Smarter Choices, Smarter Places (SCSP) is Scotland’s active and sustainable travel behaviour change programme which is managed, here, at Paths for All. Within the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme there are three grant funds: the Local Authority Fund, the newly launched Active Nation Fund, and the Open Fund. Over the past three months I’ve had an amazing opportunity to work with the Open Fund team, shadowing, learning, experiencing, and developing many important skills. The Open Fund funds charity and not-for-profit organisations in Scotland, all the way from the NHS, Universities and large national charities down to small voluntary and community groups. The funding is for projects that will promote, encourage, and enable travel behaviour change, and there are different outcomes that projects can work towards based on the different stages of behaviour change.
I was keen to experience working as part of this team as I am a big advocate for active travel, both for the health benefits for individuals and for society and the environmental benefits it can offer. My master’s dissertation looked at case studies of, mainly community led, active and sustainable transport projects in Scotland, the barriers and challenges they faced and the opportunities for connecting and expanding these small-scale projects into something bigger.
During my time in the SCSP Open Fund team, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to develop a wide range of skills and knowledge such as receiving and managing grant applications using the grant management systems, advising on and supporting the delivery of a project and writing successful grant funding applications, and organisational and communication skills. I’ve also deepened my understanding of the challenges and difficulties of behaviour change, and how we, at Paths for All, can support groups to break these barriers down, with new innovative solutions.
Behaviour change is incredibly complex, especially travel behaviour change which involves habits that form over time. The ways in which we travel are so deep rooted: car use is so ingrained in our culture, society and infrastructure that changing attitudes and behaviours can seem like a daunting and monumental task. I was very fortunate to be able to visit some of the organisations and meet the people that are tackling this challenge head on.
As Scotland’s national walking charity, we are very keen to see more people walking for short local journeys that are within walking distance such as to the shops, education, work, leisure centres or social opportunities. Research shows that in Scotland just under 20% of all journeys travelled are under 1km and 41% of journeys travelled are under 3km. These kinds of journeys are those where people should be encouraged to walk, wheel and cycle instead of driving. Quite a lot of the time, desire for people to change their behaviours is there but there are many barriers that many people might feel are stopping them from being able to walk and cycle for journeys. These issues include the perception of safety, especially for women, lack of suitable infrastructure, time pressures and social pressures. There are many societal issues that are intertwined with travel behaviours and to enable people to walk and cycle it is important to recognise and address these.
Through my time with the Open Fund team I have also learnt that collaboration, connection, sharing, and partnership working is essential if we’re going to be able to change, improve things, and meet our ambitious goals. There is a need for more connection between groups and organisations. The Smarter Choices, Smarter Places team are working to facilitate this with ongoing support and guidance for organisations, monthly networking and sharing sessions and a yearly in-person Learning Event. These opportunities are incredibly valuable for bringing together projects, sharing learnings, and providing those really valuable opportunities to collaborate and network. Through these, I have enjoyed learning about some of the things that make projects successful.
I have also gained more understanding of the pros and cons of relying on community, voluntary and charity organisations to deliver active travel behaviour change. There is some amazing community led and responsive work happening because of dedicated passionate people, but there are also many areas that are missing out on a lot of these exciting initiatives because groups or projects don’t always have the people, time and funding on the ground to push them forward. Currently, organisations have to rely on one-year funding cycles and constantly sourcing new funding routes to keep their projects going, which can be very difficult, stressful and time-consuming, adding to the pressures on project delivery.
A significant take away from my time working with the Open Fund is that there are wonderful people out there who are trying to make a difference for the health of people, our communities and the planet. Their work is having a real benefit on people’s lives. Behaviour change is hard, but things are changing, slowly but surely. The projects on the ground are doing amazing work and the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places team continue to do an incredibly important job of enabling, empowering and supporting them to achieve their goals.