Empowering London’s children to be agents of change

Our mission is to create more sustainable and active journeys… what’s yours? We posed this question to a captive audience of primary school children from across London at the annual Transport for London STARS seminar series.

For over ten years, the STARS accreditation programme (Sustainable Travel: Active, Responsible, Safe) has been inspiring young Londoners to walk, cycle and scoot to school. And it’s clearly made an impact, with around 1,500 schools now taking part.

We got involved in the programme for the first time this year and had lots of fun developing and delivering workshops across four days in November. TfL staff, workshop facilitators and the Hopscotch team became secret agents, challenging children to join us on a sustainable travel mission to develop new skills, explore practical solutions to challenges, and hear the awe-inspiring stories from other pupils and teachers who have championed behaviour change in their school communities.

But why is spreading the word about sustainable travel so important?

According to the latest research on the capital’s pollution levels, every person is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for dangerous toxic particles. To help combat this, the Mayor of London is taking action to reduce pollution. As well as introducing an Emissions Surcharge (the T-Charge), the first 50 air quality audits of schools in the most polluted parts of the city have been launched. These audits will provide plenty of evidence to show we need to clean up London's polluted air.

However, the challenge is big. Half the cars on London’s roads during the morning rush hour are parents on the school run. We know how busy they are too, often dropping their children off on the way to work, getting their cars close to the school gates as quick as possible becomes the priority.

It could be easy to despair – what difference can one person make by cycling to work, or walking to school? But by losing just one in four of these cars, we can save huge amounts of CO2 which would help improve air quality.

And the message isn’t lost on the younger generation as the STARS seminars clearly demonstrated. Delegates from over 180 schools attended and we were blown away by their imagination and enthusiasm. From painting a yellow brick road to highlight to drivers where pedestrians walk near the school gates, or holding a ‘bling your bike’ competition as the darker nights draw in, to teaching classes of children as young as five to ride a bike safely, and closing a whole road for a ‘car-free’ day, the ways that schools have embraced active and sustainable travel is incredible.

If half the pupils in London are as passionate and engaged as those that attended the events this month, the future of London’s air is in safe hands.


About the author

Becky Feetham

Becky combines a passion for education with experience of delivering meaningful employability projects to young people, having managed partnerships with organisations to raise young people's aspirations. She currently leads on HS2’s primary school programme and works with LifeSkills created with Barclays to expand reach, engaging with teachers and providing advice on the education landscape. She is also chair of governors at a primary school in East London.

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