For the past five years, we’ve worked with Somerset Council and local charity On Your Bike to reshape the school run in Bridgwater, a historic market town in Somerset.
With the aim of boosting active travel to school and reducing the number of cars at the school gate, we developed and successfully delivered a varied programme of activities in local primary schools. We delivered challenges and promotions (including our popular, annual Bridgwater schools challenge for all primary schools in Bridgwater), bike maintenance training for pupils, fixed bikes up with a visit from Dr Bike, and ran competitions and rewards schemes to keep children active and exploring their local area on foot, bike or scooter.
But while these activities have captured the imaginations of primary schools, pupils and families and have helped to create a tangible culture shift, as a team, we faced the familiar and persistent difficulty of engaging as effectively with secondary schools and their students.
To tackle this challenge, we did some creative thinking. Our solution has been applied in both a secondary school context and to our own company objectives of raising awareness of transport planning as a profession to a younger audience.
Secondary school engagement through knowledge development and skills building
From the start, we knew that we needed to completely rethink our engagement approach. Instead of the more traditional methodology we were using in primary schools, we created an innovative programme to help build the knowledge and skills of secondary school students in the field of active travel.
Our Climate Friendly Streets sessions, delivered in class, tasked students with redesigning a street to address some familiar barriers to encouraging more walking and cycling - insufficient space for pedestrians, sub-standard conditions for cycling, poor air quality and lack of greenery. To appeal more to the pupils, we used Oxford Street and Bridgwater High Street as examples to create a local focus. Learners are inspired with transformative schemes from around the world and then work to develop their own scheme. They present and explain it to their peers, setting out the rationale for the choices they’ve made and the benefits it will bring.
The sessions helped students to understand that the way that the spaces around them are designed, directly influences how they are used. They could, therefore, gain a broader appreciation of the local efforts that are being made to encourage more walking and cycling across Bridgwater through improvements in infrastructure and streetscapes.
The sessions are typically delivered by our younger transport planners who are much closer in age to the students they are working with, who also talk about their own route into transport planning (the A Level/BTEC subjects they chose and the degree courses they completed). So, as well as the students learning what people in these roles do on a daily basis, they can also see possible routes into these roles for themselves.
We’ve received excellent feedback from students and teachers on the sessions. They went down so well with older students that we simplified the task and shortened the session, and delivered it to Year 5 and 6 pupils in four Bridgwater primary schools too. The children fed back that they loved the session but wished it was longer!
Inspiring future transport planners
We’ve subsequently used the sessions to support our new Steer work experience programme, a week-long programme of activities and learning for Year 10 students who gain an insight into transport planning and consultancy as they decide on their next steps after secondary school.
We know how important it is to encourage a more diverse group of people into transport planning to achieve better and more inclusive outcomes for everyone. Many of us say that we fell into transport planning ‘by accident’ and we need to encourage more people from more diverse backgrounds and routes to join us. Our Climate Friendly Streets session is one practical way in which we are directly raising awareness of and interest in our profession amongst a younger and potentially more diverse audience, encouraging them to feel that transport planning is a future career for them.
Our Bridgwater schools project has been shortlisted for a National Transport Award in the Exemplary Approach to Active Travel & Public Space category. The winners will be announced on the 5th October. We’re keeping everything crossed!