This week’s homecoming parades in Manchester and London provide an opportunity for the country to celebrate the inspirational success of Team GB at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics.
The national events bring together inspiring stories of hundreds of individual athletes who each made a journey to Rio and came back as part of a record breaking team. One Olympian, triple Gold medal winning rower, Pete Reed, had his own homecoming last month when he helped Fields in Trust celebrate the refurbishment of the King George V Playing Field at Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. Pete returned to his hometown to visit the park where he used to play as a child and later young sportsman, after the event he said:
"It was a real honour for me to be so warmly welcomed back to Nailsworth again after all these years of rowing. I’ve been looking forward to seeing my home town again and I hope everyone who came to King George V Playing Field enjoyed the afternoon as much as I did.
"I have very special memories of the glorious King George V Playing Field, thank you to Fields in Trust for protecting the site for future generations to enjoy. I vividly remember playing on the slide as a child and now the facilities are fantastic for the next generation to get active. I’m delighted to see so many people using the park as I did and pleased that this outdoor space has been so well looked after".
Whilst we celebrate with national pride, it is important to remember that each one of these elite athletes’ journeys to sporting success began with their first steps towards physical literacy in the nation’s playgrounds and parks. This summer these same parks and playing fields were full of the next generation of Olympians and Paralympians – inspired by the sporting heroes of Rio boys and girls ran, jumped, and played in the park with visions of, one day, stepping up, to the winner’s podium.
For example, running has experienced a transformation in participation levels since 2005 – with relatively low barriers to entry. Since its inception in October 2004 parkrun have seen 1.7m runners take part in over 17m events with a total distance over 84,000km – crucially they have been supported by over 200,000 volunteers. We need to make sure that a lack of access to places to run doesn’t reverse these trends through the loss of parks and playing fields. Recruitment of both runners and volunteers has been part of parkrun’s amazing success but for it to continue on this trajectory the secure future of parks and green spaces is crucial. This year a new category at the annual Fields in Trust Awards will recognise for the first time the Best Athletics Project on a Fields in Trust site with an Award supported by England Athletics and parkrun.
Parks, playgrounds and other green spaces provide opportunities for physical activity across the spectrum of age and ability and it is by embracing activity at all its levels that we will start to address the 58% of adults who are not currently playing sport. Fields in Trust protects over 2,600 parks and playgrounds across the UK. Outdoor recreational space is the foundation stone on which to build a healthy, active nation and it is vital that we recognise this by protecting the future of our parks and investing in the future of the children and families that use them.