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No plastic fans – how the Mayor’s new environmental measures could provide unexpected benefits for physical activity

Blog post   •   Jul 25, 2019 10:59 BST

Head of Corporate Communications Chris Scott discusses the Mayor of London's investment into water fountains across the capital and it's potential impact on physical activity. 

London is sweltering. And while the capital basks in the sort of heatwave that creates headlines and dominates conversations in offices across the city, Londoners may have found some solace for the future with news of the roll-out of a new wave of public drinking fountains, backed by the Mayor of London and Thames Water.

With £5m earmarked to support the installation of more than 100 facilities by the end of 2020, the next phase of installations will see public water fountains appearing across more than a third of London boroughs, with many concentrated around transport hubs and underground stations, including Blackfriars, Shadwell, Tooting Broadway, Balham, Kentish Town and Abbey Wood.

The move comes as part of a range of commitments from City Hall to combat the prevalence of single-use plastics across the capital by encouraging Londoners to embrace a refill culture and move away from reliance on purchased single-use bottled water. 

And while that’s good news for the environment, and perhaps even better news for overheating Londoners, it may transpire to be good news for physical activity in London as well.

As London Sport, and numerous other agencies, work to embed a culture of physical activity across the capital it is critical that we consider the simple ways that activity can be integrated into people’s daily lives; for many Londoners, one of the simplest ways surrounds the daily commute.

As recent TfL data showed, cycling is on the rise across the capital, and commitments from the Mayor’s Office paint a clear picture of the role of walking and cycling in increasing activity levels among Londoners.

While a fully active commute may work for some Londoners, for others a real opportunity exists around the beginnings and ends of journeys – particularly for those Londoners faced with a choice between motorised or public transport and a manageable walk from transport hub to workplace.

For some of those Londoners, the simple act of walking to and from a transport hub on a daily basis could be enough to help them meet guideline physical activity levels, bringing with it the very real benefits to physical and mental wellbeing that regular engagement with physical activity offers.

Add in the opportunities for emerging urban sport activities boosted by access to free, clean water in different corners of the city, and the potential impact becomes clearer still.

This is where a city-wide network of water fountains offers real opportunities ahead.

While it may be a secondary outcome to the scheme’s main environmental purposes,its ability to shift London’s environment in the direction of the normalisation of physical activity is a real boon to ambitions to make London the most active city in the world.

And nor is this mere speculation; already in Australia, the State of Victoria has identified open spaces where there are opportunities to do physical activity as a key driver for identifying sites to install new public water fountains.

No single intervention, of course, will carry the vision of making London the world’s most active city on its own, but a combination of multi-sector investments can collectively put London on a path towards becoming a city where being physically active is the norm.

These fountains, of course, won’t be cooling anyone down in this particular heatwave.

But in years to come, they may just offer the necessary refreshment to a city of people who choose to walk or cycle, because an environment exists which allows them to choose to do so. 

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