Idling Action London Workshops: Turn Your Engine Off!

Idling Action London school banner

April 18, 2022

From November 2021 to March 2022, the MP Smarter Travel team visited schools across the UK’s capital, to deliver free air quality workshops and anti-idling activities for Idling Action London, a London-wide behaviour change campaign that has been running since 2016. The organisation campaigns to reduce localised air pollution caused by motorists leaving their engines on when stationary for more than 30 seconds. Overall, we visited 66 schools across 26 London Boroughs, and are funded thanks to the Mayor of London’s Air Quality Fund.

School workshops that make a difference

The aim was to increase awareness of air pollution among school children and to prevent idling outside of schools. The workshops explored what the most harmful pollutants are, where these come from, where they are highest, what their effects are, and how to reduce this impact. Tied in with the school curriculum around science, global warming and the human body, students from all schools were enthusiastic and came up with their own ideas about climate change and pollution.

The younger generation have a fierce interest in caring for the environment and avoiding climate disaster. It was inspiring to follow the students’ thought process as they took in the information and thought critically and innovatively about how to reduce pollution. For example, when we explained that a lot of particulate pollution comes from the friction between the tyres and the road, students asked:

  • Would flying cars would be better for pollution?
  • Is formula one racing harmful to the environment because they drive so fast?
  • Can create particulate matter by walking or cycling?

As part of the workshops, children created posters to advertise the danger of idling and convince people to turn off their engines. The best artwork from each school was turned into a banner by the Idling Action team and put up outside their school to remind waiting drivers to protect their children’s vulnerable lungs, hearts, and brains. Some children also had time to write letters to their parents, siblings, or teachers about air pollution, including some interesting facts they had learned and asking them to pledge that they would never leave their car running again.

Public events

In addition to the workshops, we also delivered 58 events, which took place at the end of the school day when many parents were waiting to pick up their children. During these events, we worked with borough officers and small groups of Junior Travel Ambassadors, Green Team Members, Eco Councillors and School Councillors. We approached drivers, especially those idling, and the children politely asked those idling to turn off their engines and thanked those who were doing the right thing and waiting without idling. The children discussed what they had learned in the workshops and educated the drivers using this knowledge.

Pollution in London

Given the number of sources and factors contributing to dangerously high levels of pollution in London, the problem can feel overwhelming, and we can suffer from information overload. It is important, to shine a spotlight on the dangers of idling engines, for several reasons:

  • Idling can create 150 balloons of nitrous oxides, particulate matter, and cyanide, which can be more dangerous than driving.
  • Leaving your engine on when parked can create up to twice the amount of pollution of a moving car. The engine does not burn fuel as efficiently, and the pollution is more localised, as the emissions are released into the same space rather than spread across many streets. Creating this localised pollution is particularly bad if you are idling outside of a school, because it puts our children’s health in danger.
  • It’s also unnecessary and often it serves no purpose! Often the reasons people give for idling are myths, which is only supported by the fact that almost all of a car’s emissions are invisible, and therefore, not always evident. Many of the idling drivers we spoke to during this project were not aware of the dangers associated with it and were thankful for the information.

Children act as a crucial bridge to parents and guardians. Adults are more likely to listen to their children than anyone else, especially when it comes to their children’s health and wellbeing, so when the students bring the information home, this can be the push that makes them change behaviour. We found that when engaging with drivers during anti-idling patrols at the schools at pick-up time; being confronted (very politely) by the people most affected by the pollution they were creating made the issue suddenly very real. Some students wrote pledges for their parents using their parents’ first language. At one engagement event, we came across a driver who didn’t speak English, a student recognised they were Turkish and translated the dangers of idling. Children can act as a crucial connection to communities that might otherwise be difficult to reach.

What did we learn?

School children are spirited, passionate ambassadors of change and hold great potential to make the world a better place, and were able to convince 171 drivers to turn off their engines!

We also provide our own clean air workshops for schools, if you’d like us to visit schools in your area, contact us at