Eloise Rickman, blogger at fridabemighty.com, writes that the next Mayor must make London more accessible if they want to improve life for families living in the city.
I love living in London. I am a parent of a ten month old, and living in the capital means there is always something for me to do with my daughter. From the amazing galleries and world-class museums to the copious green spaces and playgrounds across the city, families living in London truly are spoilt for choice. Just in the last week I have visited the Natural History Museum, three commons, four parks, and a wood. Not a week goes by without a new children’s festival, kids’ fair, or parent and baby coffee morning springing up.
We know that visiting museums and galleries can bring huge benefits for children. They provide unique learning experiences, foster curiosity, introduce new topics, fire the imagination, and can be an inspiring setting for quality time spent as a family. Yet a 2012 study found that four in ten children in the UK had never been inside an art gallery, and seventeen percent had never visited a museum with their parents.
The same goes for green spaces. Access to green spaces leads to improved mental health and wellbeing for children, young people, and adults and a reduction in stress, as well as an increased likelihood of physical activity and a reduction in violence and aggression as well as anti-social behaviour and crime. Just because London is a city doesn’t mean that green spaces are in short supply – far from it, forty-seven percent of London is classified as a green space. Yet children are leading an ever more sedentary lifestyle.
Free travel for family days would be a great way of encouraging families to make the most of all London has to offer. Because although transport abounds in London, it isn’t cheap. An off-peak adult single Oyster fare from zone four into zone one (where the majority of museums and galleries are) costs £2.80. This means for two adults to make the return journey it costs £11.20, and that’s assuming that their children are not teenagers (add an extra £0.75 per journey), and that they live within walking distance to a tube or overground station and don’t need to factor in bus journeys too. This is before any tickets, food, or drinks are purchased – on a day out with children, costs can quickly mount.
It is no secret that living in London is very expensive. According to the Mayor of London website, the average rent for a three-bedroom property is £402 a week – over £1,700 a month, and last year the average semi-detached house in London sold for over £592,500. So it’s not surprising that once rent, bills, food and clothing are all paid for, many families have little or no money left over for outings. Free family travel could be a great incentive for families to get out together and experience some of the city’s brilliant free museums, galleries and green spaces, especially if it was accompanied by marketing suggesting possible destinations.
But even free travel days would not solve the problem of accessibility. Any parent who has tried to navigate a buggy onto a busy bus at rush hour will know that the experience can be at best unpleasant, and at worse embarrassing and stressful. It can be even more difficult for parents using a double buggy, who may have to wait for several buses to go past before they can get on one which has space for them. A mum who lives in my area told me she allowed an hour for a journey which would take ten minutes in a car – hardly an incentive to use public transport for those who drive, and a frustrating wait for those who do not. Making the journey at a quiet time may not be an option for those who rely on public transport to do the school runs or to do nursery drop-offs.
At least as an able-bodied parent of just one child I have the option to use a sling and leave the buggy at home, which I usually do. But this option does not exist if you are a wheelchair user, or have a child who relies on a buggy or wheelchair themselves. This is why I welcome with open arms the call for the new Mayor to ensure bus designs maximise space for buggies and wheelchairs. I would go one step further and call on the future Mayor to look at accessibility on the underground as well; ensuring parents can get around on public transport is vital to make London more accessible to families, and would make a big difference to the every day life of many.
Thoughts? Comments? Joint in the debate #FamilyFriendlyLondon