Helping Haringey schools breathe better

As part of our Breathe Better Together campaign, we hear from Rachel Gates an air quality apprentice at Haringey Council. She explains her work to raise awareness of air pollution around local schools…

Air pollution is a hot topic in London. As most of it is caused by traffic, the highest concentration levels are at peak journey times in the mornings and evenings. Funded by the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund, Haringey Council has appointed me to help tackle air pollution around schools.

I work closely with the school travel plan officer in Haringey’s Smarter Travel Team, and go to local schools to give assemblies on air pollution. I explain what it is, where it comes from, what it does to our health and what we can do about it. Of course, what the schoolchildren can do about it links in with what the school travel plan officer does.

I have developed a standard presentation for six to nine year olds. It features the ‘air monsters’ which helps me teach the children about air pollution. The three air monsters are Nixy (NO2) and the Mitchell Brothers (PM10 and PM2.5).

These create a visual way for students to relate to air pollution that can’t typically be touched, seen or smelt. I talk about the health impacts air pollution can cause, breathing problems like asthma and heart problems too.

I end with a behaviour change message and introduce my fourth character ‘Zero Hero’ to promote active travel to school. That’s things like walking, cycling, public transport and even ‘scooting’.

I’ve also given some art and craft lessons after my presentation where the students make their own ‘air monsters’. Right now, I’m developing a film and poster project as well as planning some air pollution based literacy and science based lessons.

As part of my one year apprenticeship, I’m doing NVQ Level 3 in customer service and, as I use the council pool bicycles to get around the borough, I’ve had to pass Bikeability Level 3. I was thrown in at the deep on my first day, when I dressed up as ‘Mr Croc’ to promote ‘Walk to School’ week. I’ve also been on various training courses from MS Excel to presentation skills and even a bit of project management.

I think it’s really important to engage with primary school students as they’re at a point where they’re very receptive to learning and education. Young people need to be aware of the world they live in and how they can help sustain it. In getting across the wider issues around air pollution, I hope these young people continue to keep the messages throughout their life.

For more on Breathe Better Together, our campaign to improve air quality in London, and for free tips and alerts, visit:

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