It’s estimated that air pollution is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. Children are especially affected by air pollution as they tend to breathe faster and their lungs and airways are still developing.

Children and adults from disadvantaged communities and neighbourhoods – including several in Newcastle – are particularly vulnerable to polluted air.

To these health pitfalls is added the fact that around a quarter of Newcastle’s children are overweight or obese when they start primary school. By the time they start year six, 38.4% of Newcastle kids fall into these categories, exceeding the national average.

In a bid to lessen the problems of both air pollution and obesity, Newcastle schools have received funding to encourage children to walk, cycle or scoot to school.

It is hoped that using active methods of transport will improve the children’s physical health and mental wellbeing. As far as pollution is concerned, research suggests that people – and especially children – inhale higher levels of pollution inside cars than outside them.

16 Newcastle schools have applied for cash from Newcastle City Council’s Healthy Pupil Capital Funding (HPCF) pot. A total of £126,077 will be divided between the schools to help them educate pupils about air pollution and improve air quality in the surrounding area.

The funding will see:

  • 10 schools get an air quality monitor (2 schools already have one)
  • 11 schools get a cycle store
  • 11 schools receive a scooter store
  • 14 given cycle helmets that will be kept at the schools

All the schools will be eligible to take part in Mode Shift Stars – Newcastle City Council’s active school travel programme – and in cycling ability training.

The council will also work with the schools to develop curriculum resources to educate pupils about air pollution. Pupils will be taught about what they – and their parents and communities – can do to improve air quality.

The air quality monitors and cycle and scooter stores will be in place for the start of the new school year in September 2019.

All the schools that have received funding will be encouraged to take part in National Clean Air Day on 20th June.

Newcastle City Council’s cabinet member for culture, sport and public health, Cllr Kim McGuinness, said, “Encouraging children and young people from across Newcastle to think about how they travel to school is an important step in helping them to enjoy healthier school years.”

“Not only does active travel, such as scooting, cycling or walking, help them to stay physically active, it can also improve their mental health and leave them better prepared for the school day.”

“Newcastle City Council has already made tackling bad air quality across the city a priority and this funding will help kick start this in schools, educating the next generation on the risks poor air quality will have on their health and what can be done to prevent this.”

In addition, 19,000 people from Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside recently took part in a public consultation on how best to tackle poor air quality. The results of the consultation are expected to be published in late July.

(The featured image shows pupils from St Teresa’s Primary School in Heaton, which supported the air quality consultation.)

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