As pupils prepare to return to education in September, a national initiative has been launched to encourage parents and children to improve safety and air quality around schools, as well as activity levels.
Modeshift STARS, which recognises excellence in supporting sustainable travel, is inviting schools across the country to create a ‘walking bubble’ for families, placing parking and driving restrictions around a five-minute radius of the school gates, helping parents and children feel safer.
The bubbles are part of Modeshift STARS’ latest initiative, #StaySafeGetActive, which enables any registered school to create a walking zone map to support them with their re-opening while encouraging social distancing outside of the school gates.
Nick Butler, Modeshift STARS accreditation manager, said: “We want as many schools as possible to create a #StaySafeGetActive walking bubble to protect children and their families, helping them to enjoy a safer and more active journey to school.
“Everyone where possible should walk, cycle or scoot to school. Where families must travel by car, we’d like them find a safe place to park at least five minutes away from the school gates and walk for the final few metres to create a car-free zone around the school.”
The initiative has been launched on the back of research that found that only 51 per cent of primary children walk to school, compared to 70 per cent a generation ago. The Modeshift STARS team also hope it will build on the positive effect of the recent lockdown on air quality; research has found that pollutants from vehicle emissions are linked to rising levels of heart disease, as well as increasing the severity of Covid-19 infections.
Nick added: “We feel that this is the ideal time to launch the walking bubbles as, during lockdown, more people than ever were taking a daily walk, scoot or bike ride. Furthermore, with the reduction in traffic on the roads, the air quality improved dramatically with some cities seeing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels falling by up to 60 per cent.
“In addition to the recognised benefits of active travel, fewer cars around the school gates will mean that there is plenty of space for families to follow the Government’s social distancing guidelines.”
Modeshift STARS work with educational establishments across the country to develop and implement School Travel Plans, which include a range of initiatives to encourage sustainable and active travel on the journey to school.
Paralympian and Active Travel Commissioner for the Sheffield City Region Dame Sarah Storey has been working with schools in partnership with the STARS South Yorkshire team.
She said: “As more pupils return to the classroom we have an opportunity to transform the school run, and this fantastic new ‘walking bubble’ tool from Modeshift STARS will enable children to walk to school safely, or park and stride the last leg of their journey.
“I hope this scheme is taken up by schools across the country.”
Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan, an organisation calling for nationwide action by government and local authorities to improve air quality at schools said: “Returning to school is full of anxieties for parents, and simple street improvements like walking bubbles will drastically reduce the worry over children being able to get to school safely.
“On top of this, cleaner air was one of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 lockdown. Through our collective behaviours - working from home, walking and cycling instead of driving – we saw and experienced extraordinary improvements in outdoor air quality.
“If schools across the country rollout walking bubbles now, it will enable parents and children to continue these behaviours safely, and simultaneously keeping our air clean.”
Walking bubbles are free to create for all schools in England, outside of London.
For more information and tips on how to create a walking bubble, visit https://www.modeshiftstars.org/staysafegetactive/