Tuesday 29th January, Yorkshire: As someone who relied on her bike to get her everywhere, great-grandmother Alice Wilson was left devastated when she was forced to give up cycling after losing her sight. The 82-year-old from Pickering became partially blind around four years ago and despite laser treatment making a difference, she had given up hope of ever getting back on the saddle again.
All that changed following a chance meeting with Rob Brown, from Scarborough and Ryedale Community Cycling, who introduced her to the Coast and Dale Yorkshire Bank Bike Library.
Run in partnership with Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries (YBBL), along with charity Sight Support, the scheme offers blind people the opportunity to ride tandem on restored unwanted bikes for free.
The project has given Alice - who has seven children, 14 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren - a new lease of life and the chance to fall back in love with cycling again.
Alice Wilson said: “I have been partially sighted for four years, ever since my husband had a stroke. It was the pressure of looking after him that caused all the blood vessels to go wrong in my eye. I struggle with faces and when I realised my vision was going, I just cried and cried because I could hardly see until I had the laser treatment.
"I’ve never driven a car - as I used to cycle everywhere. I didn’t want to give my bike up because it was my main means of transport, but it got taken away and I never saw it again.
"Then one day Rob was walking his dog and I was walking my guide dog. We started talking and he introduced me to the Yorkshire Bank Bike Library and asked if I would like to ride a tandem.
“I told him I would love to and I’ve done it ever since. It’s wonderful to be back on a bike and we went to Leeds and did about 20 miles on one of my first rides. It felt like I had my freedom back and just being able to hold the handle bars again was great.”
There are 57 donation stations across Yorkshire where unwanted and unused bikes are donated and refurbished for use across 61 libraries where people who don’t have access to a bike can borrow one for free.
The project was launched as a legacy of the Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire in 2014 - in addition to Yorkshire Bank sponsoring the Tour de Yorkshire since the first race in 2015.
So far more than 6,000 bikes have been cleaned up, repaired avoided landfill and are now available for children and families to borrow for a range of activities. These include guided rides, basic bike skills, maintenance courses or simply just for riding.
Having written off ever being able to ride a bike again after doctors told her there was nothing they could do for her, Alice admits she doesn’t know where she would be without the scheme.
Alice added: “Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries help so many people and it’s given a lot of people, including myself, a chance to do things they couldn’t do beforehand. It’s a wonderful thing that they’ve started, and I love it. I’d never heard of it before Rob introduced me, I didn’t know there was such a thing, but it really is a fantastic scheme.
“It was a wonderful feeling getting back on the bike again, you can’t explain the feeling you get when you’re on a bike - the feeling I got was absolutely amazing. Meeting Rob and being introduced to this project is one of the best things I could have ever done, because he got me back riding again. The help I get from the scheme means everything to me.”
Rob Brown runs the Coast and Dale Bike Library, part of the Scarborough & Ryedale Community Cycling Centre, from the unique venue of Scarborough Victorian Prison. He has no doubts about the impact it’s had on Alice’s life.
Rob said: “Since joining the scheme, Alice has blossomed as it’s given her a new sense of purpose.
“As an elderly lady it’s easy to feel a bit invisible, but Alice has become an ambassador for the scheme. She always talks to other people about it and encourages other members of the sight support group to have a go. It’s been lovely to see how it’s given her a new sense of direction.”
4 years ago
Written by Lauren Mackenzie