Better Air for Your Children – Lessons from Lewisham

By Alison Holland

Published: March 19, 2018


The air in our cities may look cleaner than the smog of the 1950s but nowadays much of our air pollution is invisible… although still harmful.

But there is hope; there are many actions we can take to make our air cleaner including greening our cities and choosing to walk or cycle more.

Pupils from 17 schools across Lewisham, London have been learning how they can make a difference thanks to their recent Air Quality Workshop which we were very happy to be part of.

Find out what they learnt… and pick up some tips for your school community too.

Meet the Mayor

It’s good to lead from the top so let’s start by meeting the Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock and his Champion for Air Quality, Councillor Sophie McGeevor.

The mayor highlighted the importance of improving air quality in their city environment and how it’s a task for the whole community meaning schools and individual pupils have the opportunity to make a real difference.

What’s the Problem and What Can We Do?

So what’s wrong with our air quality now? Eco Educator Anna Portch filled us in on a major source of air pollution – petrol and diesel vehicles – and how particulate matter and nitogen dioxide, although they cannot be seen, create massive health problems. It may be surprising to know that a child in a pushchair passing by a car exhaust is exposed to less pollution than the driver! However there are many actions we can take – some are shared on this innovative pledge wheel.

Bubble Fun for a Serious Message

Bubble blowing was a clever way to demonstrate how leafy greenery can help catch air pollution and make the air cleaner.

These pupils assisted Jenny and Jess from Trees for Cities in their presentation by acting as cars emitting pollution (bubbles) and as a child protected from some of the pollution/bubbles caught by the tree’s leaves.

Choosing Tranquil Routes

The Tranquil City project explores areas of calm in the city and their workshop helped pupils understand how to get away from the worst pollution. They all did this by planning their own least polluting walking routes away from heavy traffic using the Tranquil City’s map resources.

These and the other activities and issues were all illustrated by artist Anna Geyer of New Possibilities during the morning.

Walk, Cycle or Scoot!

Pupils enjoyed watching artist Anna at work. The whole montage covered so many of the issues around air quality… historical facts, effects on our health and environment, the science behind air pollution and what we can do to reduce it.

As our aim at Brightkidz is to promote walking, cycling, scooting and road safety for children I had to get a nice close up of this part!

Come and Meet Brightkidz!

There was so much to see and do even in refreshment breaks. It was great to welcome pupils over to the Brightkidz information stand… our bright products definitely caught their eye. These pupils are checking our our Cycle and Scoot Shop Starter Pack for schools. Also popular was having a go with the pedometer to count steps.  I’m sure our products will help inspire their initiatives.

These Are a Few of Our Favourite Schemes

So how do you get more pupils to walk, cycle or scoot to school? Start with a great team of pupils to inspire their peers… and bring them to events like this to gather ideas! These pupils and their teacher are looking at different initiatives at our Which Way To Go? activity on the Brightkidz stand. Smiley stickers are used for each pupil to vote on which would be best as a new initiative in their school.

‘International Walk to School Month’ Wins the Vote

And the votes are in… although not everyone managed to vote there is a clear winner here. ‘Taking part in International Walk to School Month” was the most popular choice for a new, future initiative. So we’ve got until October to put together some more ideas for you on this (we’ll publish them in our e news Bright News so make sure your school is signed up).

Trying out the Mayor’s Chair

End of a busy morning so they are taking a break – in the mayor’s chair – before heading off back to school. It’s been a great event and although I’ve already mentioned some of those involved a shout out is also owed to organisers Elaine Goad and Arun Khagram of MP Smarter Travel, as well as Chris Howard, Air Quality Officer for Lewisham Council.

5 Actions Your School Can Take to Improve Air Quality

If your school is in an area with a lot of traffic pollution these ideas can help you make your school a better, healthier place for you all.

  • Green your school – plant upwards (vines), outwards (bushes) and downwards (trailing plants) to provide as much of a shield as you can from traffic fumes. Evergreens are great as they have leaves all year round. Go for really leafy plants and remember they need sun, soil, water and air.
  • Plan a tranquil route – plan your journey to school along routes furthest from busy traffic. Be inspired by the Tranquil City scheme to make this into a map learning activity in your classes.
  • Start a ‘no idling’ campaign to get parents and carers to switch off their engines when not moving. They will get the most health benefit as they are the ones in the car where the invisible pollution is highest.
  • Encourage parents and carers to leave the car at home and let their children walk, cycle or scoot to school. Promote active travel alongside road safety so more parents are willing to let their children travel actively.
  • Find out what campaigns, activities and resources are available in your local area by contacting your local council. Make sure you find out about and get involved in any events going on that will help you inspire your colleagues and pupils such as Clean Air Day (21 June 2018).

More Info and More Pics

For more info see our earlier blog about Clean Air Day which has links to lots of Clean Air educational resources. And if you’d like to add more info of your own please email us or add to the comments below.

Here are a few more photos from the event: checking out the pedometer, the artist’s montage, more votes on Which Way to Go?, campaign posters for ‘No idling’ and Trees for Cities show how winter trees don’t catch the bubbles/air pollution.