Sustrans tells Jonathon Harker how it – and the bike industry – is taking a lead on the problem locally, and getting kids onto bicycles to boot:
How’s this for an eye-watering statistic? Just one in ten children get their recommended daily amount of exercise. For a trade that is based on selling stuff to active customers, it makes for uncomfortable reading.
But take heart – school kids in Surrey are bucking the trend. Why? Well it’s all down to you, and some forward-thinking organisations. Confused? Then read on.
Thirty two per cent of children at schools in the area that work with Sustrans now regularly cycle to school – that’s 16 times higher than the national average. And it’s due in no small measure to the work of Sustrans’ Bike It officer Gayle Rowson.
Rowson works with around 9,000 children across 18 schools to give kids the skills, confidence and encouragement to cycle to school. That activity ranges from national standard Bikeability training to ad hoc events like ‘bling your bike’.
In the Surrey area, Bike It’s achievements have been doubly impressive – the county has some of the highest levels of primary school children being driven to school in the UK, at 14 per cent above the national average.
“The cycle bug has really spread since I began working with these schools,” explains Rowson. “The teachers, children and parents at the schools I work with are really dedicated to creating a lasting pro-cycling culture.”
Last March fifteen schools in Surrey took part in Sustrans’ national ‘Virtual bike Race’, with the borough’s schools logging 15,500 cycle trips to school in just 20 days. The county’s own Walton on the Hill Primary won the national competition, beating 400 others. Surrey’s Epsom Downs Primary School became the first school in the country to receive a silver School Mark Award from Sustrans, while eleven schools have now been awarded the bronze award, with many schools working hard to achieve silver.
Rowson’s remit also includes working with ‘supported’ schools – to whom she gives slightly less intensive help. Those schools ran several well-attended events this year, including a picnic ride for 50 to Epsom racecourse and a sponsored day event where 150 children raised money for a cycle storage cover. A secondary school new to Bike It hosted two primaries for the area’s first cycling transition event; a fun way to get pupils ready for their move to secondary school.
As Rowson says, the key is to having a lasting effect on the number of children cycling. Banstead’s Warren Mead Juniors is one school that has seen cycle numbers rise and now has long-lasting bike facilities as a result. Teaching assistant Roz Cook-Abbott explains: “Over 50 children now cycle to school on a regular basis and we’ve had to get new cycle storage fitted.
“The children are very proud of themselves when they first cycle to school and soon come to realise that they can have fun whilst travelling to school, as well as being environmentally friendly.”
Bike It’s sustained efforts to encourage the next generation into the saddle – and out of the car – have made a tangible difference to cyclist numbers in the local Surrey area. And funding from the cycle industry – via the Bike Hub levy – has been channelled into Bike It activities not just in the South East, but also up and down the country.
Bike It officer profile:
Gayle Rowson joined Sustrans in May 2007 and works with 9,000 children across 19 schools in her Bike It role.
“In my experience, very little is as rewarding as working with children. Being a Sustrans Bike It officer is a great way to share my passion for the outdoors with children and show them how much fun biking can be, whilst promoting sport, a healthy lifestyle, and sustainable transport.
“No job could be more in line with my own values. Being able to cycle is a great skill to have: it encourages children to be independent, resourceful and explorers. Before joining Sustrans I worked in schools teaching PE and tutoring children with special needs and behavioural problems, and coached sport for council-run holiday schemes. I have worked three ski seasons and travelled in Canada, New Zealand, South East Asia and America.
“Mountain biking is my latest passion – I’m always looking for new challenges and am often found riding into the unknown.”
Find out more about how local bike shops are supporting Bike It in Surrey: