Encouraging children to cycle safely is a major aim of Sustrans, their Bike It officer tells Maria Court

If you see a child cycling to school, the chances are they have been given a bit of a push by the charity Sustrans.

It’s a leading UK organisation enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day.

In November 2008, Bournemouth & Poole Teaching Primary Care Trust commissioned Sustrans to deliver the Bike It project as part of a local approach to tackle high levels of childhood obesity, in line with the national obesity strategy Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives.

Jason Falconer, Sustrans’ schools and Bike It officer for Bournemouth & Poole works in schools to get more young people cycling (and walking), more often. Bike It schools in our area report that the project has consistently increased levels of cycling to school over a year of engagement in the project activities.

Jason explained: “Over the course of my project, Bournemouth & Poole have enjoyed over 480 Bike It activities and events and 72 talks in school assemblies to raise awareness of the benefits of active travel.

“Bike It has also worked in conjunction with Bikeability to provide five new sets of cycle training equipment and help deliver Level 2 National Standard cycle training to over 553 pupils.”

As a result of Bike It, 12 schools now have new cycle storage – an investment of over £80,000 – ensuring that adequate provisions are in place to meet the demands of increased cycling to school.

Sustrans has 94 officers (13 in this area) working to increase levels of walking and cycling in over 1500 schools UK-wide.

Meanwhile, the National Cycle Network, co-ordinated by Sustrans, has seen a huge rise in usage – over 40 million extra bike journeys in one year, with bike and walking trips up 15 per cent combined.

One of the biggest local benefits has been Jason’s integration with the new £800,000 Bournemouth Cycling Centre. In 2011 he undertook track cycling training to add to his Level 2 British Cycling coaching experience.

Many different schools have now visited B.C.C during its first months.

There have also been lots of holiday clubs for various other local schools, university-lead holiday clubs, and Saturday sessions for local families.

“Cycling is great fun!” said Jason. “The time I’ve worked with schools here – including the youngest groups - has led to happier, active kids.

“We offer reception age balance bike training and playground games, and prepare as many as we can for the Bikeability training so they can make independent local journeys by bike.

“I’m pleased to say that schools have allowed scores of playground activity sessions of bike games and skills. Children love bikes and in turn I’ve enjoyed every second of these challenging days outdoors.” The annual initiative The Big Pedal took place this month – a national cycle and scoot to school event which saw 12846 journeys by bike or scooter in 15 school days.

Jason explained how Sustrans officers deliver a programme of activities designed to bring about long-term behavioural change.

“We work with families, communities, policy-makers and partner organisations so that people are able to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys, ” he said.

“And post-Olympic enthusiasm for cycling means that 2013 is looking like being an amazing year.” sustrans.org.uk