Cycling Without Age Ireland celebrates its first birthday

Photograph showing launch of the most recent trishaw at the John F. Kennedy Arboretum in New Ross, Co. Wexford, on 13th June. The residents of Cherry Grove Nursing Home nearby are the recipients.

‘Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike’

This quote, often attributed to John F. Kennedy, a man of many pleasures, says a lot about how cycling can make you feel. So why should this pleasure be taken away when we get old? Nobody chooses to be disabled, or mobility-impaired. Nobody chooses to get old. It just happens, but it shouldn’t be the end of the fun.

That is the vision that people like Ole Kassow and Clara Clark share. In 2012, Ole Kassow set up a movement called Cycling Without Age (CWA) in Copenhagen, Denmark, to bring cycling to those who can no longer do it for themselves. Initially, he rented a trishaw, or front-facing rickshaw, and cycled up to a nearby nursing home offering free rides to residents. They loved it so much that he had to come back time and time again, eventually getting his own trishaw. He then enlisted the help of a civil society consultant from the City of Copenhagen, who liked the idea and decided to help Ole launch Cycling Without Age. From Copenhagen, the movement spread to other cities in Denmark, then to neighbouring Norway. CWA is now present in 38 countries.

It’s the same dream of freedom and fun that drove Clara Clark to set up the Irish wing of Cycling Without Age, with its first trishaw taking its inaugural spin in the People’s Park Dun Laoghaire in June 2017. By chance, it is in Kennedy country that they found themselves blowing their first candle, celebrating their first birthday with the launch of the most recent trishaw, at the John F. Kennedy Arboretum in New Ross, Co. Wexford, on 13th June. CWA has much to celebrate, with an increasing number of trishaws, winning an award and seeing the dream reach schools being some of the highlights of their first year in Ireland.

There are now thirteen trishaws out and about in the country; five in Dublin, three in Cork, two in Leitrim, and one each in Sligo, Waterford and Wexford. There are different ways of operating, with some trishaws in nursing or care homes, while others are in the community with their own booking system. There are also different funding models with five bikes sponsored by corporations, five with grant aid from Healthy Ireland, and the rest with a combination of fund-raising and matching sponsorship. The bikes come from Denmark and cost around six thousand euro. If you include delivery, this makes for an investment of around seven thousand euro. ‘They are not cheap’, says Clara Clark, ‘but for a company with a corporate social responsibility budget, seven thousand euro is really very little’.

One of the key principles that Clara Clark wants to maintain is the voluntary nature of the initiative. Making sure that the rides remain free to users means that if she wanted to grow the movement, she would benefit from getting funding. She applied to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI), which runs an Academy program, to help people with social enterprise ideas start their own businesses. There were 215 applicants last year, and Cycling Without Age got one of the fifteen places available. The Academy works like a bootcamp, and offers technical and practical support. SEI Academy students can also enter into an awards program. Clara Clark applied and won second place: ‘We got fifteen hundred euro. What was really useful is that I got two of those pull-up banners printed with the branding on it. I also got a thousand little brochures printed’. CWA uses those at launches, tradeshows or other events, to help people immediately identify the organisation.

It wasn’t long before schools got involved. Two groups of Transition Year students, from St Clonleth’s in Dublin, and from Newtown School in Waterford are fundraising to buy a trishaw. ‘It’s a great social enterprise business for them to get involved in, because they can run it like a mini-company’ says Clara Clark. ‘They are well on the way with having the funding for their own bikes’, but ‘if the money isn’t all raised within the year, they can keep the project going for the next year.’ Clara is hoping that this will inspire more schools to get involved.

The People Newspaper Group honoured Clara Clark with a Volunteer of the Year Award certificate, and it is easy to see how they were taken by her enthusiasm and can-do attitude. With her at the helm, we’re sure to see more of the red trishaws out and about, bringing a sprinkle of joy to its passengers, and the wind in their hair.

Author Amandine Devine

Tuesday, 3 July 2018 (All day)

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