The Department for Transport (DfT) has today (7 February 2020) announced funding to enable more primary school children to walk to school. It comes as part of a package of measures which aim to reduce car use by encouraging more walking and cycling.
A generation ago, 70 per cent of primary school children walked to school but this has dropped to just over half (51 per cent). The Government has a target in its Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) to have 55 per cent of primary school children walking to school by 2025. Encouraging healthy habits from an early age is a vital element in any plan to drive less and walk, cycle and use public transport more, in order to solve the climate emergency.
A £1million grant will support 485 schools within Birmingham City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester, Merseytravel, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and West Midlands Combined Authority to take part in WOW – the year-round walk to school challenge from Living Streets. WOW sees walking rates increase by an average of 23 per cent and results in 30 per cent fewer car journeys to the school gates.
An additional £2.5 million ‘Walk To’ fund will support 1,200 schools across a consortium of local and combined authorities led by Blackpool Council and comprising Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Leicester, North East Combined Authority, North Lincolnshire, Stoke-on-Trent, Surrey and West Sussex to take part in WOW – the year-round walk to school challenge, as well as working with workplaces, secondary schools, colleges and Higher Education institutions to promote walking.
Joe Irvin, CEO of Living Streets, said “We all need to walk more and drive less, to help tackle the crises of public health, traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change. Starting healthy habits at an early age is crucial to achieving this, yet the number of children walking to school is sadly lower than it was a decade ago.
Walking to school helps children stay active, which is incredibly important at a time when only one in five children meet the recommended daily amount of physical activity. We are increasingly aware of the impact of air pollution on our children’s health - stunting their lung development and increasing the risk of asthma attacks. One in four cars during peak hours are on the school run and the toxic fumes they produce stay around the school gates long after the cars have left.
In schools where successful initiatives like WOW are in place, we are seeing more families choose active and sustainable ways to travel. We need to be making it possible for families to swap to healthier forms of travel and this funding will go a long way to doing that in these local authority areas."
Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands:
“I fully support Living Streets’ proposal to continue and expand this project in 2020-21 to reach more primary schools and tackle the impact the school run is having on local congestion, road safety and air quality in even more locations.
Walking to school will clearly deliver positive health benefits to families of the West Midlands and will have links to our planning and legacy of the Commonwealth Games 2022.”
Chris Boardman MBE, Cycling & Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester:
“By increasing the proportion of children and accompanying adults walking to and from school, the project is making children and their parents heathier, whilst cutting air pollution and traffic congestion.
In 2018-19, 101 schools across Greater Manchester took part in WOW, the year-round walk to school challenge, with average active travel rates increasing from 60% to 81% – an increase of 35%.”
There is support from Government within the Walk To funding to reduce the number of everyday journeys taken by car. Last year’s (2019) National Travel Survey revealed that 51 per cent of car/van trips made are under two miles, distances which could be walked or cycled. To help tackle this, 40 workplaces within this consortium will benefit from ‘Walking Works’ - Living Streets’ workplace-based initiative to encourage adults to be more active. Last year’s Walk To project saw an extra 5,000 people walking more around work. Living Streets will also support members of 30 secondary schools, colleges, training centres and Higher Education institutions to walk more local, everyday journeys.
Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee, said:
“We’re proud to be working in partnership with Living Streets to ensure the next generation have the skills and knowledge they need to build active, healthy and pollution-free travel into their lives.
“From reducing congestion and air pollution to tackling physical inactivity and obesity, we know encouraging more of our children to walk, scoot and cycle to school brings huge benefits.”
Lynne McDonald, 54 from West Sussex works for an NHS Foundation Trust which took part in Walking Works in 2019:
“I not only feel so much healthier, I’m fitter and have way more energy; it has turned around my diabetes. I did speed walks around the park, gradually building up distance and speed. It really helped my breathing and improved my lung capacity, so I didn’t have to use my inhaler as often. It helped my mental health as I was outside enjoying nature and giving myself the break away to de-stress.”
Vinny Musson, Teacher & WOW Champ Wyvern Primary School, Leicester said:
"We have had a great response to the scheme and have had a massive increase in children walking. I can't believe the difference it has made to the traffic down our school road, it's amazing".