Pupils from Year 5 at Hawthorns Primary School and Evendons Primary School, both in Wokingham town, marked Clean Air Day on Thursday (16 June) by measuring air pollution around their schools.
The air quality officer from My Journey Wokingham, Wokingham Borough Council’s active travel team, gave a talk to the children about the dangers of breathing in pollutants like nitrogen dioxide. This gas, which irritates the lungs and affects the heart, is produced by burning fossil fuels so exhaust fumes are a major contributor, particularly private cars.
The pupils then took part in a hands-on workshop, using new hand-held monitors to record levels of the gas at drop-off time and around their school grounds later in the day. This has been shown to be highest in the morning before dropping to very low levels once the rush hour is over.
The children then learned how they can improve air quality by walking, cycling and scooting to school, and on other short trips, instead of being driven – and by encouraging others to do the same.
My Journey Wokingham is an official partner of Clean Air Day, a nationwide campaign held in June every year to raise awareness of air pollution, which causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK per year.
It is the biggest environmental threat to the public’s health, affecting every organ in the body and potentially shortening lives as well as making people more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses like covid-19.
Simple changes add up to major health benefits
Cllr Paul Fishwick, the council’s new executive member for active travel, transport and highways, said: “This was a fun and highly informative exercise for the pupils, reinforcing the lesson that clean air measures can have major benefits for our health.
“Using the hand-held monitors really brought home to the children that air pollution increase around their school gates during the rush hour, and it’s heartening to see how dedicated they are to doing everything they can to tackle this.”
Cllr Clive Jones, the council’s new leader, said: “Promoting active and sustainable travel across the borough, and creating as many opportunities for this as possible, is a crucial priority for us - so it’s important to teach that lesson at an early age and establish habits that will last a lifetime.
“The children were fascinated to learn about the subject and also reassured to know that, while it is a serious problem both in their community and further afield, they can change their lives in simple ways that will make a big difference.”
Equipping future generations to make a difference
Hawthorns and Evendons are among 10 air quality schools in the borough, where pupils take part in a wide range of initiatives to improve the situation like designing anti-idling banners to go on school gates and helping to write travel plans.
Floreat Montague Park and All Saints Church of England primary schools and St Paul’s Church of England Junior School, in Wokingham town, and The Collerton Primary School in Twyford have also recently taken part in air quality workshops.
This is part of the Wokingham Air Quality Project, a schools initiative funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which aims to reduce air pollution and congestion around primary schools and promote active travel.
This was to last two years initially but My Journey Wokingham has won funding to continue for a third year, with six new air quality schools about to come on board. The work is carried out in partnership with Intelligent Health, which helps communities to live more active lives.
Children have also taken part in the Beat the Street challenge, in which they see how far they can walk, run, scoot, wheel or cycle around selected areas over a given period, and were among more than 30 schools across the borough which observed Walk to School Week in May.
My Journey Wokingham is also developing a series of animated lessons to be shown in schools. To find out more about its workshops and challenges, or learn how you can travel more actively and sustainably, visit www.myjourneywokingham.com
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