The first week in September, like many other parents, was the first time I had to brave the school run as my first-born started her school life at Farley Hill near Arborfield.
We were extremely happy that she got into the school, but I had been told about the utter chaos around school drop offs; a problem I’m sure every school suffers.
Not to be deterred I did the school run by car, then quickly decided to look for other options and wondered seriously why nothing has been done about it.
Maybe parents just got fed up of raising the topic with the Council and getting nowhere (I know that feeling!), but still it’s a topic that is important to all parents whose little ones make use of the school so it should not just be swept under the carpet.
The problems are as follows based on the school opening its doors at 8.35am for drop off:
1. To get a parking space anywhere close to school, you need to be there around 8.05am, meaning you need to wait either in your car or at the gate for 30 minutes until you can leave your dearest little one in the care of the school.
2. If you arrive much after 8.05am it’s quite possible you will be relegated to parking near the King George Playing Fields almost half a mile away from the school and resulting in an almost 10 minute walk (taking into the account the small strides of a 4 year old). Given the whole door to door journey could be walked in around 30 minutes, this seems like madness (see below).
From my home, the total journey to school is just 1.3 miles which should take 4 minutes in the car. Even at the time this image was taken on Google Maps, the red area captures the drop off problems at the front of the school (see below).
As I am led to understand it, this chaos has been going on for years, almost it seems since time began and Wokingham Borough Council will not do a single thing about it.
They also make the situation worse by developing the area and still do not include enough infrastructure to cope. Yes, there is talk of an Arborfield bypass, but what else?
The small town of Arborfield has been subjected to the development of over 3,500 new homes and a brand new secondary school with hundreds of new parents dropping off in the morning; its local roads that once were quite quiet at rush hour are now almost impassable during the school run.
Trying to get to Farley Hill itself is only part of the battle, try getting out of the estate through the various roadworks taking place, almost permanently.
I decided to try something different and to document my findings and experiences with a hope that someone, somewhere, will take a common sense view and help provide alternative means to get our kids to school, on time!
Looking at alternatives
Given the shortest route is 1.3 miles, walking would be a viable solution. However, none of the roads to get to the school are either lit or have footpaths. The A327 is a fast A road, the now “stopped up” Sheerlands Road is unlit and has no paths and Church Road after crossing the A327 has no footpath (see below).
Walking would simply be taking your life into your own hands, and with a 4 year old in tow this is not an option.
Not least I have learned today that Sheerlands Road, during working hours, is “blocked to pedestrians and cyclists for safety reasons”. This needs to be investigated as that was not part of the planning terms relating to the development.
As I have a cycle and trailer, which my daughter loves to travel in, I thought I would give that a go. How hard can it be to cycle 1.3 miles to school and drop her off?
Researching suitable routes I came up with what seemed like an ideal route. This avoided all major busy roads. It is 1 mile further than the direct route but should be relatively safe and non-eventful, so I thought.
It takes a cycle route through the current estate to join a pedestrian crossing at the A327. The plan was then to take a ‘track’ that runs behind the Poperinge estate to join up at the local, single track roads near to the school (see below).
On paper, this looks perfect. Not too long, avoids traffic, little inconvenience for others and more safety for me and my little one. The reality wasn’t quite so rosy.
All goes well up to getting to the track at Poperinghe Way. On trying to join the track I find the entrance blocked with dumped trees (see below).
I have no idea how long they have been there, but we battled our way over them after dismounting, removing daughter from trailer, dismantling and lifting everything over to then reassemble, reload and remount to continue our journey.
The track itself is unlit and a dirt track. Lots of rocks and very bumpy for my little one to endure in her trailer. On more than one occasion she protested at the lumpiness and the darkness of the area under the trees.
A little way through we were coming to the end of the track, hoping to find at last some tarmac. But first, we had to then negotiate a lake size puddle (see below).
I dismounted once again and leaned on the bike at an angle while pushing the bike and trailer through the lake to the other side. Mission almost accomplished I remounted and carried on.
From there, it was plain sailing. I arrived at school after a total of 15 minutes from door to door, my little one having a few mud spots on her shirt and tie; but hey, who will notice?
Once done, it was time for the ride home. I thought I would try my alternative route 2 which would take Church Road, cross the A327 and join Sheerlands Road (see below).
Now Sheerlands has recently been “stopped up” due to development work; however it is supposed to be an open pedestrian and cycle way.
Not today though, having been blocked off for safety reasons, as I was told by the builder on the gate entrance to the development. I spoke to the guys on the building site who luckily opened it for me.
Had they not it would have meant a hazardous ride up the A327 to the roundabout to re-enter the development (see below).
Even with these issues, I still got home a good 20 minutes sooner than in the car, I didn’t contribute to the daily carnage at the school gate, I exercised in the process and my baby girl got to spend a little more time with her dad than otherwise would be possible.
Such a short journey should be easy, but it has been made difficult by small issues that could easily be resolved. I call upon the Council to take a common sense view here and provide the resources needed to allow alternative methods of transport to be used.
I am keen and happy to do it, to save significant time, get some exercise and help to relieve the pressure and stress that is being caused at the school gates every morning. Surely from the vast number of new homes being built, there must be enough section 106 money to revisit the chaos at Farley Hill and put some of it to good use to make this daily commute better for everyone.
Given the development of the California Greenway and other cycle initiatives in the area I feel that this route through the rear of Poperinghe Way could be an ideal walking and cycling route to connect the new development of Arborfield to the Farley Hill area, its woodland, copses and of course its primary school.