People walking

With October’s International Walk to School Month underway and with it the inevitable wetter and colder weather - we speak to Amy from Croydon Living Streets Group about how we can all support school communities to develop new healthy travel habits.

Amy Foster

Over the past year, the term ‘Safe Routes to School’ has appeared more and more frequently in policy documents.

Firstly, in Public Health England’s 2018 ‘Health Matters: Air Pollution’ report as one of the key strategies that local authorities can implement to reduce air pollution and, much more recently, referenced in the ‘Ten Ambitions for London’ as a key driver for creating modal shift towards healthy travel habits in the document produced by the Mayor’s Child Obesity Taskforce.

As the former chair of a Safe Routes to School forum in South London, I felt that it was essential to seize the moment to lead on the discussion about what we want safe routes to school to look like for children in the UK.

Working with London Living Streets Group and the London Cycling Campaign, we put together a seminar event for campaigners and policy makers which was hosted by Assembly Member Caroline Russell at London’s City Hall as part of her project investigating different school streets and parklets in the capital and published in her ‘Reclaiming our Roads briefing.

Child playing at Love Lane
Craft table

Prof. Peter Kraftl and Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill of the University of Birmingham presented on their research into the walking habits of children and young people.

Interestingly, they highlighted the fact that adults highlight independent mobility as the ‘gold star’ of a safe active travel community, yet the participants involved viewed walking entirely differently, turning it into one of their most important social activities and described walking ‘as intense, loved, vivid, vital, playful, social experiences .. central to friendships.’

They spoke of how children often felt they were ‘moved on’ from place to place meaning the journey- and what children did as they travelled- was equally as important as the destination.

With Ms Allison Dutoit of Gehl Architects also speaking of the need for streets that invite us to linger and hang-around, to socialise and play, I was reminded of the recent comments by Living Streets' Jenni Wiggle on the DfT’s press release regarding the changes for the guidance around road closures for street play, where she pointed out how transformative creating traffic-free spaces can be, as they mean “children can enjoy being more active and sociable, our streets transform into cleaner, safer and more welcoming places for people of all ages.”

I hope that guests came away from the event feeling empowered to go back to their communities and start asking for the kind of changes - like play streets and parklets - that are the first steps on the long journey towards safer streets.

Looking to create safer routes for all where you live?

Watch Amy talk about Croydon Living Streets Group's work and get inspired.

Watch the full film on our Local Groups page