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Back in the saddle: biking pensioners to a brighter future

By Joe Mott

 

 

Pride of Britain TSB Community Partner Award winner Fraser Johnston’s trishaw project helps fight elderly isolation.

When Mary Duncan suffered a series of debilitating strokes two years ago, she was moved into a nursing home.

A once busy social life, which had included constantly meeting new people and driving her friends around, suddenly ended.

No longer able to get herself outside, the 89-year-old former civil servant was limited to conversing primarily with her carers, and the spark in her eyes all but disappeared. But just when she thought her best days were in the past, something incredible happened.

In 2017, a remarkable young man, Fraser Johnston, came to visit Carrondale Nursing Home, in Falkirk, Scotland, where Mary now lives. He had a trishaw bike and a plan that would give her back some freedom.

Mary’s daughter Anne recalls: “Mum was always such a busy person – she considered herself the most able amongst all her friends. She would drive them about and take herself off down to the shops in the local area, or go for walks. She loved talking to people of all ages and had a very lively mind – she loved her life.”

But then everything changed. Anne explains: “My mum had a transient ischaemic attack [TIA, sometimes called a mini stroke] in 2015, and then she had a bigger stroke. She went from driving around and looking after herself one day, to forgetting things all the time and no longer being able to look after herself the next day. It really got her down. Mum describes the feeling as like her whole life being written on a blackboard and someone rubbing off large chunks of it.

Then, in February 2017, Fraser – a 20-year-old from Falkirk – walked into Carrondale and gave Mary a new lease of life. Fraser was piloting a scheme for volunteers to get isolated old people out of care homes and into the fresh air, aboard semi-powered trishaws. The specially built bikes allow the rider, or pilot as they are called, to carry two passengers in a comfy, front-facing seat.

Mary says: “The delight that I got from my first trip was wonderful. The feelings I had were lovely – I couldn’t believe it. I was overcome. It was just wonderful to be able to leave the home. I started singing ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’!

“I was breathing in and looking around, and admiring the outside world. You could see the joy in my face – ‘at last, at last, free at last!’ Instead of walking the corridors in the home, I could feel the wind in my hair.”

The pilot was so successful, Fraser launched Cycling Without Age in Falkirk; it was inspired by a project in Denmark. Fraser explains: “I’ve always been a keen cyclist and I realised the one group who couldn’t get on bikes were older people. I came across a Danish project called Cycling Without Age (CWA), which looked perfect so I did some research into setting up a chapter here. The trishaws cost £6,000 each and our group managed to get government funding to buy the first two.”

Crowdfunding donations allowed Fraser and his CWA partner Christine Bell to purchase four more bikes. He explains: “Taking the older generation out on our bikes doesn’t just give them fresh air and a chance to chat – it makes them feel less isolated and part of society again.”

The rewards to the OAPs are abundant and obvious, but Fraser benefits, too. He says that being a trishaw pilot has helped him meet some incredible people and hear stories he would never have come across otherwise: “There are some real characters who like to crack jokes – and being in Scotland, conversations about politics are never far away.”