A decade of success for the Sustrans Active School Travel programme

Sustrans is celebrating 10 years of delivering the Active School Travel programme in Northern Ireland, with another year of more children walking, scooting and cycling to school.

Since 2013 the organisation has been introducing the next generation to active travel skills which will help them make more sustainable, healthier travel choices for the rest of their lives.

Children and staff from Holy Family Primary School, Belfast told our CEO, Xavier Brice (centre back), and representatives from the programme funders, Department for Infrastructure and Public Health Agency, how they’ve benefited from the Active School Travel programme. Credit: Sustrans

To date, more than 500 schools all over Northern Ireland have been involved with our Active School Travel programme (AST) – which is funded by Public Health Agency and the Department for Infrastructure

Each year throughout the programme there has been a positive increase in children travelling actively to participating schools.

Figures from our 2022-23 AST annual report show that the work continues to have a positive impact on those pupils engaged in it. 

Children walking or cycling to participating schools rose from 30% to 42%, while the number of children being driven in a vehicle to school dropped from 60% to 47%. 

The low-level of physical activity among children and young people is a major health concern.

More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are overweight or living with obesity.

Active travel through walking, wheeling, scooting and cycling can help reverse this trend, says Sustrans.

Not only does it have physical benefits, but it also helps boost mental health too. 

For those children participating in the AST programme, the number completing the Chief Medical Officers’ recommended levels of physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day increased from 29% to 46% this year. 

Reducing traffic and associated carbon emissions around the school gates has the added impact of improving air quality, which has become a significant public health issue especially in urban areas. 

Xavier Brice, Chief Executive Officer at Sustrans, visited Holy Family Primary School in Belfast to celebrate the milestone. He said: “We are thrilled to mark a decade of this superb Active School Travel programme, and to celebrate these amazing results for the children and their schools.  

“More and more schools want to help their pupils enjoy better physical and mental health through active journeys.

“Like Sustrans, they believe every child should be able to safely walk, wheel and cycle to school – exactly what this programme helps support.

“Here’s to the next ten years.” 

Miss Siobhan McQuaid, Principal of Holy Family Primary School in Belfast said: “Working with Sustrans through the Active School Travel programme has been such a positive experience for our school community.  

“We are keen to support more children to walk and cycle to school to benefit their physical and mental health, to reduce congestion and pollution outside our school, to help families save money, and to help build important lifelong skills.” 

Dr Hannah McCourt, Senior Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Officer from the Public Health Agency said: “The PHA would encourage as many families and schools as possible across Northern Ireland to get involved in the Active School Travel programme, just like the thousands who have done so over the past decade.  

“We are delighted to see the Active School Travel programme reach such a significant milestone.

“We must recognise the importance of introducing children to a culture of being active from an early age, as it is something that will stay with them and benefit them throughout their lives.  

“The Active School Travel programme is a great way to encourage children to be more active which can help build strong bones, muscles and a healthy heart, supports the development of social skills, and encourages a sense of wellbeing.

“It’s recommended that children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day and programmes like this will really help contribute to this.” 

The programme is currently funded until July 2024.

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