THE rhythmic patter of feet pounding the pavements and parks on Saturday and Sunday mornings is a common sound at various locations across Gwent.

At Newport’s Tredegar House, Pontypool Park in Torfaen and Tredegar’s Bryn Bach Park, devotees to the running revolution of parkrun turn out week after week. A fourth run is soon to be added across the region.

After starting 12 years ago in London’s Bushy Park, a rare, unique in fact, occurrence reared itself across the Severn estuary recently – as a course announced it would be forced to implement a charging scheme.

The notion was unprecedented in the decade-long history of the free weekly timed runs, flying against the ethos of making running accessible to all.

Parkrun HQ was inundated with calls over further plans or possibilities to bring in charging structures as at Little Stoke last week – a move which they were quick to renounce.

A national parkrun spokesman said: “The Little Stoke situation is the first time in 12 years this has happened across our 850 events and is a one-off occurrence – it is a storm in a teacup.”

The decision of the Stoke Gifford Parish Council in the Bristol area – said to have been introduced to pay for ground repairs – has irked a large proportion of the parkrun community.

The last event was cancelled for fear of swathes of protestors turning up, while a petition has also been started – it currently has more than 50,000 signatories.

Across Gwent, the three events all saw an increase in turnout – many in protest.

The Newport event was the first of its kind in Gwent, and in its five-year existence, 8,815 have completed the 5k course at the National Trust-managed Tredegar House.

Parkrun’s volunteer lead ambassador for Wales, and an organiser of the Newport parkrun, Chris Davies, said: “The Newport run is very lucky to have a strong working relationship with Tredegar House and its landowner, the National Trust.

“Rather than the situation that has arisen at Little Stoke, the runners who take part in Newport are actually helping to maintain the paths at the location.”

“We see it as win-win situation. Parkrun gets people out into these places and it helps the visitor numbers for these places to thrive too. Thanks to parkrun, the Blue House Café is now open all year round rather than just the summer months,” he added

Mr Davies said he believed that all the Gwent runs will remain gratis for the foreseeable future.

“There is, as far as I can see, no chance of any of the Gwent parkruns installing a charging structure as what has been discussed in Bristol,” he said.

“It is so far removed from the ideas behind parkrun when it started. The volunteers provide a wonderful free service and in return, the participants get a free event. It is the community aspect that has driven the success so far.

“Even for future events, it is important for landowners to agree to the event going ahead. Any issues, concerns or conditions are discussed so that the event can work for all parties involved,” said Mr Davies.

Fiona Cross, a councillor for the Torfaen ward of Coed Eva, helped to launch the Pontypool event in 2013, and is in discussions with the council over creating a Cwmbran run.

“From the view of Pontypool, and the forthcoming Cwmbran event, there is categorically no intention to ever start charging participants to take part in parkrun events,” she said.

“Parkrun is more than just a running event. It is an amazing social enterprise. We see it as our Saturday running church, and it should remain free.

“I have seen people start with no prior running experience to joining clubs. The fitness aspect is one thing, the social aspect is something different and wonderful altogether,” added Mrs Cross.

The Coed Eva councillor pointed out that parkrun, which has just 12 full-time staff and an army of more than 8,000 volunteers, provides benefits above its social aspect.

“Businesses, like the café at the Pontypool Active Living Centre, have noticed an increase in sales since the event came to Pontypool. I’m sure that other businesses located near to events across Gwent have noticed the same thing,” she added.

“In my role as a Torfaen councillor, I have seen how much the council in Torfaen is working together in the spirit of parkrun.

“The route for the Cwmbran ran is still going through its final clearances before it can be confirmed, but they have suggested a temporary route so that the event can happen.

“On a personal level, as someone who has helped to bring one, shortly two events, to the borough, it is such a shame that the Little Stoke event will be charging its runners. It just flies in the face of the idea behind parkrun,” said Mrs Cross.

Steve Hamer, a core member from the Bryn Bach parkrun in Tredegar, echoed her sentiments.

He said: “We are very fortunate that up in Tredegar we are completely supported by the trust, which runs the park at Bryn Bach.

“All the facilities up there are free to use for our runners, including showers, which is rare across the parkruns. The runners also receive vouchers to use in the café afterwards.

“I would be totally surprised if the situation ever arose that Bryn Bach would start charging the runners to do parkrun in Tredegar. The benefits to the area are too great in my opinion.”

The event is currently considering introducing a junior event for younger runners, over a distance of 2k, at the Blaenau Gwent park, but Mr Hamer sees the mutual benefit of parkrun to Bryn Bach park.

He said: “The event gets people out into the park on a Saturday morning when the park should be quieter than normal. We are discussing the possibility of starting a junior event too, for the four to 14 age group.

“This event benefits the community – before I started ‘parkrunning’, I was unaware of the facilities that Bryn Bach had to offer. It is a superb location, made all the better by the free of charge nature of parkrun.

In an expanse of expensive gym memberships, Mr Hamer believes that parkrun breaks down the barriers over the cost of getting fit.

He said: “To be a runner in itself it fairly cheap – just a pair of trainers, shorts and a T-shirt is all that is required.

“It helps people get fit and motivated if they are unable to join a gym or a running club due to the expense required. There should be no barriers to people wanting to get fit.”