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Trishaw bike brings joy to residents of Belvilla Community Unit

Nursing home residents were able to feel the wind in their hair once again thanks to the rollout of an exciting new project that saw Belvilla Community Unit in Dublin get its own trishaw bike.

Belvilla is one of the first HSE Community Nursing Units in Ireland to lead the charge and implement this innovative scheme. They teamed up with Cycling without Age and Zendesk to obtain the sponsorship for the trishaw.

Now the residents, many of whom haven't been out of the unit in a long time, have been given the opportunity to get out and about and see how their local community has developed. It also allows them to foster relationships with volunteers and tell their stories of life in Dublin.  

As a dementia champion, Senior Occupational Therapist Aoife Tighe can attest to the breadth of research on the benefits of engagement in meaningful activities, social interaction, and maintaining contact with the community for people with dementia and the few trishaw outings that residents at Belvilla had to date have confirmed that. 

“There is lots of anecdotal evidence on the efficacy of the project itself in terms on wellbeing and quality of life, and formal research projects are currently being undertaken overseas,” said Aoife.

“We have taken trips along the canal and really enjoy heading through the Tenters to Weaver Park, ending up in a shaded spot to enjoy some people-watching and ice-cream. Children and dogs find us particularly fascinating and come over to have a closer inspection. We've also had fun sitting in the sun listening to the bells of the Cathedral in St Patrick's park and chatting to tourists about our ‘contraption’.”

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She explained how the link-up with Zendesk, an international IT company, came about.

“I approached Clara Clark from Cycling Without Age after seeing one of the trishaws being launched on the evening news. Luckily for us she had been in contact with Zendesk who were looking to sponsor a bike in Dublin and allow their staff to volunteer. Their headquarters are on Charlemont on the canal so we were a perfect fit. Zendesk have a very robust Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ethos. They sponsor several bikes around the world already and their staff take time out during their working week to volunteer off site on numerous projects,” Aoife explained.

She revealed that one of the nursing home residents, Nancy, has struck up a great friendship with Morgan, one of the Zendesk volunteers.

“They have much in common having both lived in Toronto, and Nancy worked in computers there too. Nancy is a great conversationalist and has been regaling us with wonderful stories along the way. She really sparkles when she gets this opportunity. She tells me that she ‘always says yes to an adventure’ and loves getting out as it ‘gives me freedom’,” said the occupational therapist.

Betty, another resident, was absolutely delighted to have two gentlemen escort her out on her trip – Morgan and Ed. She took a particular fancy to Ed and was keen to tell him she'd be ‘a great catch as I have a good pension’!

“Having been out several times with Betty, I can see the benefit she gets from these opportunities. She particularly enjoyed our last trip which went past her old bus stop. This led to some lovely reminiscing about walking through to her job on Grafton Street and prompted her to say ‘I haven't been here in years, the park looks great and I remember this place well’,” said Aoife.

“Kathleen also loves the trishaw and is keen to go out on every trip. As soon as she hops off she asks to ‘go again soon’. She particularly enjoyed our recent spin through the Liberties as she lived there for many years. She said she felt ‘like the Queen’ waving at old neighbours and having people look in amazement at the trishaw. Speaking afterwards she acknowledges that she ‘loves to get out as much as I can’ and the trishaw is another way to facilitate this.

“Speaking for myself and the volunteers, we have also really enjoyed taking part in this project. I have to admit it is a real highlight for me.”

She highlighted the amount of work that has gone into getting this project to this point.

“There has been a lot of work undertaken from the ground up - marketing ourselves to Cycling without Age and Zendesk to obtain sponsorship, undergoing pilot training and ‘train the trainer’ training, liaising with our insurance underwriters, writing a volunteer handbook, shepherding volunteers through vetting, cultivating volunteer relationships and, of course, raising awareness and interest in the residents and their families. 

“This quality initiative would not have been possible without the support of the Dublin South Central Primary Care Occupational Therapy managers and the management team of Bellvilla Community Unit. We are very grateful for the partnership with Zendesk and Cycling without Age and the wonderful way it has impacted on our residents,” Aoife added.

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