We're calling on schools and families across Northern Ireland to take part in Cycle to School Week from 25 to 29 September to experience how travelling actively can be healthy, cheap and fun.
Active School Travel officer, Dave Wiggins discusses Cycle to School Week 2023 with pupils from Bocombra Primary School. Photo: Brian Morrison
While nearly half of Northern Ireland’s primary school pupils live less than a mile from their school, almost two-thirds are driven the short distance.
Our survey shows that around four out of every five children would like to make that journey by walking, wheeling, scooting or cycling.
An overview of the event
Participants can either choose to pledge to swap one car journey for cycling, cycle to school every day, or cycle with their family or discover somewhere new.
Schools are equipped with the tools to encourage their pupils to take part in the week, including presentations, activities and lesson plans created by us and The Bikeability Trust.
The resources will be available throughout the year on our website, allowing schools to continue the conversation around active travel beyond Cycle to School Week.
Apply for the Active School Travel programme in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, we're working to enable more schools to allow their pupils to choose active travel journeys all year round by delivering the Active School Travel (AST) programme funded by the Public Health Agency and the Department for Infrastructure.
It provides schools with a planned programme of activities throughout the year, both in and out of the classroom.
Schools also get direct hands-on support from one of our dedicated Active Travel Officers.
Gold stars at Bocombra Primary School
Emma Craig is the Active School Travel Champion Teacher at Bocombra Primary School, which has achieved our Gold Award for its commitment to encouraging active travel among its pupils and families.
The school now acts as a Gold Ambassador, serving as a role model for other schools.
Emma said: “Thanks to the support and guidance from our Schools Officer, Dave Wiggins we were able to obtain a bike shed which provides excellent cycle storage facilities for our pupils.
"Dave also assisted us in applying for a much-needed toucan crossing to be placed at the school gate which ensures that our pupils have direct access to the main cycle network around Craigavon, linking us to different housing developments and provides a safe route to school for many pupils.”
Recruitment of new schools to the programme is open until the end of Cycle to School Week (Friday 29 September).
Pupils from Bocombra Primary School have benefited from involvement in the Active School Travel programme. Photo: Brian Morrison
An increase in the number of children travelling to school actively
Most children in Northern Ireland want to travel actively to school, which is why Cycle to School Week can help turn the school commute into a fun journey.
Beth Harding, Active School Travel Manager, said: “For generations of children, cycling to school has been an opportunity to be active and independent.
"Young people today are just as eager to enjoy those same journeys.
"That’s why walking and cycling must be made easier and safer for everyone, especially through safe infrastructure around schools.
"We continue to make our call for Safe Routes to Schools and School Streets in Northern Ireland.
“Encouraging families and friends to walk, wheel and cycle together, builds positive habits that last a lifetime.”
Our 2021-22 Active School Travel review revealed that at the end of the school year, the number of children travelling actively to participating schools increased from 30% to 41%, while at the same time, the number of pupils being driven to school fell from 62% to 51%.
Children from Bocombra Primary Schol were joined by Active School Travel programme funders, Dr Hannah McCourt (back left) from the Public Health Agency and Raymond McCullough (back right) from the Department for Infrastructure. Also included are Emma Craig from the school and Beth Harding from Sustrans. Photo: Brian Morrison
Dr Hannah McCourt, Senior Health and Wellbeing Improvement Officer at the Public Health Agency (PHA) said: “Cycle to School Week offers a fun and interactive way for children to get moving more and incorporate physical activity into their daily routine.
"Being physically active helps to build strong bones, muscles and a healthy heart, supports the development of social skills and encourages a sense of wellbeing.
"It’s important that children are introduced to a culture of being active from an early age as it is something that will stay with them and benefit them throughout their lives.
“The PHA would encourage as many families and schools as possible across Northern Ireland to get involved in the Active School Travel programme, and Cycle to School Week is the perfect way to get started.
Colin Hutchinson, Director of Major Projects and Active Travel for the Department for Infrastructure said: “The Department is committed to improving our active travel and public transport infrastructure as a crucial way of reducing car dependency.
"The Department has for many years worked with partners across all sectors to deliver better active travel infrastructure and a range of measures are being implemented to increase this high quality delivery.
"We have commissioned a Northern Ireland wide Active Travel Network Delivery plan which, when complete, will provide a firm basis for the prioritisation of the delivery of high quality active travel infrastructure within and connecting our towns and cities, including the provision of improved safe links to schools.”