Swindon Half Marathon's future in doubt after early start time of 8am imposed by Swindon Borough Council deters out of town participants according to organisers. But the organisers say that this year's event will continue whatever happens and are asking for as many people to sign up as possible to make it financially viable.
The Nationwide Swindon Half Marathon team have announced that the 2018 Half Marathon, to be run on Sunday 9 September, may well be the last.
The organisers say they are hugely grateful for the generous sponsorship they have received from local firms. But rising costs, along with Swindon Borough Council’s insistence on an earlier start time of 8am which has deterred out-of-town runners, mean that the sums just aren’t adding up.
Cllr Jane Milner-Barry, Labour spokesperson for sports development, said: “I was shocked to hear that the New Swindon Half is at risk. Last year 2,700 runners took part and the event raised £70,000 for local charities - probably even more. Events like this are really good for the town. Families were paying to park in the town centre and spending money there. And we’re always being told that Swindon has an obesity problem. The Swindon Half has given a lot of people a reason to try and get fit.”
Cllr Milner-Barry added: “If Bath, Reading and Oxford can run half marathons, why can’t Swindon? It almost seems as if the Conservative Administration is actively discouraging community events. This year there has been no Mela and no Pride. The Mfor Festival at Lydiard Park was cancelled. So were the World Cup screenings in the Town Gardens Bowl and all but one of the open-air film showings. Events such as the Sausage and Ale Trail in Old Town have had to struggle with a massive increase in the stall licence fee from £10 to £37.
"By treating events like these as a cash cow, the Conservative council is killing them off. A bit of support and flexibility on the part of the council, especially with an event like the New Swindon Half which is just getting off the ground, would bring dividends in the form of a much more attractive image for Swindon. Swindon needs to invest in events like this that showcase the place. If this is the last year for the New Swindon Half, the council will be to blame.”
Swindon Borough Council were unavailable for comment.
The organisers have released a statement about the half marathon's future calling on more entries.
Unfortunately, it's now looking increasingly likely that this year will be the last year the Swindon Half Marathon runs.
I'll explain the reasons shortly, but firstly, and please bear with me, I'd just like to explain who we are, and what we set out to achieve with the New Swindon Half just so that there's some transparency on the decision making process on whether the race continues or not :
I think the most important thing is that we're not a big company with dozens of running events, but are just a couple of runners from Swindon, who set out to put on a decent Half Marathon that we thought Swindon needed and wanted after the previous (Hilly and out of Town) Half Marathon fell away to nothing and was eventually canned in 2016.
Most other local towns and cities enjoy large scale Half Marathons, and they all continue to go from strength to strength bringing 10's of thousands to of people to the areas each year that would otherwise not visit, boosting the local economy massively
Our brief for the race in joint with Swindon Borough Council was to create a Town centre based race that brought exposure to all the things that Swindon Residents know and love about the town, to bring people to the town that would otherwise not be coming here, and to generally do something great for our Town that helps raise our profile and levels of positivity for Swindon, which as we all know, does not have the greatest of reputations.
We wanted to show off the landmarks Swindon is known for, so the Magic Roundabout, the County ground, the Railways, the Outlet Village, and the Oasis leisure centre, as well as show that Swindon has thriving new big communities with Whichelstowe and small, friendly communities like Old town. We wanted the race to be relatively flat, on completely closed Tarmac roads, and be accessible to any level of ability, be that a seasoned Half Runner looking for a PB, or someone completely new to the distance that wanted an easier introduction to running a Half Marathon.
The old Swindon half came to an end as it simply wasn't being supported. This, we felt, was because it was a very hilly course, and it was based out of town through Wanborough and Liddington not really showing off Swindon at all. As well as that, the start/finish area had none of the town centres infrastructure to support large crowds and supporters.
With the new race, we were under no impression that it was going to be cheap to run, and we fully expected that we would have to reach into out pockets to fund it in year one to get the ball rolling.
In order to give the race some meaning, we had always wanted to give out our charity slots out for free, unlike other half marathons and marathons who charge a premium for them, and we only wanted to work with Swindon based charities that help us as a community of the Town : Charities that in many cases have or will provide care or support to ourselves, friends or loved ones as residents of Swindon.
In the first year of the new race in 2017, we worked with 15 local charities on the race by giving them each a number of completely free slots, and giving them space on the course to create their own atmosphere stations and create exposure for themselves to 1000's of people. In the 2017 race alone, these local charities raised something like £70k from runners, and that's just the ones we know about. In reality, that number is probably close to £100,000. Something we're exceptionally proud of.
Those same 15 Charities have free slots again this year, and with those slots, we're hoping to smash last year's fund raising achievement.
Unfortunately, the dream of creating this new race, and having something large scale in Swindon that is comparable in experience to the Large Half Marathons of Bath, Reading, Bristol or Oxford is appearing to be impossible.
Last year's race had nearly 2,700 runners sign up to it which was great for it's first year, and significantly more than the old Swindon Half ever had, and we were fortunate enough to receive an Award from the Nationally recognised 'Running Awards' in our first year, which is almost unheard of.
Runners appeared to love it, despite the weather on the day.
We fully understand that you can't create a 10k+ competitor event like Bath, Bristol, Reading or Oxford Half Marathons in 2-3 years, and although it'd be great for a Swindon Half Marathon to attract such a field, all our cost model calculations were based on it eventually becoming a more realistic 4-6k competitor field over 3-4 years.
However, numbers are around the same or slightly lower as this time last year, but the cost of staging the race has grown quite considerably.
When we launched the 2018 race, we were, unfortunately, not given any choice other than to push it to the earlier start time of 08:00. The road network in Swindon has a number of Stake Holders and users, all of which appear to have priority over the Half Marathon, so after last year's race, one of these stakeholders decided to raise complaint and make sure that the race is much earlier so that the road network is open again for them to provide their services.
This is not a major problem for the runners of Swindon, as it means you, at least, get the rest of the day to yourself and will be finished before Lunch. However, for the race to bring people from out of town, which was the main brief for the race in the first place, this, understandably, has put a lot of people off.
The start time, along with the change of date, were not things we were given any choice in.
We're confident, that IF the race runs again in 2019, that we'll be a good position to negotiate to bring it back by an hour or so to try and get more people in from the surrounding areas.
Also, and more importantly. The cost of staging the race has increased massively.
To give you all a glimpse of the economics of running an event such as the New Swindon Half, the cost to us of the Road Closures and Traffic Management alone for this years race are now somewhere in the region of £60,000. A figure we have to fund entirely ourselves through entries and sponsorship, and don't have any contribution or help towards from Local Authorities. Unlike many other large scale races, where the local council will fund this either entirely or in part, understandably, Swindon Borough council just does not have any budget to support us with this, and we recognise their position.
At a working level, Swindon Borough council have been very helpful, and the guys we work with on a weekly basis are very good, but as a council as a whole, they just don't have the money to support or to eliminate fees.
We are very fortunate that we have some great Local companies get behind the Swindon Half Marathon and support both the race, and in turn, you all as runners, financially and for that we're hugely appreciative. Our amazing Sponsors for this year so far are :
Nationwide Building Society
Chapells Estate Agents
Better Leisure GLL
The National Self Build and Renovation Centre
In Swindon Bid Company
These companies have all supported us as runners, so please bear that in mind next time you need a service in any of their industries.
The economics of the race are as such that in order to even approach breaking even on this year's event, and to continue for years to come, we either need to find some more sponsors (we have any number of sponsor packages unfilled), or the entry numbers need to increase dramatically in the next few weeks before the race this year on Sept 9th
We have committed to this year's race, so we're not going to be like previous Swindon Halves, where the organisers have just pulled the plug and canned it as they've seen that they're going to make a loss. This is something that I've always seen as a major letdown to all the runners that had trained for those races only find it was never going to happen
However, unless we see an increase of numbers for this year's race and some glimpse of a brighter future for the event, we will walk away from it after this Sept, and that will be the end of the New Swindon Half Dream.
This is not a gun to head to runners to sign up, but just an insight into how the financial side of the event works, and what we need to achieve as a community of runners in order to keep Swindon on the running map with a decent event like most other large towns and cities enjoy.
Leigh and I are not financially able to support the massive loss we made in 2017 again (Something approaching £20k), and both of us have had to fund this race from our own businesses, so as I'm sure you can understand, we simply cannot continue in this fashion.
We have put over 1000 hours of unpaid work into creating the Swindon Half for us runners, and it's something we're absolutely passionate about, but it appears the dream of the Swindon Half Marathon may well be coming to an end unless it gets supported by the running community and the people of Swindon as a whole.
Entries for this year's race on Sept 9th are open online at www.newswindonhalf.co.uk and will close 2 weeks out from the race date, and no matter whether this is the end of the road or not, we'll make sure the 2018 race is the best one yet
Graeme, Leigh and the Nationwide Swindon Half Marathon team