In a presentation to the AGM of the Bicycle Association last year, Sustrans wanted the bike trade to provide £200 000 to help kick-start an ambitious 10-year programme to get school-based mentors - or champions - to lobby for Safe Routes to Schools schemes. More cash is still needed, but a grant from the Esmée Fairburn Foundation enables the Sustrans scheme to get up and running.

Sustrans gains £261k grant for its School Champions programme

At the BA AGM Sustrans announced plans to start a £400k initiative to create 200 ‘Cycle Champions’ a year over the next ten years.

Sustrans recognises it’s only by influencing youngsters to cycle more that cycle usage will grow in the future. Sustrans wants to reduce the number of children taken to school in parental taxis, and increase the number of children cycling, and walking, to school.

Here there are only 100 000 school cyclists, a 1 percent drop in the ocean. Yet some schools are showing that reversing the trend is possible. At the Kesgrave school in Ipswich, pro-cycling initiatives were put in place that saw cycle usage sky-rocket: 71 percent of Kesgrave kids now cycle to school.

This was achieved thanks to individuals at the school making sure pro-cycling policies were implemented correctly. And taking a lead from this example, Sustrans wants to create more of these school ‘cycling champions’. They need to be intimately connected to their schools and able to get cycling on the management agenda. The school champions need to be teachers, governors of ‘friends’ of their schools.

Sustrans wants to create an infrastructure to nurture and support these ‘champions’. This infrastructure would include training courses, literature, a national conference, and an awards scheme for the best champions in the UK. The champions would be funded to the tune of £2000 per school.

The goal would be to increase the number of kids cycling to school to 1.2m, a hugely ambitious target.

Seed funding of £70 000 for the Schools Champion scheme was provided by the lottery Community Fund. The grant of £261 000 has just been announced and will enable Sustrans to employ a project officer, and organise and train individual ‘school champions’.

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK, responsible for £26m worth of grants in 2003. It was founded in 1961 by Ian Fairburn, a leading City figure, pioneer of the unit trust industry. Fairbairn endowed the Foundation with the greater part of his own holding in his company, M&G, and in the early years the majority of grants were for economic and financial education.

His interest in financial education stemmed from his concern that most people had no access to stock exchange investment, and were therefore precluded from investing their savings in equities and sharing in the country’s economic growth.

The Foundation was set up as a memorial to Ian Fairbairn’s wife Esmée, who had played a prominent role in developing the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and the Citizens Advice Bureaux before being killed during an air raid towards the end of the second world war.

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