Unanimous support for smokefree school gates in Coventry

Following a successful scheme in Coventry during the London Olympics to keep a spectator area free of smoke, the local authority has spearheaded a unanimously popular campaign to make all primary school gates smokefree.  

During the London Olympics in 2012, Coventry City Council piloted a special area in the city centre to allow residents to watch the games in a smokefree environment.  

The pilot scheme was so popular that in 2013, Coventry’s Public Health team decided to implement further smokefree initiatives with a clear focus on protecting children and families.

To help decide where these smokefree zones should be implemented, council officers began by conducting public-facing surveys and the results demonstrated that local residents wanted school gates and playgrounds to become smokefree.

Officers conducted further surveys engaging with head teachers as well as school children and their parents. Feedback suggested there would be unanimous support to make school gates smokefree and in particular, head teachers perceived that parents smoking near or in-front of their school gates was a particular problem and something they wanted to stop.

With support from the local community, the public health team began to elicit support from Coventry’s elected representatives. Drivers to introduce the plea to the public were to create a more pleasant environment in which to pick up and drop off young children, reduce smoking related litter, empower parents to speak up about not wanting their children to be around smoking and help create an environment where children see 'No Smoking' as the norm.

After a proactive campaign, full political support was given to primary schools enabling them to ask the public not to smoke within the vicinity of school gates. To help promote the new voluntary code, signs were put up across all 82 primary schools in Coventry.

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Following the initial phase of the public plea, the council went back to head teachers and parents in 2015 to ask them what they thought of the scheme. Following interviews with 12 different head teachers and survey results back from 209 parents, 86% said they were aware that school gates were smokefree areas and 97% agreed it was a good idea. Additionally, 53% said that as a result of the plea there are now fewer people smoking at the school gates.

Cllr Joe Clifford, Ward Councillor for Holbrook at Coventry City Council and Chair of Coventry Stop Smoking Alliance, said: “The public plea to stop smoking in front of school gates created a much more positive environment for both adults and children.

“Working with the public has helped us to recognise the main problems and what needs to be done. Asking the public to avoid smoking by school gates really made a difference in improving the environment and created more of an awareness of the problems that smoking causes.”

Paul Hargraves, Programme Manager in Coventry Council’s Public Health team, said that the plea to the public has been warmly received by local residents and is generally very popular.

“Not only has the plea on smoking in front of school gates helped demonstrate to kids that this is not normal or regular behaviour but it has also given residents more confidence to challenge people who ignored the request.” said Paul Hargraves.

“A further benefit following the plea has seen public health teams form a closer working relationship with Coventry’s local schools. For example, smoking cessation services have used the school gate as a place to intervene and offer advice to smokers and we have also set-up clinics in school grounds to better explain the dangers of smoking.”

Further work in Coventry to promote and implement smokefree environments in the city has been led by the Coventry Smokefree Alliance. This influential group is chaired by an elected representative and consists of representatives from Public Health officers, schools, smoking cessation providers, Environmental Health, Trading Standards and other voluntary organisations, such as British Lung Foundation and the local Clinical Commissioning Group.

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