Concerns over future of Comber park run

Graham Eve, director of Comber Parkrun

Comber parkrun could become a victim of its own success amid concerns about parking and lack of available space for post-run refreshments. Comber parkrun, which is four laps around Parkway and Muckers Field each Saturday morning, has continuously grown in popularity since it began seven years ago in May 2014. The group finishes each session with refreshments which had been served from Comber Rec and then the community centre. But due to changes, a small charge was added per week to secure these venues which the group isn’t allowed to pay under official Parkrun UK regulations. Graham Eve, parkrun co-ordinator, explained that the group is stuck between a rock and a hard place as it have places that are available to them but they are not allowed to pay for them. “Council staff were excellent in securing the community centre for us and worked very quickly to secure it for our use on a long term basis at £24.75 per week,” he explained. “But parkrun must be free at source and this has to be strictly adhered to otherwise we cannot call the run a ‘parkrun.’ “This is where the problem is. We can find the funding but we are not allowed by Parkrun UK. “We asked the council to let us use it free, however, their argument is, if they give it free to us then where does it end. “We understand the corner they are in but it is a wee bit hard to digest considering the success parkrun has been in Comber and the many health benefits it brings.” As the park run is just four laps, Graham says it could be considered ‘boring’ but the attendees make it the success it is today. “We have been told by many, many visitors that we are the friendliest and most welcoming,” he said. “If we do not have an after run hub for a quick tea, coffee and chat then Comber parkrun will very quickly diminish. “Certainly I would not be giving my own personal time to it by getting out of bed every Saturday and Sunday morning in all weathers just for a Run and Go.” Another problem parkrun is facing is parking issues. Runners can park at Parkway but with the numbers increasing every week, cars now overflow onto the street. “To use the council-owned gravel pitch, we have to submit a request six weeks in advance and submit our risk assessment, insurance and emergency actions plan,” said Graham. “We could plan for this around graduation days for the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme but it’s hard to know on a weekly basis how many we will have. “We now have volunteer marshals who supervise the parking, to make sure we are making the best use of the space there is,” he said. Graham believes the success of Comber parkrun is such that it would be a huge shame of such a small issue could not be resolved. “Parkrun ticks every box regarding physical and mental health. It boosts confidence by our volunteering rolls, we have Duke Of Ed [award]students, it builds communities, it has started new running clubs, it helps young and older with their social skills and the list goes on and on,” he said. “Parkrun has become a global success and has changed the lives of many for the better. “I see parkrun in Northern Ireland as a vehicle to bringing people together to enjoy a bit of craic and getting fitter and healthier at the same time.” The group has contacted Parkrun UK about a way forward and is currently waiting to see what they can do next.