Children across Northern Ireland have set off to school on foot or using their own wheels to compete with pupils in the UK's largest inter-school walking, wheeling and cycling competition. The challenge, known as the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel, runs from 21 March to 1 April 2022.
Left to right: Health Minister Robin Swann, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and Education Minister Michelle McIlveen pictured with the Principal of Kilcooley Primary, Pauline Brown and Sustrans Northern Ireland Director, Caroline Bloomfield. On the front row is Bradley Brown (4) and Sarah Emadeloin Maureira (7).
About Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel
Sustrans Big Pedal had been running for 11 years.
But as it had grown to become much more than a cycling competition, schools helped rename it the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel to reflect the various modes of travel.
Schools in Northern Ireland always embrace the competition and frequently win categories and feature highly in the leader-boards.
It is seen as the highlight of the Sustrans Active School Travel Programme, funded jointly by the Public Health Agency and the Department for Infrastructure, although schools don’t have to be involved in the programme to take part.
Increasing active travel in Northern Ireland
The importance of increasing active travel on the school run meant all three Executive Ministers – Infrastructure, Health and Education – came together at Kilcooley Primary School, in Bangor to help launch this year’s Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel competition.
Kilcooley Primary joined the Active School Travel Programme in September 2018.
In their first year of engagement with Sustrans, the number of children walking, wheeling and cycling to school increased from 66% to 82%.
Easing congestion at the school gates
Principal of Kilcooley Primary, Mrs Pauline Brown said:
"We are really thrilled that Kilcooley pupils and parents are taking part in this year’s Big Walk and Wheel and it is wonderful to see the politicians support this competition.
"The pupils enjoy participating in cycle skills workshops and bicycle maintenance sessions which are delivered by Iain Sneddon, our Sustrans Active Travel Officer.
"It has helped to ease congestion at the school gates and our pupils arrive alert and ready for the school day."
Support for more active travel
Beth Harding, Sustrans Active School Travel Manager, said:
"We’re delighted to welcome all three Executive Ministers this morning to help launch the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel in Northern Ireland.
"It is wonderful to have their support for what is a hugely important cross-departmental issue."
Health Minister Robin Swann and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon with school-children (left to right) Riley McClealand, Hannah Glennie, Chloe Taylor, Bradley Brown, Sarah Emadeloin Maureira, Darcie Kennedy and Matthew Bell. Photo: Brian Morrison.
Active travel improves concentration in class
Health Minister Robin Swann said:
"It’s important that children are introduced to a culture of being active from an early age as it is something that will benefit them throughout their lives.
"Being physically active helps children to build strong bones, muscles and a healthy heart, encourages a sense of wellbeing and improves concentration when in class.
"I would encourage parents, where possible, to make walking, wheeling or cycling to school part of their daily routine with their children."
Improving the quality of life for everyone
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said:
"More walking, wheeling, scooting and cycling not only benefits our own individual health but also contributes to reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, improving the quality of life for everyone in Northern Ireland.
"Along with the Public Health Agency, my Department co-funds the Active School Travel Programme which has been delivered for the past nine years.
"The aim of the programme is to provide children with the necessary skills and knowledge to reduce dependency on private transport and be more active when travelling to and from school."
Learning about the many benefits of being active
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said:
"The Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel scheme is a positive opportunity to encourage and inspire pupils and young people to get active on the school run.
"And it's a great way for them to see their local area from a new perspective, whilst learning about the benefits of active travel."
Increased physical activity is good for our mental health
More children than ever are being driven to school in Northern Ireland.
The number of primary school pupils being driven has increased in the past six years from 59% to 68% - despite many living less than a mile from their school.
Incorporating physical activity into daily routines, such as the school run, can help improve both physical and mental health.
Find out more about the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel.
Read more about the Active School Travel Programme in Northern Ireland.