We spoke to Ole from Cycling Without Age — a project helping nursing home residents get back into society.
What were your motivations for starting Cycling Without Age?
Cycling Without Age really got started by accident and wasn’t meant to be a project or a movement. I cycled past this friendly looking old man on a bench each morning, 3 years ago during a warm sunny period. We started greeting each other and during my bike commutes to work, I began to wonder if he used to cycle to work, and if he missed being part of the city. This thought wouldn’t escape my mind, and I ended up at the local nursing home with a rented rickshaw, offering rides to the residents.
I guess it can probably be traced back to my dad, who suffered from multiple sclerosis during my childhood and lost his mobility completely by the time I was three. As a result, I have always been able to understand the importance of mobility and the pain felt by people who have lost their mobility.
How can Cycling Without Age help create relations and communities in cities?
We have found that trishaw rides are a wonderful way for 2–3 people to spend time together. The speed is slow, conversation flows easily and stories are being shared. Most volunteer pilots report that shared stories create relationships and friendships, and the more valuable relationships you create in a community, the more trust and happiness you build. We have also found that work cultures improve at nursing homes who use their involvement in Cycling Without Age actively, and slowly but surely local businesses come forward to offer their support. Some cafés offer free coffee and companies offer corporate volunteering.
What have been the biggest challenges?
We like to focus on the things that work, and often magically the obstacles disappear. For instance, some people focus on the problems of starting up in a new city without a whole fleet of trishaws, but a single borrowed trishaw can actually create adventures, stories and momentum powerful enough to convince decision-makers to donate the first few bikes.
In reality the biggest challenge is probably the new mindset required by nursing home staff when interacting with volunteers. In some nursing homes it comes naturally and easy and in some nursing homes it’s a major challenge. As a result we now offer courses to staff designed to help them interact with stakeholders in their local community.
What’s the future like for Cycling Without Age?
We actually don’t have a strategy, but we keep a clear focus on our guiding principles: generosity, slowness, relationships, stories and without age. We have found that they attract and resonate with people around the world, and so the future will probably see Cycling Without Age expand to other countries. Currently we have active chapters in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Italy and Singapore. Another 40 cities around the world are working on setting up chapters.
The geographical spread is not a goal in itself, but it means we will succeed in creating more happiness, better communities and more positive ageing around the world, as it represents a new way of thinking about kindness, old age and your local communities.
Check out Ole explaining Cycling Without Age at TEDxCopenhagen below and read more about the project here.