Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard and Health Minister Michelle O’Neill today announced joint funding of £2.25million to extend the Active School Travel Programme until 2021.
Sustrans has been awarded the contract to deliver the programme for the next five years which is jointly funded by the Department for Infrastructure and the Public Health Agency (PHA).
The Active School Travel Programme is an exciting initiative that looks to increase physical activity in children; reduce congestion around schools; improve health and road safety awareness and improve confidence, all of which can contribute to improved health and educational achievement.
The Programme began in 2013 and since then 191 schools have enrolled with more than 60,000 children taking part. This has resulted in an increase in cycling and walking for the school commute and a reduction in car congestion around participating schools.
Minister Hazzard said: “The school journey is a great way of establishing an active travel habit from an early age so I am pleased that we, alongside the Public Health Agency have been able to award Sustrans this £2.25million contract. This means that as the name suggests the school run can be exactly that – a run on the bike, the scooter or a walk to school.
“Encouraging young people to get active to and from school fosters healthy habits from an early age. The use of active travel and giving our young people the best start in life – aspirations all included in the Programme for Government – will help lay the foundations for longer, healthier, more active lives.”
Minister for Health, Michelle O’Neill said: “This Active School Travel Programme ensures children are being given the best opportunity to participate in physical activity which will benefit their health and wellbeing as they develop. We want our children to have memories of playing outside, of made-up adventures and games, rather than being indoors playing with technology.
“I am delighted that the Public Health Agency is continuing to work closely with partners such as the Department for Infrastructure and Sustrans to take this programme forward for another five years. Working in collaboration on this project will help our children and young people to meet the Chief Medical Officer’s Physical Activity Guidelines of being moderately active for at least 60 minutes every day and help us tackle societal problems such as overweight and obesity.”
Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive of the PHA said: “The Public Health Agency is delighted to confirm its ongoing support and commitment to the Active School Travel programme. Many children are not getting enough exercise with only 10% girls and 19% of boys aged 8-12 years meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation of one hour of physical activity a day.
“The new phase of the Active School Travel programme will build on the existing programme and enable many more children to walk, cycle or scoot to school, helping to improve their health and wellbeing and contribute to their physical, social, emotional and psychological development.”
Gordon Clarke, Sustrans National Director Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland said: “We are delighted to be given the opportunity to continue delivering the Active School Travel Programme. We are very proud of what our team has achieved to date. In just one year in the schools where we worked we achieved a 32% increase in the number of pupils walking, cycling and scooting to school, with a corresponding decrease in those being driven. Just think what we can do in the long term. Over the next five years we look forward to welcoming new schools across Northern Ireland to the programme and working to make active travel the normal way children get to school each day.”