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In July, I was lucky enough to join Kat and Mariana on one of their free walking tours around the centre of Oxford, ‘Oxford in 8 Breaths’.

The original tour flyer

The tour promised to be a ‘departure from traditional walking tours of the city… [using] creative strategies to explore our current ‘Airscape’, to connect the walkers with the world around them‘.  And that it was.

I have never really been one for tours, where long lists of facts are sometimes delivered in a dry way, and I am quick to zone out.

This, however, was different.  We began in Christ Church Meadows, by the old city walls, and were asked to close our eyes, as Mariana took us back through the mists of time, to when the wall was new.

Image: cc Mim Saxl

At each stop, we traveled, guided through evocative visualisations by our able tour guide duo – to another time, to another place. We listened, we touched, we looked – it was a sensory journey.

Image: cc Mim Saxl

And it was deeply thought provoking, as well as being a surprisingly enjoyable (for a tour about such a serious issue!) walk around the streets of Oxford.

The tour was brought to a close with information on how Oxford is responding to the air pollution challenge, and what we can do as citizens, focusing on personal action and empowerment – very up LCWO’s street!

Image: cc Mim Saxl

Air pollution: a big issue locally

Air pollution is a big issue for Oxfordshire.

“The Oxfordshire Air Quality Group Annual Report – Health Improvement Board” (October 2016), noted: “it is now recognised by the government as the country’s second-biggest health threat after smoking”.

Public Health England estimates that 5% of premature deaths are caused by air pollution in Oxfordshire, equivalent to 276 deaths in those aged 25+ in 2014 – compared, for example, to the 26 road fatalities the same year.

In West Oxford, in sad contrast to the rest of the city, air pollution is still getting worse in places (source: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/download/874/aq_annual_status_report_2017), and the problem is not likely to go away any time soon, with developments like the new Westgate opening soon.

Action is being taken (for example, West Street, Alexandra Street and  Riverside Road are playing host to new electric car charger points, as part of the city-wide Council-led project www.goultralowoxford.org; and there’s the campaign work of Oxfordshire Clean Air Action Group), but more is needed.  The question remains: how do we solve this issue?

Announcing: ‘West Oxford in 8 Breaths’

As part of our 10th anniversary celebrations, and inspired by attending the city tour this summer, we have commissioned a special West Oxford version, to offer local people the chance to think more about this issue.

Mariana Galan and Kat McGavin, both Social Sculpture students at Oxford Brookes University, have created a tour of the Botley Road especially for us, and you can join them this autumn.

The meeting point for the tours is St Frideswide’s Church on Botley Road (almost opposite to the West Oxford Community Center). The tours takes approximately 2 hours (including discussion at the end).

Booking essential – book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/west-oxford-in-8-breaths-alternative-walking-tour-tickets-37938885227

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1153802144721120/

More about the city centre tour – in the press

Hear them talking about it here: http://www.talkingwalking.net/8-breaths-talking-walking/

Read about the city centre tour in the Oxford Mail: http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/15387641.Take_a_deep_breath__students_launch_guided_tours_of_Oxford__39_s_air_pollution/