This year's NEU conference saw the subject of air pollution pushed up the agenda, with Rosamund Kissi-Debra's powerful address on her daughter’s death from air pollution related asthma leaving attendees in no doubt as to the seriousness of the impact poor air quality is having on children and young people's health.
Clean Air Day aims to raise awareness of how we can all take action, and support action, that will make the air we breathe cleaner and safer for all. It's becoming easier and easier to find examples of how to improve air quality both on-site and around the school gate, from green screens to air purifiers and timed road closures. However, it can be harder to find stories about how staff teams can take action to reduce the carbon footprint of our journey to work.
It may be that these stories are hiding in plain sight, as wellbeing and stress management stories, given the wealth of evidence indicating the benefits an active commute can have on mental health and wellbeing.
During May’s Mental Health Awareness Week (which was also National Walking Month) Emma Sheppard, English lead practitioner at the Harris Academy Morden and founder of the Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher Project, tweeted that she was ‘Trialling my new approach to time which I hope will help me to have more pockets of nature, sunlight, less screen time and be more present for the different purposes and people in my life (including myself). First day is going well!'
Combining the bus with a walk across the park meant that she was able to build time in nature into her day, rather than letting ‘me’ time and ‘nature’ be squeeze out alongside her competing childcare, work and entrepreneurial time pressures. Her birdsong filled video of a bucolic urban tree avenue is ‘16 seconds of calm.. #Teacher5aday.
Another school picking up the wellbeing travel baton, is the British School in the Netherlands (BSN). Hosting an annual BSN Cycle to Work week alongside national cycle to work day, they encourage their staff to take ‘BSN Cycle Selfies’ because ‘Staff health and well-being are important to us, and BSN Cycle to Work Week is just one example of that’ adding, they ‘offer a wide variety of well-being initiatives for staff, aimed at aiding staff in staying healthy and balanced.'
As Jill Borcherds, NEU Eastern Region’s Rep of the year and an HSBC Breeze ride leader, adds,‘Cycling is hugely important for my own mental health. Earlier this year my school was involved in a difficult forced academisation process - the headteacher and I agreed that cycling to work really helped us cope - I enjoyed my precious 20 minute commute whilst he was doing daily round trips in excess of 40 miles.’
But as Jill points out, ‘Stevenage as a New Town has fabulous segregated cycleways and paths that enable active travel’.
And this is the crux of the issue; without an inviting tree-lined walking route or safe cycle network, an active commute can be not unpleasant but unsafe, to the detriment of the environment and our clean air aspirations, as well as our health and wellbeing.
And this is why the NEU is one of the founder members of the Trade Union Clean Air Network’s Charter, calling for Government to increase investment in cycling and walking routes, as well as public transport improvements, so that our air is cleaner and safer for all.
Useful sites to check out ahead of Clean Air Day
- Many cycle training providers offer free adult 1:1 cycle training, including cycle to work route planning support. You can search for your local authorities provider using the Bikeability website.
- The Ramblers offer themed guided walks, many in urban areas with public transport start points, at all ability levels, for anyone who wishes to rediscover their local area.
- Buying a bike can be expensive if you’re not sure it’s for you. The Bike Club’s adult long term hire scheme offers various bikes, including folding e-bikes, and in London Peddle My Wheels works with several local authorities to offer a ‘try before you buy’ scheme.
- Finally, London based cargo and passenger cycling firm Pedal Me, are another way of reducing your travel emissions on Clean Air Day, if you’re travelling across the city.