Interview: Jemima Hartshorn, founder of Mums for Lungs

Campaign group Mums for Lungs was established in 2017 and has since been hugely successful in raising awareness of the impacts of air pollution, Air Quality News got in touch with founder Jemima Hartshorn to find out more. 

Mums for Lungs was established when human rights lawyer Jemima Hartshorn went on maternity leave with her first child. 

Jemima was living in Brixton at the time, and as she was pushing her son in the pram she started thinking about air pollution. 

‘The more I started reading, the more I realised that very little was being done to address it.’ she said. 

‘I come from a background where I always try to be solution-focused about the problems I see, so when I started to see how little was being done to tackle air pollution I set up Mums for Lungs with some other parents.’ 

Earlier this month (July 13), Mums for Lungs launched their Ditch Pollution Campaign to encourage parents and children to walk, cycle or scoot to school when classes resume in September. 

‘We are in the midst of a respiratory pandemic and as a result, pollution has dropped, traffic has decreased and roads have become safer. 

‘But we have also been reading lots of articles explaining that air pollution is likely to increase above pre-COVID levels with capacity on public transport being low and more people choosing to travel by car.

‘Therefore, with the Ditch Pollution campaign we wanted to encourage people to be mindful when they return to “normal”, we want people to stop and consider what air pollution is doing to our children and our own health.’ 

Over the past three years, Mums for Lungs have launched various successful campaigns to raise of awareness of air pollution, but according to Jemima, the biggest success is the work they have achieved in the borough they started campaigning in, Lambeth.

‘Lambeth has really gone from being a borough that is doing very little to address concerns around travel and air pollution to one where air pollution has significantly decreased, and I think that’s our biggest success.

‘But I am not very good at looking back, I’m always looking forward and thinking about what’s next.’

Jemima made clear that although action on air pollution has certainly improved since Mums for Lungs started, it is by no means enough. 

‘The government have promised £2bn for cycling and £27bn for roads. That is the beginning and the end of what I have to say.’ 

She says we need more dis-incentivisation for driving and more active encouragement for cycling by making it safer. 

‘I have cycled in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Brussels and I have never felt unsafe on a bike. 

‘I’ve cycled to night clubs in mini skirts and I have cycled to courts in high heels when I was a prosecutor.

‘Here in London I only started cycling a few months ago even though I’ve been living here for eight years. There are too many cars, they are often speeding and London just doesn’t take care of its cyclists. 

‘Cycling has such a difference reputation here compared to other countries and that really has to change.

‘When you get into your car you need to be really aware of the consequences – we need a society where active travel and public transport are normal.

‘We cannot have more children growing up with stunted lungs from air pollution.’

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