There are roughly 1250 School Streets across Europe. They look different in every city, but at the heart of every scheme is the desire to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists, and keep kids safe on their journeys to school.
We spoke to Matt, a parent from Greater Manchester, who has been instrumental in making a School Street happen around his child’s school in Stockport.
“Our School Street grew from conversations at the school gates and increasing frustration with dangerous driving and parking at drop-off and pick-up. I’d had multiple near misses cycling to and from school each day.
I’d seen information about London School Streets online and shared with other parents and the school – we formed a small group and set a goal of having our own School Street.
It’s been a long journey from there to our first day running the scheme with numerous delays and challenges, but the support from school is a huge factor in us finally getting there.
We started the School Street back in May and I’m really proud to say we’ve run it every single school day since, which is purely down to the commitment of our amazing volunteer group of parents and residents.
We’re the largest Primary School in Stockport and the logistics of the school mean it’s been really challenging to run a School Street scheme. We have two sites separated by a footbridge, a housing estate within the site closure and no obvious alternative parking locations nearby.
All of this means that we have 5 different closure points, and so ideally we need 6 or 7 volunteers for each morning drop-off or afternoon pick-up session.
It can feel like a full time job to coordinate at times, between arranging volunteers to ensure the rota is full, managing day to day issues, and liaising with the school, police, parking enforcement, highways team and local Councillors.
Establishing and running the School Street has been a bit of a rollercoaster, if I’m honest. There were lows when I felt it’d never happen, frustration at the lack of support and odd instances of nasty abuse and aggression; both from drivers and online.
That said, we’ve tried to stay positive and remember some of the wonderful highs too: the first day, the break before the summer term which felt like a mini-festival, and great events we’ve held at the school Christmas and Summer fairs.
A consultation was run by the council a few months into the scheme and showed that the vast majority of both parents and residents are hugely supportive.
Right now, I’m worried about whether we can keep our School Street running over the winter months given the number of volunteers required.
That’s made more frustrating by the fact that we know there are different models out there that we could adopt.
We know that in other parts of the country, the closure is monitored by cameras, or roads are closed with bollards.
At the end of the day, I don’t think a purely volunteer-led model is sustainable without more support from the various public bodies involved.
This is especially so when you’re standing in the pouring rain on a cold Monday morning!
The obvious answer here is more funding, and that’s certainly a big factor.
But, for me, it really comes down to political will – there are lots of examples of cities and regions who have prioritised active travel (particularly for children and the journey to school) and achieved some amazing results.
I’ve heard from numerous people that School Streets are part of the wider transport strategy for Greater Manchester but that’s often followed quickly by “…but there is currently no budget allocated”.
“It’s important to understand that School Streets are not a panacea. They need to be part of a wider strategy.
School Streets only form a small part of the children’s journey to school and many parents (understandably) still feel that the surrounding roads are too dangerous to allow them to adopt active travel options and leave the car at home.
That said, I think they can offer lots of positives as part of a joined up approach and are a fantastic opportunity to embed some good habits and health benefits from a young age. Many of the children at our school have commented on how much safer they feel since the school street was established”.
Photo and video credits: Matt Evans