This week, girls from Newcastle High School for Girls are taking up the ‘Free your Feet’ challenge; a week-long, incentive based walking campaign for secondary schools all over the UK. The challenge is for pupils to try walking to school, or to add another fifteen minutes walking time to their journey to and from school each day.

The aim is to increase awareness of walking as a mode of transport and increase the proportion of pupils who walk to and from school. At the start of the week all girls in Years 7 and 8 attended a school assembly about the many benefits of walking, both for their health and for the environment. They learned that 30 minutes of walking each day is enough to help us stay in shape, put us in a good mood, sharpen our brain for the day and keep our heart healthy. They also learned how walking is good for the environment, helping to lower pollution and putting less CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as reducing road congestion. And, best of all, it’s free!

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Each girl has been given a Walk to School record card and asked to enter how many minutes of walking she does to and from school each day this week. At the end of the week the girls will each calculate the total number of minutes walked, including if they have altered their journey in some way to create extra walking time. All girls who participate will be entered into a prize draw and one lucky girl will win a £50 High Street voucher courtesy of Living Streets, the national charity organising the campaign.

Lillie Henderson, aged 12 years, is taking part in the ‘Free your Feet’ challenge. She estimates that she walks for least 30 minutes in her journey to and from school each day. Lillie explained “I live in Gosforth and I meet my friends Rachel and Josie near our house and then we walk to the bus stop together.  We get off the bus in Jesmond and then we walk for another 5 to 10 minutes together to get to School. It definitely makes me feel fitter and healthier; we often have to walk quite fast so that we don’t miss the bus!  Also, I really like it because it makes me feel free, and it’s something I get to do with my friends, independently, without our parents”.

Lillie’s friend Rachel was also very enthusiastic about the benefits of walking: “we have been friends since nursery, but this autumn, when we joined Senior School, was the first time we have been allowed to travel independently.  I think it’s great because I get to be with my friends for longer and have more chatting time, and my Mum thinks it’s brilliant because she doesn’t have to drive me to school and get stuck in queues everyday. Sometimes it’s tiring because we have so much to carry – normal book bag, my sports bag and my hockey stick.”

Mrs Hilary French, Head of Newcastle High School for Girls said “We wholeheartedly welcome initiatives like the ‘Free your Feet’ challenge, it has the double benefit of promoting the girls’ health and wellbeing and helping us promote sustainable transport options.  We all know how difficult it can be to change an engrained habit, particularly when it means making an extra effort ourselves and leaving the house earlier in the morning, so a challenge and incentive like this can make all the difference.”

Taking part in the ‘Free your Feet’ challenge is one element of the School’s drive to promote sustainable travel for journeys to and from school. The School has recently introduced chaperoned bus services for its pupils on five different routes – from Bedlington, Durham, Ponteland, Shiremoor and Whitely Bay – and is also developing a communication for parents to encourage alternative modes of transport, and with suggested drop off points in nearby streets.

Mrs French added: “Promoting and implementing sustainable travel for journeys to and from school is a top priority for us at both our Junior and Senior Schools.  As well as encouraging the girls to change their habits and build-in some walking to their school journey, we also need to encourage our parents to support their daughters and make it easier for them. It is a long-term project and we are doing everything we can to encourage the use of public transport and, if the car is really necessary, to persuade parents to drop their children a few streets away in designated areas, to reduce congestion and shorten journeys as well as giving the girls some fresh air and exercise.”

Ed Laschet, Schools Project Co-ordinator for Living Streets, a national charity that stands up for pedestrians and works in the community to create safe, attractive streets where it is great to walk said: “We are really pleased to be working with Newcastle High School for Girls for the second year running as part of the ‘Free your Feet’ campaign. We hope that the pupils involved will think about walking in a new light and try to walk to school more regularly.  The competition is a fun way for young people to start making adult choices about their journeys.

Walking is such an integral part of our lives and choosing to walk more often is a simple and easy way to help ensure that we get enough exercise. Walking also allows us to enjoy the brilliant towns and cities we have in the North reducing the number of car journeys we make.”

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