The Big Challenge: Looking for a new perspective

Eggborough Power Station, John Giles/PA Wire
Eggborough Power Station, John Giles/PA Wire
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Rob Unwin has a key priority for the next year - trying to secure funding to keep the Development Education Centre South Yorkshire (DECSY) open on Leadmill Road in Sheffield city centre.

“It’s a charity that seeks to open children’s minds about the wider world, running sessions for teachers to help them create a safe, facilitated space for children to discuss compelling questions which they come up with themselves following a short story or film clip,” said Rob, co-ordinator at the centre, which has been running since 1992.

Cycle commuting in Sheffield: on the way home through the Porter Valley

Cycle commuting in Sheffield: on the way home through the Porter Valley

“These ‘Philosophy for Children’ sessions are also used to bring children from different parts of the city together to learn from each others’ perspectives on the world.”

Rob, who also co-founded the Sheffield-based national restorative justice organisation Remedi, is forthcoming in expressing pride in Sheffield.

“It’s friendly, creative and diverse, yet also down to earth and less frenetic than many other cities. It has loads of green spaces, great venues and plenty of things to get involved in.”

He said the drive to become the country’s premier Outdoor City was ‘brilliant’, but added: “It would be even better if we made a concerted effort to tackle air pollution.

We need to make the socially and environmentally responsible things to do the easiest

“I think the first step is to make more people aware of this invisible killer which is often over the legal limit in many parts of Sheffield.

“In many cities in China, people check air pollution like we check the weather and they are now putting pressure on their government for change.

“There’s a free phone app from AirVisual but it only takes readings from Devonshire Green, we need someone to develop a Sheffield specific one with readings across the city, like they have in London.

“The East End Quality of Life people are the experts in this area. Cutting down thousands of healthy, mature roadside trees, which help remove nitrogen oxides produced by vehicles, is not a good plan, but the biggest problem is the habit of jumping in the car to go anywhere.”

Rob continued: “As well as reducing air pollution by getting cars off the roads, cycling is fantastically good for your health. If you can commute by bike, it’s not a chore but a convenient, healthy routine that can also save time and money.

“The trouble is that many people don’t think so and fear for their lives on Sheffield’s roads. The situation for cyclists could definitely be improved but most people don’t know how much the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks.

“It’s great that there are initiatives like Pedal Ready to help build skills and confidence.”

Rob said making choices individually to reduce environmental impact was ‘not enough for the transformation we need’.

“What we need to do is make the socially and environmentally responsible things to do the easiest, simplest and cheapest things to do - that needs system change like improving walking and cycling routes and good, safe, affordable public transport that runs when and where you need it with real time displays at bus stops and low emission vehicles.

“Bringing about that kind of change requires an increase in awareness of things like air pollution and how to combat it, which needs to start at school.

“Unfortunately Eco-schools is no longer funded and schools are pressured by OFSTED to focus on narrow attainment targets.

“We’re not all the same, so we can’t possibly all share the same criteria for success.”

Rob said Sheffield had ‘a tradition of skills and a wealth of talent and creativity’.

“This could support ‘green collar’ jobs in low CO2 industries, including home insulation, renewable energy, local food growing and production, flood protection and outdoor leisure activities,” he said.

“Interestingly, many of these activities also save money and improve health – it reminds me of a cartoon by Joel Pett where a character says, ‘What if climate change is a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?’”