Published: 31st MAY 2022

The Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel goes international

The Big Walk and Wheel, the UK's largest inter-school walking, wheeling, scooting and cycling challenge, has inspired children and schools beyond the UK, thanks to a partnership from a school in Northern Ireland.

Two girls in school uniform on bikes in their playground

Pupils from Glengormley Integrated Primary School learn to cycle sessions part of Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel

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Glengormley Integrated Primary is a large primary situated on the busy Antrim Road in north Belfast.

They have been encouraging active travel to school over the last two years through two different initiatives.

The school is in their second year of the Sustrans Active School Travel Programme, focusing on encouraging more active journeys to and from school.

They are also the lead school in a two-year Erasmus+ Bike2School project, with partner schools in Denmark, Turkey, Croatia and Hungary.


Big Walk and Wheel

The Active School Travel Programme is funded by the Public Health Agency and the Department for Infrastructure.

It focuses on increasing walking, wheeling, cycling and scooting journeys to school through education and various events, including the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel, with the practical support of a Sustrans schools officer.

The Erasmus project, funded by the European Commission through the British Council, has allowed staff and pupils from the five countries to learn from each other through online projects, as well as visiting other partners.


Virtual collaboration

In March, Glengormley Integrated Primary was involved in events linked to both projects, creating an exciting week of active travel activities in school.

A partner trip to Hungary had to be changed to a virtual collaboration, giving staff the time and resources available to run activities in school.

This coincided with the school’s participation in the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel, which is the UK’s largest active school travel challenge.

So, pupils were encouraged to cycle to school for the competition, with the added incentive of getting involved in cycling activities during the school day.

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For many of the teachers, the highlight was seeing children who couldn’t cycle at the start of the week take part in the main activities along with their classmates at the end of the week. Blockquote quotation marks
Beverley Gaston, Sustrans Active Travel Officer

To start off the week, the school identified the children in Key Stage 2 who couldn’t ride a bike, and they spent dedicated time each day working with two teachers.

From the 30 children who could not ride at the start of the week, 25 could cycle independently by the end.

Pupils were delighted to master cycling, and some parents mentioned how proud they were of their children and how happy they were with the school investing this time to teach them.

There was also a timetable of activities for the rest of the pupils, including various cycling games like Cycling Twister and King of the Ring.


Celebration of cycling

Teachers designed an obstacle course for pupils to navigate around with the fewest mistakes, while practising skills such as riding with one hand, negotiating cones, and performing a controlled stop.

Some of the more able cyclists in P7 cycled to the local park to complete a clean-up, collecting an amazing three bin bags full of rubbish and benefitting the local environment.

The week culminated in a celebration of cycling, which included a biking procession with the playgroup children.

The young children were delighted to be cycling in the ‘big playground’ with the ‘big’ Key Stage 2 children.

The other classes took part in activities including a slow bicycle race.

Sustrans Active Travel Officer Beverley Gaston observed:

“For many of the teachers, the highlight was seeing children who couldn’t cycle at the start of the week take part in the main activities along with their classmates at the end of the week.”


Majority of children travelled actively to school

The excitement in Glengormley Integrated Primary could also be seen in the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel results, with the number of pupils walking, cycling, wheeling, and scooting gradually building over the two weeks of the challenge.

Over half the school took part daily, leading to an overall percentage of 57% of children travelling actively to school.

School Principal Nigel Arnold said:

“We were delighted that more than half the school took part in the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel – a great achievement given our large catchment and with many pupils having to negotiate a busy four-lane road on their route to school.

"We are so pleased with the focused week on cycling that we plan to run it again twice a year, with both teachers and families seeing the many benefits to children.”


Read more about the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel.

We're currently recruiting new schools for the Active School Travel Programme in Northern Ireland - find out how to get involved.