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Healthy Choices – Walking and cycling to school

| Written by Shetland News

Cycling to School Cycling to School Exercise is great fun, makes you feel better, learn more easily and after all, keeping fit is one of the best ways of being sociable and making new friends.

That’s the message from Shetland Islands Council as part of their latest initiative to encourage more kids to get on their bikes or to walk to school.

Currently just three per cent of Shetland’s more than 3,200 pupils are cycling to school, while 23 per cent are walking. The vast majority, however, are being driven either by regular local authority provided school transport (43 per cent) or by parents (30 per cent).

Pupils are entitled to school transport if they live more than two miles from the school. They are usually taken to school by bus or a taxi hired for the purpose.

Health professionals however are keen to encourage all those kids who live within the two mile radius to walk or cycle. Exercise, they say, is crucially important for children to stay healthy, will help build stamina, reduce the risk of becoming obese and prevent serious diseases.

Walk to School - Hamnavoe Walk to School - Hamnavoe The Healthy Choices campaign is therefore directed at parents who opt to drive their youngsters to school where they could actually walk or cycle.

The council’s Road Safety Officer, Elaine Skinley, says the number of cars blocking entrances to schools while parents drop off their kids has grown into a real problem. Head teachers fear an accident involving children is just waiting to happen and urge parents to change their behaviour.

Mrs Skinley says: “I think parents perceive the traffic to be too much and that it’s not safe for their child to cycle, so they don’t let them cycle.

“But they don’t see that they are part of the problem. If they left the car at home or dropped the child off a little further away then there would be less traffic around the schools and so it would be much safer.

“So, we would like to encourage parents not to use their cars to ease congestion.”

To help ease parents’ fears, the council is actively promoting cycle training courses that teach kids the skills they need to stay safe in traffic.

The Bikeability courses come on three levels: for P1 to P4, held in the school playground; for P5 to P7, on quiet roads around the school: and finally for secondary pupils and adults.

Mrs Skinley said: “Cycling is something that really is so simple. All you need is a road worthy bike and some basic safety gear and then all it takes is a little bit of practice!”

Parent Joanne Jamieson is delighted with the initiative: “The Bikeability and Healthy Choice initiatives are just the thing to prompt parents and children alike to leave the car at home, make the most of the improving weather and get fit and active.

“We will be walking and cycling to school more frequently, and enjoying spending that time together.”

The advantages of cycling and walking are clear and there to see for everybody:

  • Getting on your bikes more often can help make the small changes that can bring short term and long term benefits to health, environment and finances;
  • Taking part in a Bikeability course can teach life saving skills.
  • Cycling is so simple and great fun;
  • Walking is good for bones and muscles; it’s a great way of making short journeys instead of taking the car, and IT IS FREE!

To book a Bikeability course, contact Elaine Skinley at the SIC Road Safety Unit on 01595 744 560 or email: road.safety@shetland.gov.uk

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