A NEW initiative was launched in Yate this week to encourage children to walk to school.

The Park and Stride project, organised by Living Streets - the UK charity for everyday walking - is aimed at easing traffic congestion in the area, while giving families a healthy alternative to the usual school run.

Pupils and parents from Raysfield Junior School met up at Yate’s Riverside Car Park bright and early on Monday morning.

They were joined by Strider – a giant orange foot – for the 15 minute walk to school. Head teacher Mark Williams and Dodington councillors accompanied the group.

Katie Matthews, walking with her daughter Lola Perry, 10, said: “We like walking, and in the mornings I find it often ends up being much quicker than driving, with the traffic and trying to find somewhere to park.

“We chat a lot more when we walk too.

“And you see more, sometimes we see squirrels, or at this time of year we can stop and pick up conkers.”

Paula Tove, walking with her daughters, Ella, 10, Daisy, eight, and Molly, five, has noticed that the morning rush calms down when they walk.

“Once you’re out of the house, there’s nothing to stress about any more.

“You’re not trying to make sure everyone’s dressed and got everything they need.”

Rayfield’s head teacher, Mark Williams, said: “We got a couple of toots, smiles and waves from some of the drivers.

“I guess seeing a giant orange foot walking along with a group of children brightened up the morning commute.”

Before starting the project, Catherine McCoy, of Living Streets, carried out a travel audit at Raysfield.

“At that time 49 per cent of the children actively travelled to school - that’s walking, biking and scooting.

“And at the end of the school year in July 2017, following the start of the scheme, that had risen to 93 per cent.”

Children taking part in the scheme can collect a series of themed badges.

“Children at Raysfield need to walk, bike, scoot or ‘park and stride’ to school three times in a week, every week of the month to earn that month’s badge,” said Catherine.

Catherine also found that some children don’t walk to school because they live too far away. She recommended a park and walk scheme, to ease congestion at drop-off time and give the youngsters a chance for some exercise too.

Yate Shopping Centre’s manager, Andrew Lowrey, has agreed that parents can park in the Riverside car park to park and stride at the start and end of the day.

“We’re delighted that Andy Lowrey has agreed that parents can use the cinema car park,” said Catherine.

“We hope that many more parents will take up the use of the car park and walk to school.”