Sports, Exercise & Fitness in London’s Royal Parks

London would not be half the city it is without the parks, particularly the Royal Parks. However, the Royal Parks’ attempts in recent years to impose restrictions on sports and fitness in their parks is a disturbing development. As a personal trainer in London I find it really sad that yet more barriers are being put in the way of people getting fit in London.

Playing sport in the parks

First the Royal Parks targeted people who play sport in Hyde Park, with a system of charges for use. They argued it was to reduce conflict at a time of increasing demand for limited park space. Solicitors firm Leigh Day & Co challenged them (on behalf of a group of recreational sports-lovers) over the decision to impose charges for the use of the Old Football Pitches, on the basis that consultations had been inadequate.

In addition, Leo Visconti led the Save Our Softball campaign to prevent the London Charity Softball League being charged to use the park for softball events. West Central London Green Party joined the campaign.

By 2013 over 20,000 people had signed a petition to oppose the charges, and Royal Parks agreed to a second round of consultations.

Earlier this week, (March 2015) the Royal Parks ditched their plans to reintroduce charges for people playing sport in Hyde Park, a victory for Londoners who want to enjoy this public green space for physical activity without being charged. London is expensive enough already.

Personal Trainers in London’s Royal Parks

It is now a requirement that any personal trainer wishing to train their clients in any of the Royal Parks must have a licence and pay an annual licence fee of £350.00, more if they’re training groups.

The first London personal trainer to fall foul of this regulation was Alexis Ajavon Baron Cohen, who was training a client on Primrose Hill on 10 September 2013 when he was fined for not having a licence to train “for trade or business” in the Royal Parks.

According to the Evening Standard (14 March 2014) he was then prosecuted for breaching this Royal Parks rule and for refusing to pay the £50.00 fine. A Royal Parks spokesman said: “We welcome anyone who wants to use the parks to get fit…. but it is against the law for anyone to run a business in the parks without permission.”

I think most personal trainers in London would agree that it’s a bit odd to describe training a client in the park as “running a business in the park”, unless you are a bootcamp company which uses the Royal Parks exclusively for training a whole group of people simultaneously. But for training one client at a time, which has no greater impact than two friends training together,  it’s a bit much to expect a personal trainer to pay £350.00 a year.

In addition, many London personal trainers see different clients in a variety of settings: in the client’s home or garden, in a gym, jogging in the street, in a park which is not one of the Royal Parks, and in the Royal Parks too. For me, who trains most clients indoors, a £350.00 fee for the occasional  1 hour session in the Royal Parks would make no economic sense.

The Royal Parks argue that it is only fair for London personal trainers to contribute to the upkeep of the parks. This argument is valid for large bootcamps, but not for one-on-one personal training sessions. In addition, personal trainers are already paying income tax and Council Tax, so they have already made their contribution.

Another argument put by the Royal Parks is that they are protecting the public from rogue personal trainers, by ensuring through the licence system that trainers are properly qualified, insured, and hold a valid first aid certificate. But all these things can be checked by the client themselves when they hire a personal trainer. It’s overkill to have this extra layer of bureaucracy.

All this licence fee system will do is deter personal trainers from training in the Royal Parks, or increase the price clients have to pay their trainer when he/she passes the cost onto the client. And for those personal trainers who absorb the cost themselves, it makes the career-choice of personal trainer less attractive, and the net income less appealing. Hardly a win-win for trainer and client.

At a time when Britain is faced with a growing obesity crisis, with all the spin-off diseases it causes (type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers) it is really bad policy to deter physical exercise in London’s parks.

If the Royal Parks really did “welcome anyone who wants to use the parks to get fit”, they would ditch this policy immediately.

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London who trains his clients anywhere except the Royal Parks.