Monday 9th May 2016
Every Saturday morning at 8am, hundreds of local runners and walkers descend on the Sydney International Regatta Centre for Penrith Lakes parkrun, a free, weekly, five kilometre timed run or walk which has motivated many Western Sydney locals to get fit and healthy.
But as the second anniversary of the event approaches, the Penrith Lakes parkrun community has received a harsh blow after the Penrith Lakes Development Corporation (PLDC) locked the gate that provides access to the carpark used by participants at both parkrun and Jetpack Adventures.
In March the PLDC contacted the International Regatta Centre to advise that access to Penrith Lakes via Gate D on Old Castlereagh Road would be blocked immediately, citing safety reasons.
The International Regatta Centre offered to undertake a risk assessment in order to support the various organisations that used the gate however without explanation, the PLDC refused.
Shelley Cootes, Claremont Meadows resident and Event Director for Penrith Lakes parkrun, says the lack of transparency about the reasons for the gate being locked has made it difficult to come up with alternative solutions.
"We share our beautiful parkrun venue with many other events at the International Regatta Centre, and because of this, we need a separate carpark," Mrs Cootes said.
"With Gate D locked, it is no longer possible to access our parking area.
"Currently participants are able to park in an alternative carpark and walk up to 800 metres to our start line, however this is not a viable solution long term as it means not just that parkrun is more difficult to get to, but that we need to cancel our run when there are major events at the Regatta Centre which require the use of all carpark spaces."
Without a permanent, accessible carpark there will be a significant increase in parkrun cancellations which would jeopardise the future of the popular community event.
"Every day we are confronted with statistics about the nation's health crisis—an obesity epidemic and a generation of kids spending too much time on electronic devices," Mrs Cootes said. "It would be an absolute tragedy to lose our parkrun.
"We have a proven way to get people outside, participating in a healthy activity on a regular basis—and it's not just about the running—there's a huge community spirit here and we are not exaggerating when we say that parkrun has changed people's lives."
Maree Thurbon from St Clair has participated in 74 parkruns, including 68 at Penrith Lakes. Mrs Thurbon says her physical and mental wellbeing has improved thanks to parkrun.
"I was given the all clear from cancer six years ago and to help me out of my depression, my doctors told me to do something, so my friend Leanne organised for us to start going to parkrun," Mrs Thurbon said. "Straight away I fell very much in love with what my friend had arranged for me. It's been the best thing I have ever done because of all the new people that I have met."
Michelle Fleming from Glenmore Park has been a parkrun regular since it began in Penrith in May 2014.
"I thought I would give parkrun a go as I had just had my third baby and thought it would be a good way to get back into my fitness," Mrs. Fleming said. "My mum joined me after a few weeks and it is an excuse for us to catch up and get fit at the same time."
Dan Hurley from Glenbrook is also a Penrith Lakes parkrun fan and regular volunteer.
"I can't take my three children to the gym and put us all on treadmills, but we can all walk around Penrith Lakes parkrun and get cheered across the finish line every week. I am so happy to be enjoying a healthy activity with my children—quite often parents stand on the sidelines and watch their kids play sport, or parents do their own thing, but parkrun allows our whole family to participate."
According to Mrs Cootes, people come to parkrun to participate in a five kilometre run or walk, but soon realise that running is only part of the magic of parkrun.
"We've got people who had never run before in their lives now training to run marathons, and we've got kids as young as four and men and women in their 70s who turn up every week and walk the entire distance," Mrs Cootes said.
"Our elite runners are finishing in under 20 minutes but at the back of the pack are parents pushing prams and people starting their fitness journeys, and those people get just as many cheers as they cross the finish line as the front runners do.
"There is no pressure and no time limit. Everyone who crosses that finish line gets a recorded time and a feeling of accomplishment.
"The event is free thanks not just to our sponsors, but also our volunteers—people who give up their own run to make it possible for hundreds of others to participate. A lot of people find volunteering at parkrun just as rewarding as running, and that says a lot about the type of community that's been created here.
"We are keen to work with the PLDC to try to find a solution, and are also open to alternate venues—anything that can keep our parkrun going.
"Tim Oberg – General Manager of parkrun Australia spoke with Dani Robinson PLDC Environment and Community Manager to discuss the impact of the gate closure on Penrith Lakes parkrun and attempt to reach a compromise, and while safety was again brought up as the issue, she didn't seem to be able to elaborate on those concerns or provide written position on the situation.
"The Regatta Centre and Penrith City Council have been very supportive and we have also reached out for support from NSW Minister for Sport and Penrith MP, Stuart Ayres and Member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott MP. The Mayor's office and representatives of Penrith City Council have also been very supportive.
"Right now we should be getting excited about our upcoming birthday celebrations, but it's being overshadowed by the threat of an uncertain future.
"But we will make the most of what we can. Our second birthday celebrations are being held on Saturday 28th May from 7.30am and we're expecting a great turn out."
Since Penrith Lakes parkrun began, over 3000 people have taken part in the local event.
With an average weekly attendance of over 200 registered runners, peaking at over 350 attendees on special occasions, Penrith Lakes parkrun is one of the most popular parkruns in NSW.
There are hundreds of parkruns around the world, all with the same philosophy: that parkrun is open to everyone, free, safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and people of all ages and abilities are encouraged participate; from walkers, pram pushers, young children and seniors right through to ultra-marathoners and even Olympians.
Registration for parkrun is free and only needs to be done once for each person. Each participant receives a unique barcode which they bring to all events, and this is used to record their results. The same barcode can be used for parkrun events all around Australia, and even internationally.
Every week Penrith Lakes parkrun welcomes tourists from around Australia and overseas. The event regularly attracts runners and walkers from as far away as the UK, where parkrun was founded, as well as Chile, South Africa and New Zealand.
Information about Penrith Lakes parkrun can be found on their Facebook page, their official site at www.parkrun.com.au/penrithlakes, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Contact: Shelley Cootes,
Penrith Lakes parkrun Event Director
Image caption: Penrith Lakes parkrun Event Director, Shelley Cootes (front left) and parkrun volunteers are concerned that Penrith Lakes Development Corporation's closure of the access gate to their carparking area has put the parkrun's future in jeopardy.