A Caring Place Blog: Cycling Without Age – by Hamish Brown, volunteer pilot

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Creating a Caring Place: A&DS has published a report which sets out the work that we have been coordinating, together with Scotland’s Towns Partnership, to respond and support the Scottish Government’s work around Town Centre Living.

We have identified 10 Principles of a Caring Place which places user needs at the heart of decision-making, service provision and investment in our places.

Principle 1 looks at Friendly and Accessible Transport. This means that people have options that are efficient, cost-effective and which encourage social interaction; that there are connections between other towns and centres as not every town can offer everything people need and inadequate transport between places can be an isolating factor.

Reconnecting with the Outside World

In this blog Hamish Brown a Cycling Without Age Scotland volunteer talks about their innovative transport project to support communities.

Hamish Brown:  I live in Musselburgh and am one of around 50 volunteer pilots for the Musselburgh chapter of Cycling Without Age. I cycle pretty much everywhere and certainly miss it when I’m off the bike for any length of time. I thought it was an inspired way to help older people who can no longer get around in the same way, to reconnect with the outside world. I’m also a bike tech fan, so was interested to get acquainted with the e-bikes. I think e-bikes are going to be more popular than people currently think. E-bikes could help encourage groups who are still hesitant about making cycling their main form of transport, such as older people, those who don’t want to break sweat, and maybe even those sold on the car-as-status idea.

How does Cycling Without Age work?

There are three passenger pickup points – a care home, a sheltered housing complex and a day centre – with a signup sheet in each for passengers who fancy going out. Rides last around an hour and either go along the waterfront to Fisherrow Harbour or up to the River Esk path, known as The Grove. Stop-offs are numerous, there’s often something interesting going and you always get chatting to passers-by. After initial training sessions, pilots claim shifts on the rota, meaning you can vary the passengers you take out or get to know specific individuals if you know their regular slot.

Community Connections

What is the most important aspect of Cycling Without Age for you?

Many of our passengers grew up locally and have a deep connection with landscape and environment, so it’s great to hear their tales of how things have changed – and the shenanigans they used to get up to. It has definitely deepened my own relationship with the area, as it’s a regular journey through it that I’d otherwise not take. It’s easy for all of us to stick to our routines. Also, the nature of the trishaw means you get an accurate picture of how cycle-friendly the local path and road network is. I’ve cycled a lot in other cities, where it’s been clear that the more bikes there are on the road, the safer it becomes for everyone. Initiatives like this help with that, and also help in normalising non-car transport, encouraging others to ditch the car for the bike and ideally also provide those at government level with the courage to make the bold policy decisions needed.

What have been the benefits for the people you take out for a ride?

I’d like to think that they enjoy it, as they keep signing up! People of all ages find cycling good for their mental health and Cycling Without Age goes some way to combat the social isolation that can affect us all, but particularly older people. I think it might also appeal to our passengers’ thrill-seeking side – I’ve sat on the front of the trishaw during training and it’s more exhilarating than you might think!


Local History

Do you have any interesting stories to share from your experience volunteering with Cycling Without Age?

I recently took one of our regular passengers, Joyce, out on her 91st birthday. She lived all her life on the street next to mine, and regaled me with tales of her and her brothers’ escapades – she’s a great storyteller. I learned all about the Scrappy Castle, a tenement block that no longer exists that was built from salvaged stone. On a different journey, we got talking at the harbour to the brother of Musselburgh-born footballer John White, AKA The Ghost, who played for Tottenham Hotspur before being killed by a lightning strike in 1964, aged 27.

What would you say to someone who was considering becoming a volunteer?

I’d highly recommend it. Every ride is different and talking with people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet gives you a new perspective on your own community and environment. Musselburgh is currently at full capacity for new pilots, but you can arrange to visit for a passenger journey via the Hollies Day Centre. There are several other chapters in Scotland, or you could consider starting your own.

Image caption: to celebrate International Women’s Day, the remarkable Joyce with Hamish

Credit: Ewan Dawson

(Updated May 2019)

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