The inspiration for Companion Cycling came from the Cobbett family, whose daughter Jo was afflicted with viral encephalitis at the age of 6. During her rehabilitation at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, the physios adapted her favourite activities to help build her strength and co-ordination. As a keen cyclist, she was delighted when they presented her with a trike, which was soon fitted with a back rest and pedal straps, followed by the basket from her old two wheeler, which she had learnt to ride only the year before along a flat roadway through Richmond Park.
Jo proved that a blind person with epilepsy and moderate spasticity can cycle, given the right support, although keeping pace with her in order to steer the trike was no mean feat! Some years later, when Jo and I were introduced to side-by-side cycling at her school in Wandsworth, our immediate reaction was ‘we need to have bikes like this in the Park’. Another few years later, I was finally in a position to get it going. As the carer’s development worker for Richmond Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) I had a brief to research and develop services for family caregivers, essentially to initiate the development of a Carers Centre, which I did. The CVS kindly permitted me to extend the brief to include a pioneering cycle project and the rest is history.
A great many people were involved in establishing Companion Cycling. Our partners in the early days were the CVS, South West London Community Foundation, South West London Contact a Family and the London Cycling Campaign as well as the good people at the Royal Parks, but endless friends and colleagues also lent a hand in ways both large and small. They did so because it was a cracking good idea to offer the adventure of cycling to people who through chance often wind up with little more than the bare essentials for living. For them, a project like Companion Cycling represents the icing on the cake, a lifeline which is truly irreplaceable.
By launching in 1996, we were taking a gamble, as everyone involved in running the scheme needed to earn a living and none of us could spare the time to sustain it in the longer term. But friends of friends and voluntary sector partners came to the rescue, and the committee expanded to include those amazing local people whose retirement, it is true to say, has largely been taken over by Companion Cycling. These are the people you will be meeting in the course of your volunteering.
Companion Cycling became a Charitable Trust in 2001 and now has six Trustees, while our volunteer workforce has grown from just two to around 50. The volume of use, amounting to around 4,000 rides a year, is sufficient to sustain the scheme without further fundraising, given that the supply of volunteers shows no signs of drying up. Enjoyment is the key to what we do, and while it is shared by all who participate there is little prospect that this happy state of affairs will end.
JC, December 2015
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