Published on February 7th, 2018 | by John OMeara



Cycling Without Age (click on CWA) uses volunteers to provide older people with trips in a cycle-driven buggy. Those attending the CWA event at Hamstead Pavilion this morning saw layer upon layer of potential unfolding as they thought about how the approach could be applied locally. This is an idea with a strong context: as well as the CWA founders from Copenhagen, Ole Kassow and Pernille Bussone, the event was attended by Cycling UK (together with their legal adviser, former national Chair, and local development worker), Birmingham Big Bikes, Councillor Kooner, and a range of local people with interests in health and social care and the strengthening of community relationships – not least Apache Indian, with his desire to get young people back on their bikes and developing relationships with older generations. Interest and expertise stretched from 1:1 interactions to the long-term city planning, and the way that planning for bike use humanizes a city, improves its health, and softens its relationships.

There is a close match between WHO research findings on factors influencing length of life and levels of happiness on the one hand, and the elements of the CWA approach on the other. Older people who have become isolated physically and socially are rejuvenated by the re-engagement of their senses and memories as they travel at a gentle pace through streets and parks that they may not have been able to get into for years. At the same time they engage in conversation with a fellow passenger and/or the cyclist, who only has to lean forward a little to be included. Results observed from such a simple process have been: raised levels of happiness and contentment, reduced social isolation, improved sleep, reduced use of medication, reduced impacts of dementia, improved morale and purpose in life for volunteers, long lasting relationships across generations (including ‘new grandparents’ for children), and increased levels of trust in local communities (we saw on the day how considerately the buggy was treated by other road users compared to our normal experience of the roads locally).

There are already 90 local CWA groups in the UK, about 10 of which have their own ‘trike’. Work is underway to form a national charity which will act as an umbrella organisation for local groups who can apply for their own charitable status (a trike costs about £6,000 – they are electric power assisted and built to be comfortable).  Handsworth Community Cycling Club have already started a Crowdfunding appeal (click on CWAAppeal) which currently stands at £400, and with assistance from Cycling UK’s solicitor are themselves seeking charitable status in order to provide increased donor confidence (Inside Handsworth have already jumped in).

Against a background of strong political support from Councillor Kooner (convinced of the importance of finding ways to support the initiative if an equivalent of the Local Innovation Fund becomes available) there was discussion of how extra care housing schemes and individual care homes could have their own trikes. Reference was made to research reported today which shows significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of elderly residents in care homes from just 1 hour of dedicated social interaction per week. This seems to be an idea whose time has come.

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