St Denys kids get creative to make their streets safer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Southampton, UK: Children from St Denys Primary School in Southampton got creative recent in a bid to help make their neighborhood a safer place in which to travel to school.

56 children from Years 5 and 6 took part in workshops which looked at how they got to school every day, how they would like to travel to school and what they thought about the safety and design of their neighborhood. The workshops were then followed by an initial consultation with residents in St Denys outside St Denys Community Center. Local residents were able to learn more about the project and help shape it by giving their own views on what their neighborhood is like to live in and travel around and what could make it better.

The project is an initiative from sustainable transport charity Sustrans who are working with Southampton City Council highways team to improve the environment for walking and cycling to school and to create attractive community space, which addresses traffic issues. A key part of the project is to involve the school and the local community in the design process and to encourage them to think about how they could improve their public space using ideas like tree planting, seating designs, artwork, street paint and other measures.

Liz Smith, Sustrans Project officer, said, “It was really interesting to see what the children thought about their everyday journeys to school and how they would improve the area outside the school gates.. The community were also very positive about the project and made some fantastic contributions at this stage. We are looking forward to sharing some design ideas with the residents of St Denys in a few weeks time.”

Key points from the workshop and consultation were:

  • many of the children already walked to school but did so with their parents and most really wanted to walk or cycle more and independently to school.

  • Many children thought that there were lots of cars parked outside the school and that it would be better if there were less and there was more colour.

Carolyn Fayle, Head teacher at St Denys School, said: “The opportunity to ask children for their opinions is crucial and this workshop gave them time for thinking around the topic and come up with ideas that adults would not suggest. A worthwhile time.”

Sustrans’ Liveable Neighborhoods team implements practical projects which combine urban design, community involvement and sustainable transport planning. The aim is to work with local residents and other partners to create high quality urban environments which promote sustainable travel behavior whilst being safe and pleasant to live in and visit.

After the recent completion of the River Itchen boardwalk for pedestrians and cyclists, Sustrans and Southampton City Council highways team are now looking to work in St Denys to help residents make changes to their neighbourhood which enable safer more pleasant walking and cycling routes to schools and other community facilities.

Councillor Matthew Dean, cabinet member for Environment and Transport, said:

“We are doing all we can to make Southampton ’s road sand areas much safer for all our residents. I would be very interested to hear the views and ideas of youngsters in

our city.”

The issue of school travel recently hit the headlines when Mr and Mrs Schronock from Dulwich in London were criticized for letting their children – aged 5 and 8 – cycle to school on their own. This provoked much debate on the issues of road safety, the independence of children wanting to travel to school on their own and wider issues about sustainable travel and neighborhood safety.

When I was a child almost every, if not indeed every, kid in this country, and not just in the rural areas, cycled or walked to school, on their own, and the same was true for towns and cities. They were not taken to school by mummy or daddy in the car, and no one got charged with child neglect for this.

We have become stupid, and yes, I do say STUPID, in the way we – especially the powers-that-be's agents act nowadays – with all the regulations as to a child of seven or eight being too young to walk or cycle to school on their own. No wonder kids are as obese as they are.

The nanny state and its minions has brought us to where we are today and has brought us the fear that parents have to actually allow their children outside to cycle and walk to school or to otherwise play outside with bikes and whatever.

The St Denys links to schools and communities project is being managed by Sustrans and is funded by Cycling England and Department for Transport.

© 2010