Hilly Fields parkrun
There are over 50 Parkrun events across London, including at Hilly Fields

Parkrun could be coming to Sutcliffe Park in Eltham after Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe intervened to help volunteers with their attempt to host the weekly free five-kilometre run.

Greenwich borough has just one Parkrun event – in Avery Hill Park, also in Eltham – compared with three in neighbouring Lewisham, two in Bexley and four in Southwark.

The Friends of Sutcliffe Park had hoped to hold their own Parkrun each Saturday morning, but complained to Thorpe last month that the council was putting obstructions in the way.

Now Thorpe has asked officers to meet the park users’ group in an attempt to sort out the issues holding the event up. There are already 30 volunteers who have agreed to help put the event on, but it still needs to raise the £4,000 needed in start-up costs. The Friends hope Berkeley Homes, whose Kidbrooke Village development is next to the park, will help to fund it after the developer showed interest in making the event happen.

Thorpe, who has finished marathons in London and Berlin, has become a recent convert to Parkrun, running his first event at Avery Hill Park on 23 November in 27 minutes and 29 seconds – then shaving two and a half minutes off that time a week later.

Victoria Dock parkrun
Victoria Dock is a popular choice for runners from across the country

After he tweeted about his experiences at Avery Hill, the Friends group complained about “health and safety” obstructions put in place by the council, and Thorpe promised to look into it.

Now a meeting with the cabinet member for culture and leisure, Miranda Williams, has been set up for the new year and the Friends’ chair, Anne Novis, is optimistic that they can now move forward.

“It was so frustrating that I was told I had to get volunteers, then I just hit barrier after barrier even though I got the volunteers,” she told 853.

“The first issue was actually trying to get a meeting with right people, The Berkeley Homes community co-ordinator said she was working on it for months, and I was not invited.

“Then I was told there were too many complications due to the multiple uses of the park and the wildlife. I think we can I overcome all these by ensuring the route is away from the lake, is well-advertised and has enough volunteers to manage it.”

Novis has not yet sketched out a route for the run, but hopes to be able to take part in her wheelchair.

Hilly Fields parkrun
The Hilly Fields Parkrun typically attracts about 250 runners and walkers

Miranda Williams told 853 that the council had no objections to an event: “The Friends of Sutcliffe Park contacted our parks team recently to talk about starting a Parkrun, and £2,000 has been offered from a sponsor to help set it up.

“I believe that since then they have been recruiting volunteers to help organise the runs, as well as gauging interest from potential runners. There are no operational issues from the council that would prevent a Parkrun from happening in Sutcliffe Park.

“I understand that the people at Parkrun have suggested that Sutcliffe Park may be a little too close to Avery Hill Park, which already has a popular Parkrun. Hopefully this won’t be a problem – other parts of London have several popular Parkruns not too far from each other and people shouldn’t have to travel several miles for the sake of a 5km run.

“I hope they get more volunteers and lots of interested runners to get it off the ground – we’ll make sure we use our own social media channels to help spread the word.”

Parkrun said that it did not comment on prospective events.

Shorne Woods parkrun
Each Parkrun depends on volunteers, like these ones at Shorne Woods near Gravesend

Global phenomenon

Since beginning in Bushy Park, west London, in 2004, Parkrun has become a global phenomenon, with over 1,400 runs taking place each Saturday morning around the world. All runners need to do is sign up for an account on the Parkrun website and print off a barcode, which gets scanned at the end of each run. There are nearly 700 in the UK, with 56 in London – the most recent opening in the grounds of Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham, in May. They do not necessarily take place in parks – one runs across the old Severn Bridge from Wales into England and back.

They are all run by volunteers and are designed to cater for their local communities, welcoming walkers and slower runners alongside club runners. But there are also thousands of Parkrun tourists who try to visit as many different events as they can – completing all the London events is a popular challenge. Over 1,000 complete the Bushy Park run each week, but most runs typically attract about 200 people each week.

Volunteers undertake a number of roles including marshalling, timekeeping, scanning runners’ barcodes and tail walking – making sure that nobody finishes last.

Parkrun first came to southeast London in 2009 at Norman Park in Bromley, followed by Avery Hill Park – called Greenwich Parkrun – the following year. But since then, Greenwich has lagged behind its neighbours, with residents heading to the likes of Hilly Fields in Brockley, Southwark Park and across the river to Royal Victoria Dock, where the run passes under the Thames Cable Car. There are now 16 Parkruns in the five south-east London boroughs.

Proximity to another event has not stopped new runs from starting and building up their own followings, with Mountsfield Park in Catford starting around the corner from Hilly Fields; and Victoria Dock being very close to the long-established Parkrun in Beckton Park.

Hopes that Greenwich Peninsula would gain one were raised when developers promised a 5k elevated running track – however, what actually materialised was an attempt to copy New York City’s High Line walkway. Most of Greenwich Council’s parks are likely to be a little too small to host Parkruns – or, like Plumstead Common and Winns Common, are criss-crossed by roads. Charlton Park and Oxleas Woods/Meadow could be potential candidates, though, being large, traffic-free and hosting cafes.

Shorne Woods parkrun
The Friends of Sutcliffe Park are hoping to get funding and council co-operation for their event

What about Greenwich Park?

One obvious gap is Greenwich Park, which is run by Royal Parks and is frequently used by commercial and charity running events.

Alun Mainwaring, Royal Parks’ head of filming and events, told 853: “We work with charities, running clubs and sporting organisations to host thousands of running events across all our parks each year.

“We’re proud to host Parkrun in Bushy Park and anyone wishing to host an event in any of our parks should apply through our website.”

If you would like to help bring Parkrun to Sutcliffe Park, contact the Friends of Sutcliffe Park via Facebook (or email 853 and we’ll pass your details on).

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