kilometre run which takes place in hundreds of parks up and down the country every Saturday morning at 9am. As someone who had never been good at sport, I was a bit daunted to receive an invitation in September to join one of the Parkruns in my constituency. I accepted the invitation and ran/staggered my way around the course. The surprise was not only that I managed to complete the run, but how good it made me feel both physically and mentally, and now even though I don’t run very fast, I try to make it to Parkrun on a Saturday morning whenever I can.
In Parliament, I sit on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which has just published a report on Parks. We took evidence from across the country about what people think about their local parks and the challenges parks are currently facing.
Our report reflected what I already knew – that people value their local parks enormously, and that parks contribute significantly to improved physical and mental health, as well as helping to address important challenges like air pollution and climate change. They also bring our communities together, whether it is children and their parents at Saturday morning sports clubs, joggers and cyclists of all ages, families picnicking, dog walkers or older residents enjoying the fresh air, parks are places that everyone can enjoy regardless of their background or income.
However, across the country council budgets have come under pressure as our councils have had their funding cut first by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition and now by this Tory government. Here in Southwark, we have excellent parks – including 25 Green Flag parks – and the council has worked hard to protect and enhance our parks and green spaces. Our parks are well maintained, offer a wide range of facilities and enjoy invaluable support from volunteers. But across the country, budgets for parks management have been cut by as much as 97%.
Our Parliamentary report on parks calls for councils to publish a plan for parks working in partnership with the local Health and Wellbeing Board so that their value, particularly to physical and mental health, is properly recognised. It is time the government stopped unfairly cutting council budgets and provided the funding we need to maintain the services we rely on, including our much loved parks.