CROYDON COMMENTARY: With children struggling to maintain good mental health in the pandemic, and while the lockdown is seeing declining physical activity levels among some youngsters, AMY FOSTER calls on the council leader to provide real support for one of her cabinet members
According to a recent survey, 80 per cent of young people say that the pandemic has made their mental health worse.
Through my experience both professionally in education and with charities such as Living Streets, I hear repeatedly how crucial physical activity is for children’s mental and physical health. Reading Peter Walker’s new book on sedentary living The Miracle Pill highlighted again how low many children’s physical activity levels are (fewer than 20 percnt are active every day, according to the NHS), particularly for those from the least affluent households.
And covid-19 has done nothing to reverse the downward trend in physical activity, Sport England say that nearly one-third of children are “inactive” due to the lockdown, further entrenching pre-existing inequalities around exercise.
How, then, to capitalise on the fact that many people now view being active as a core part to maintaining their health and wellbeing?
Our parks and green spaces have been busier than ever. Transport for London reports a significant rise in the numbers of people walking and cycling to their local high streets in outer London, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find solutions. Indeed, the answer is right there.
Providing safe walking and cycling routes and making our green spaces accessible would make these new-found healthy habits significantly easier to maintain. Indeed, this is precisely what central government and TfL have been advocating with money awarded to local authorities willing to reallocate road space.
Until very recently, it seemed Croydon Council was one such council, committed to improving health and well-being through the local environment. Yet last month’s decision to remove the Low Traffic Neighbourhood trial in Crystal Palace seems to show this resolve wavering.
Looking across the capital, schemes are facing similar criticisms around how they have been implemented and how they are being consulted on. These changes are contentious and indeed stressful for many.
Yet what is remarkable is seeing which council leaders have stepped up to defend changes in their borough and who is willing to present such measures as part of a wider commitment to good public health.
In Enfield, deputy leader Ian Barnes used a recent full council meeting to explain how his borough is “committed to tackling climate change and creating a healthier planet for children who are growing up in the borough.”
Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council, expressed his admiration for colleagues in Waltham Forest and their “brilliant” work getting more people to cycle.
Over in Hackney, Jon Burke, the former lead on transport, and Mayor Philip Glanville worked in unison to build Hackney’s vision of a greener, healthier borough.
Yet there has been no such public statement from Croydon’s new council leader, Hamida Ali.
Croydon’s new cabinet member for sustainability, Muhammad Ali, has made his commitment to tackling the climate emergency explicit, with a clear focus on reducing transport emissions. But given the ferocity of the battle, it seems clear that unambiguous support from the council leader is now necessary.
I want to hear unqualified support from Hamida Ali for a suite of measures designed to reduce motor traffic volumes on our streets, together with a timescale for delivery.
I want to hear her describe people-friendly street spaces, with low traffic speeds and volumes, where people can run, walk and play safely and where healthy travel choices are not just encouraged but enabled.
Community is hard to build and our communities need space to thrive.
Above all, our communities now need leadership from Hamida Ali if we are to see a people-led, and not car-led, recovery from this crisis.
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