Pierre Englebert is a volunteer for Cycling Without Age, a movement started in Denmark by Ole Kassow in 2012. Ever since the movement has become global and is now present in 28 countries. Luxembourg joined in last year and the local branch is known as Velo ouni Alter (www.veloounialter.lu). The goal is to offer the elderly people with limited mobility a bicycle ride and enable them to again be part of the society and gain a whole new mobility. It is an act of generosity, trust in the local community and creating relationships between generations.
Gosia (B:loft): Pierre, you have been engaged in Cycling Without Age since its very beginning. What it took to bring this initiative to Luxembourg?
About a year and half ago, I saw on Facebook a post about a new initiative in Luxembourg concerning bikes. I learned from the post that anybody interested was welcome to join a meeting the following day! It made me curious, so I went even though I had a very vague idea what it was about. Helle Windt, a Danish lady living in Luxembourg and who has been a classmate of Ole Kassow, came up with an idea to implement the project of Cycling without Age in Luxembourg. I had never heard about this project before but quickly figured out why it was an excellent idea. The Danish ambassador, Mrs Louise Bang Jespersen, had as well promoted this project together with the Ministry of Sustainable Development. Subsequently, Fondation Pescatore was contacted, both Patrick Vandenbosch, the director, and Florence Marth, the head of the therapy department, got involved in the project. Ever since they have been actively supporting Cycling without Age in Luxembourg.
What appealed to you in this movement that made you want to join it and become a pilot?
I think the idea of people cooperating closer together is spreading. Slowly, our minds are turning from money-oriented to solidarity-minded, which should be a priority for what is the “smartest” animal on earth. While business -oriented, we tend to split our life into boxes to optimise the general profit (not only in terms of $) but we have to admit we can’t go much further without considering human as being a simple machine. Cycling Without Age is a great idea to “remix” some boxes together and re-initiate sharing between people and in this particular case between generations. It reminds me of a similar experience when I was in primary school in a rural area. There, nothing was done for the disabled and therefore the school accepted a young boy called Henri (probably an autistic child) and Henri spent his time with many of us. We learned a lot from him and Henri had for sure a better life rather than being excluded from society. Maybe Cycling Without Age will also help the elderly and young sporty people to socialise and share instead of being kept in our different boxes.
The movement is guided by five principles (generosity, slow cycling, relationships, storytelling and without age) and is based on voluntary work. What conditions need to be met by future volunteers?
Ha Gosia what a question! The strength of nature is its diversity: each tree is unique, each swallow is unique, each human being is unique and there are millions of trees, millions of swallows, millions of humans while all of us are part of the nature regardless of our strengths or weaknesses. It holds true for Cycling Without Age as well. Everybody is welcome and each of us will contribute their own experience to make the project grow. We are open-minded and asking for a specific experience would be a restriction. If you want to share your time, feel free.
Fondation Pescatore has decided, after a trial period, to continue the initiative and purchase a new trishaw as it is called. I had a pleasure to have a ride with you and a new volunteer, Anna Parszyk. The bicycle is quite fancy and comfortable. Tell us how this bicycle has been customised to fit its purpose?
It is a tricycle with a strengthened frame able to support two adults. It is about 90cm wide and a special removing platform was adapted to allow people to step in without the need to lift their feet too high. Of course, it comes with a special blanket and a folding hood to protect the passengers when the weather isn’t nice. As a pilot, I also like an electric assistance. In Luxembourg City it is really necessary. Of course I tested the bike as a pilot but also as a passenger and I can tell you it is a very comfortable engine.
Do you envisage that this movement will gain in popularity in Luxembourg and will spread beyond Fondation Pescatore?
Yes of course ! We are now reorganizing ourselves as our environment has changed: the new bike is much more comfortable and allows us to offer longer rides. The elevator to Pfaffenthal opens new ride possibilities down there. Soon a wide cycle path on the red bridge will give us access to Kirchberg. For sure these new opportunities will deliver wonderful experiences and we will be able to propose our services to other nursing homes either in the city of Luxembourg or outside. Give us a few months of practice and we’ll be ready to propose the service to others.