Rickshaw-type trishaws are taking residents out of the nursing home and back to nature. It’s about Cycling Without Age, says Margaret Jennings.
HOW would you like to be driven around in a comfortable “couch on wheels”, at an easy pace, taking in the sights and sounds of nature — whatever the weather — and enjoying the stimulation of outdoors and surrounding community?
The “couch” is actually a super-comfortable rickshaw — called a trioBike, or tri-shaw, to be more precise, which fits two adults to the front and cyclist to the back.
It’s designed and made in Copenhagen, also the home of Cycling Without Age (CWA), a movement set up five years ago after Ole Kassow began offering free tri-shaw rides to nursing home residents with limited mobility, because he wanted them to get the chance to go outside to “feel the wind rush through their hair”.
He was supported in the venture by civil society consultant Dorthe Pedersen and together they invested in five trishaws and set up CWA.
Over the past two years, the movement has spread to 28 countries, with Ireland’s recent involvement spearheaded by 66-year-old Dublin woman Clara Clark and her husband Charles Mollan, 77.
Clara and Charles have always been enthusiastic cyclists and actually bought one of the trishaws to help them demonstrate and promote the concept here and hopefully get organisations, nursing homes, and the general public on board with what is a total voluntary venture on everybody’s part.
The cycling “pilots” who carry the passengers don’t have to be Tour de France standard either; the battery-powered tri-shaws are not designed for speed and move at a slow pace, with just enough power to carry the weight of the passengers up a hill.
The plan is to bring residents to parks and off-road cycle routes or sports grounds — wherever there is a hard surface, but away from traffic.
“The idea is not to go a long route but to take in the moment at an easy pace — to notice the surroundings such as nature and activities and perhaps even stop and get an ice-cream,” says Clara. “It’s not the distance, but the outdoor experience.
“Residents in nursing homes give up a lot — their mobility, independence, and any opportunity to get out is usually in a car. This is a way of being outside and in the community.”
Part of the philosophy of CWA is the engagement of storytelling between the pilots and the passengers.
Clara had her first experience of taking a nursing home resident out recently.
“He was completely engaged, commenting on what he was seeing and asking me questions. When I returned with him I said to the nurse ‘he’ll probably tell the other residents about it all’. She said ‘he won’t remember this.’
“I had no idea he had dementia until that lady said it. And I said ‘it doesn’t matter; it’s about being in the moment, firing those neurons in the brain’.”
The benefits extend further too, she says: “This is about the mental, emotional, and social stimulation a person receives. It is an option to sitting on a chair looking at a wall, which lots of residents have to do, sadly, in nursing homes.”
The pleasure works both ways. “For me as the pilot it was an amazing experience having that man there in the seat, chatting away. I felt like a million dollars — giving someone that opportunity. It was magical to take him out and give him a spin.”
Aside from being easily accessible for persons of limited mobility, the trishaws are also waterproof and warm — a fact that Clara put to the test when she and her son Luke exhibited theirs in this year’s rain-soaked St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin: “When I got home after the day, I was hungry and tired but not wet.”
The CWA concept is gaining momentum. She has been approached by a corporate sponsor willing to buy rickshaws for two Dublin nursing homes. Another software company has also committed to sponsoring a bike and there is growing interest in the movement from other quarters.
Because of its voluntary nature — nobody gets paid — Clara would like to see nursing homes buying bikes so that pilots, from all walks of life, can be trained to take residents out. She herself, who is fit from cycling all her life has no problem piloting.
While she and Charles spent €5,300 plus VAT on their handbuilt trishaw, they hope that someone will buy the bike off them at some stage when the project is fully off the ground in Ireland. “But at the moment it’s important as a demo — to spread the concept of CWA,” she says.
Clara, who runs an event management company and is a business coach, seems to be a born organiser — she says she is project managing CWA in Ireland as one of her personal goals to leave a “legacy” behind.
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