The Soundscape Project for children around Heathrow to experience peace and quiet

Soundscape  – Listening with Children:

A new project to give children the outdoor sensory experience they are missing
in school settings where incessant aviation noise prevails.

… Thousands of children endure their school days under Heathrow flight paths,
often subjected to very high levels of noise from planes overhead.

… Finding appropriate settings which are not affected by air traffic has been Soundscape’s
first priority.

… 33,000 children in one neighbouring borough, alone, have diminished use of
their school grounds owing to overflying.( London Borough of Hounslow head of
children’s services 2009)

… Hearing the sounds of birdsong, grasshoppers, water flowing, or wind rustling in trees is a rare experience
when the natural sounds are drowned by NOISE POLLUTION.

Soundscape wants the children to have the right to be heard, and to hear sounds of nature in a quiet setting

To map and conserve the natural places that remain tranquil for public access
is the task that follows. 


More about Soundscape
(October 2011):

Minet Country Park, in the London Borough of Hillingdon ( link ) has been used for the 2 pilot visits because it is not scheduled to be overflown.
It is not silent, but there is plenty of potential for listening to nature, and
for the children to listen to each other. This possibility of quiet is an asset
we attribute to Minet. this. We appreciate all the hard work that is being done
to conserve this valuable place by many individuals and groups.

Already overflown by landing planes, both of our pilot schools are likely to
be seriously affected by the loss of The Cranford Agreement when planes will take-off
over Cranford, and may well overfly Minet Country Park as they soar North East
from Heathrow’s northern runway.

Julia Welchman   Julia.welchman [ at  @ ]

The Aviation Environment Federation.

With the termination of the Cranford Agreement, so planes are now allowed to
take off from the northern runway  at Heathrow, there will be a lot more noises
suffered by schools to the east of the airport, on days when there are easterly
opertions.  The schools affected seem so far to be largely unaware of the impact
that the change is likely to cause.

Soundscape project at Heathrow                                                           

October 2011

by Sarah Clayton. 

Sarah visited the project, at Julia’s Welchman’s invitation, and this is what
she learned of the project.

Anywhere under a Heathrow flight path is undeniably noisy.   Under the approach
paths to the east of Heathrow, along one or other of which planes fly for around
18 hours each day, the noise can be more than just a nuisance.

Many people live quite contentedly near airports, and tolerate the noise as just
part of life. Others find the noise a real intrusion.  Some people may have the
option of living elsewhere, and are able to move away. However, there are groups
within any community that are to some extent trapped by having to spend their
time in particular locations, about which they have little choice.  These include
old people’s homes, hospitals, prisons, and schools.

So it is surprising to an outside observer to find that a large number of schools
are situated along flight paths to Heathrow.  As a result, there are many thousand
children, ranging from the age of three up to eighteen, who find themselves receiving
their education, year after year, in buildings that may be bombarded by loud noise
overhead as much as once every 90 seconds, for much of the school day.

There has been a considerable amount of research into what effect a noisy school
environment has on education. Children, of course, are noisy and schools are rarely
quiet places except during well controlled lesson periods.  However, for children
to be able to learn effectively, they need to have a sufficiently low level of
ambient noise so they can clearly hear their teacher, and their teacher can clearly
hear them, and children can clearly hear each other.

This is the case both inside the classroom, and outside if there are outdoor
activities in the curriculum.

Many schools along Heathrow flight paths do not have this luxury.  In some, the
roar of a jet overhead or a few hundred metres away for perhaps 10 seconds in
every 90 seconds is hugely disruptive. During this time, teachers may have to
stop what they are saying, a child may not be heard, and generally the level of
noise causes genuine difficulties for both the teacher and the pupils.  It is
not an effective learning environment.

Where this is the case indoors, it is even more significant outside.  Children
are sent out to play at  break periods, and in some of the worst affected schools,
they do not enjoy this time, due to the regular stream of huge aircraft overhead. 
For some children the noise is actively unpleasant, and many children have been
seen covering their ears when a jet roars past.  Children have also been observed
pausing – sometimes unconsciously – for a few seconds, before resuming their conversation
or their activity, once the noise is past.  This is a learned, coping strategy,
but it is not ideal in a child’s development.

There is runway alternation, so one runway or other is used for landings until
3pm each week, with a switch over for the second part of the day. This gives those
living under flight paths half a day’s respite from the din.  The BAA timetables
showing which runway will be used am or pm are published in advance.  Some schools
have to plan their activities, so that they can fit in with when it will be less
noisy outside.

It was for this reason that Julia Welchman dreamed up the Soundscape Project,
to benefit children in the schools affected in West London. She teaches young
children in Kew, and has spent years enduring the planes flying over Kew Gardens,
with predictable regularity.  She knows about how teaching has to be adapted to
deal with the intermittent noise, and how interaction and learning are reduced
at high noise volumes.

Julia believes passionately that all children should be able to have part of
their education outside of the classroom, and that they should have access to
quiet and pleasant areas some of the time.  She believes that sound is an important
part of our sensory world, and that the ability of children to learn to listen
quietly, and hear natural sounds or to hear silence, is a vital part of our education.

The children who spend their school years living under a noisy flight path are
thus being deprived, in a real sense, of something important.  Their experience
of the world, and their view of it, is being damaged by being condemned to pass
their years of education in a sub-optimal setting.

Julia has therefore set up a scheme to get school children in the badly affected
schools out to quiet countryside areas, so that they can take part in activities
and education pursuits that are not possible in their own school grounds. The
children would be bussed out to an area such as Minet Park, in Hillingdon, and
pass a couple of hours taking part in listening activities, noting the bird song,
listening to the grasshoppers, or the falling acorns, the rustle of leaves underfoot
or the flowing of water in the brook. Educational activities are arranged to include
both sound and listening components, as well as appreciation of nature.

The park is a little gem of high quality countryside, with good habitat quality
and a surprising degree of biodiversity for a location so much surrounded by very
built up areas. It provides an excellent opportunity for children not only to
experience and appreciate peace and quiet, but also to start to build their knowledge
of, and their interest in, the natural world. For many of the children living
around the Heathrow area, who come from minorities, this is a novel experience.

The cost of such school trips is not high, the chief expense being the transport.
This needs to be provided by the local authority community transport, which is
also able to include wheelchairs and help those with restricted mobility.   

There are also costs for the staff who need to accompany the children, payment
and some expenses for the volunteers who accompany them, and costs for educational
materials used during the trip.

So far, Julia and colleagues have spent several years researching the local need,
possible solutions, risk assessments, and the practicalities of arranging school
visits to quiet places.  The first two trips have now taken place (October 2011)
for small primary school groups, with some parents and helpers – both were deemed
a great success by all who took part.

The Soundscape project has been successful in obtaining a grant of £7,500, through
the Aviation Environment Trust, from Awards for All, which is part of the National
Lottery.  However, the funds are quickly used up, and in order for many more trips
to be planned and provided, more funding is needed.

The problem of noise is caused by jets in the skies above, coming to Heathrow. 
The airport is owned by BAA, and it is reasonable to place responsibility for
the noise and disruption on them. The planes causing the problems for the children
at school under flight paths are affected by noise from planes that make BAA money.
BAA has been asked if they will help with funding the Soundscape project, but
so far with little success.  At the BAA meeting that AEF attended with Julia and
Mairi from Soundscape, they said they were interested but their Community board
would need convincing because it took people away from the problem rather than
addressing the problem itself.
Instead BAA were focused on providing the adobe buildings to schools for outdoor
learning. They did accept the limitations of their approach and conceded that
there could be value in the school visits as well.  It was left that AEF and Soundscape would
go back to them in 2012, armed with the evidence of the first trips and they would
give the project a slot before the next community board meeting to make its case.

However, it should be emphasised that the ATWP asked airports to fund these trips
and we have seen little evidence in 8 years – so a favourable BAA decision is
long overdue. 

The cost of transporting a class of children, and the associated expenses of
a trip, would cost approximately the same as one transatlantic flight – something
like £700.  Not a lot, for a company as huge as BAA.  Alternatively BAA could
provide a “Peace & Quiet” bus, which could be used to take children on trips
to Minet Park.

The Soundscape project has established the principle that children need to have
the opportunity to experience quiet places for outdoor activities, and that this
provides real benefits for children whose schools suffer from unacceptable levels
of noise. For the project to grow and expand, it needs both money and volunteers. 
It is a brilliant scheme, that has proven its worth.  What is now needed is the
will, the manpower, and the backing, to extend the scheme so that many more children
can benefit.


If you would like to find out more, please contact

Julia Welchman   Julia.welchman [ at  @ ]

or Sarah Clayton  at