Sustainable UCL


How to promote clean air - advice from young people

Ana Semrov, a researcher in public health at the Institute for Child Health at UCL and Vinay Saini a medical student from St George share their experiences of working with Young People Advisory Group

Free bike for Key Workers

6 October 2020

Helen and Lucy are running pilot project work which would be impossible without advice and help from others. We have been developing ideas about processes and what works well for everyone via a ‘UCL Grand Challenges’ funded pilot project.

Here Ana Semrov, a researcher in public health at the Institute for Child Health at UCL and Vinay Saini a medical student from St George share their experiences of working with YPAG - a group of people aged between 10 and 21 years old who support researchers around paediatrics and help ensure that the voice of young people gets fed into their work.

Pre-lock-down advice – Ana Semrov

The amazing thing about engagement and involvement work is the quantity and level of the ideas people or a group you’re engaging with give you. The Clean Air research group had been lucky enough to catch the last in-person GOSH Young People Advisory Group (YPAG) meeting before the lockdown.

We wanted to find out what children and young people have to say about different ways we can promote clean air around Great Ormond Street as individuals and as a community.

After a short presentation of our project (and the Clean Air Hospital Framework) we discussed:

  • what should we do to make travel more sustainable? And
  • which steps we should take to make the local air quality better?

YPAG brainstormed almost 50 different and unique solutions for making the air around the hospital cleaner in less than 20 minutes!

Needless to say, our group left the meeting dazzled by the YPAG’s creativity as well as their sense for the community.

Lock-down reflections – Vinay Saini

Bright and early on a Saturday morning during lockdown the dedicated members of GOSH’s YPAG gathered together for their first virtual meeting, which the Clean Air Research Group had the pleasure of being invited too. We wanted to hear directly from the young people on their experiences of lockdown and to see if they felt there were any lessons to be learnt particularly from a sustainability standpoint.

Young people's experiences of lockdown

It was inspiring to hear the young people focus so vehemently on the positives, as several shared how the lockdown gave them the opportunity to focus on projects and passions that they would otherwise have to neglect.

They applauded innovations that have been catalysed as a result of the pandemic, such as virtual patient consultations which have simultaneously decreased both patient burdens and their travel footprints. However, most notable was their accounts on how their local environments began to prosper in the absence of excessive pollution. They had grown accustomed to breathing freely, hearing birdsong and looking up to enjoy smog-free skies and feared that this would all be lost as things began to ‘unlock’.

They also talked about how they have noted changes within their own and the wider public’s perceptions towards green issues such as carbon-neutral travel. Insofar as stating “[that lockdown is] raising awareness that you don’t always have to drive or take public transport everywhere”, with some citing the increased availability of free or affordable rental bikes to be a key factor that is driving this cultural shift.

Learn from these experiences

From our conversations with the members of the YPAG it’s clear that lockdown provided us all with a unique opportunity to reflect on both our individual and collective effects upon our environments. It highlighted, that although many of us may long for a return to our previous normality, it’s important that we don’t regress into old habits of indifference. It’s essential that we learn from these experiences and accounts of lockdown – both negative and positive to work symbiotically with our environments rather than selfishly so we can ensure their survival and future for generations to come.

The words of Indian novelist and Man Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy come to mind. She describes the pandemic as a ‘portal’, through which ‘we can choose to walk through dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, […] our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.’ (Roy, 2020). This idea of learning from our experiences of lockdown to craft a better world from the awful events of 2020 is clearly a sentiment that was shared by the Young People of GOSH’s YPAG and one that we should all endeavour to achieve.

Join the network

Do you have a suggestion for us, or wish to get involved in UCL's clean air project? Then we would love to hear from you. Please just email our project lead, Dr Lucy Natarajan, Bartlett School of Planning lucy.natarajan@ucl.ac.uk