*Blog by Jade Dalton, Positivity Physical Coordinator at Open Age
At Open Age, we empower older people by offering 380 weekly activities and events for those aged 50+, helping them to remain mentally and physically active as well as engaged with their community.
We strongly believe all individuals, no matter what their age, ethnicity, physical ability or economic status, should have the same opportunities to lead happy, independent and fulfilling lives.
Despite all these weekly activities, we still felt that we were missing a key class…Cycling. There is often a misconception that if you don’t learn how to ride a bike as a child, then it’s too late. At Open Age we are keen to challenge and change this view by offering beginners cycling sessions targeted specifically at those aged 50+.
Not only is cycling a great low impact form of exercise, it is also great for reducing the risk of many chronic diseases, preserving muscle mass, boosting mental health and providing opportunities for social interaction which in turn may reduce loneliness. Previous findings demonstrated that Westminster had a higher prevalence of mental health problems amongst older adults when compared to both London and National averages. With all this in mind, we were very excited when the opportunity came around to apply for TFL’s Cycling Grants London (CGL) scheme, and even more excited when we heard we were successful!
Cycle Smarter is a 6 week programme for those aged 50+ who have either never cycled before or haven’t cycled for a long period of time and are looking to improve their skills. We aim to reach out to individuals most in need, particularly those with low disposable income, health problems, facing isolation/ loneliness or have low confidence in their ability.
A large factor preventing many older adults taking up cycling is the initial cost and upkeep of a bike. With many living in flats, there is also a lack of suitable storage options to keep a bike even if they were to purchase one. To overcome this, we provide both bikes and helmets each week, free of charge, so participants with low disposable income still have the opportunity to cycle. The bikes selected have low step through bars making it easier to mount, especially for those with limited range of movement. The beginner’s course takes place in an off-road environment where participants can learn how to cycle and build up their confidence without the fear of other cars/cyclists around.
Our first year of the 3 year programme has been very successful. The participants loved all the instructors that our partner, Cycle Confident, provided stating that they were, with many ‘trainees going from not being able to cycle at all to confidently riding around the local roads!’ (Cycle Confident).
Although we expected the physical benefits, we underestimated the psychological benefits the participants would experience from learning a new skill. Many reported an increase in confidence, self-esteem and felt empowered by the fact they had picked up a new skill in the second half of their life, which many thought would never be possible.
With the success of the programme in Year 1, we decided to expand our delivery to Hammersmith and Fulham as well as Westminster. This was again supported by CGL and we are hugely excited to be able to offer such an activity in another London Borough, reaching out to more local residents itching to learn how to ride a bike.
To run this programme, we partnered with Bikeworks. Jim Blakemore, CEO of Bikeworks said that
“Working in partnership with Open Age has enabled Bikeworks to provide quality reused cycles as well group cycle training sessions. It broadens our networks and provides the best use for Local Authority and Transport for London budgets which can only be a good thing. We are really looking forward to getting more people on bikes in 2019 through our partnership with Open Age."
I would really like to thank Transport for London for granting funding to these valuable programmes and Groundwork London for facilitating. CGL has supported Open Age with its vision of getting older adults cycling and our members are forever grateful that they have been given this opportunity and a new lease of life!