A 79-year-old customer has set up a cycling group for over 55s to help his fellow residents stay active and rediscover the joys of riding a bike.
Tony Johnson is a resident of Sneydlands community living scheme in Rugeley, which Aspire Housing manages on behalf of The Hopkins and Sneyd Almshouse Charity. He came up with the idea after his neighbours spotted him cycling in the car park. He says, “I had been for a short ride on my folding Brompton bicycle and a couple of residents spotted me putting it into the boot of my car. They seemed very interested and we were soon chatting about their happy days spent cycling, and how they would love to ride a bike again.
“Ken, one of the residents here, asked me if he could have a go. He rode the Brompton around the car park and I just noticed how happy he looked. It was plain to see he loved cycling. It was then I thought to myself, I just wonder if we could start a little cycling group here at Sneydlands.”
Tony approached Aspire’s Older Persons Service Manager Patricia Roberts and Sneydlands’ Housing Support Co-ordinator Lee-Marie Wheeler, to find out whether it would be possible to bring a few bikes across. Patricia and Lee thought it was a great idea and worked closely with The Hopkins and Sneyd Almshouse Charity to get a bike rack fitted for the cycle group.
He continues, “As usual, Trish and Lee were very keen to provide residents with new and exciting things to do – they’ve given me plenty of support to get started and we now have somewhere to keep the bikes.
“I have seven bikes that are currently in private storage. I used to have more before I moved out of my house, but I’ve given three away!”
Tony was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1998. As a side effect of the disease, he lives with Dyskinesia – a form of uncontrollable, sudden movements that can make it difficult for him to move around. But he firmly believes that taking an active role in sport has greatly helped him cope with his illness. In Tony’s words: “I can hardly walk, but I can ride a bike 20 miles.”
Cycling is more than just a hobby for Tony, who started racing when he was only 16 years old and carried on competing with a local club until he was 66 – and he’s still a member to this day.
He was also a successful cycling coach, gaining his coaching qualification with the British Cycle Racing Federation in 1969 and mentoring many national champions, several World Championship competitors and a Tour de France rider before his Parkinson’s diagnosis caused him to retire after 30 years.
But Tony doesn’t let his illness stop him enjoying his bike rides, and he’s already planned a route for the Sneydlands cycling group. He says, “There’s an excellent traffic-free flat route we could us, which is about 8 miles in total. The aim is not to produce 80-year-old racing cyclists, but to help those residents who would like to try riding a bike again. That’s what it’s all about really, just making people happy.”
He adds, “I’ve been made to feel so welcome here. When I arrived at Sneydlands, I gave a talk to the other residents to explain my condition and how Parkinson’s affects me, and everybody was really understanding. Lee even organised a cream tea to raise money for Parkinson’s. We raised £470 in total. Lee and Trish are absolutely brilliant.”
Patricia Roberts comments, “When people move home at a later stage of life they sometimes assume they have to leave any hobbies behind. But just because you’re moving, it shouldn’t mean you stop doing what you enjoy. We want to ensure our residents are able to continue their hobbies or even learn new ones when they move into our homes.
“We were delighted when Tony told us about his plans for a cycle group. It’s a great social opportunity for residents to get out, exercise, discover their local area by bike and most importantly have some fun!”