Volunteers are changing lives

Meet the members of the Causeway Blind and Partially Sighted Tandem Club.

The club, based at the Blind Centre in Coleraine, was relaunched last week, sporting brand new Club jerseys.

In a special feature this week, Times journalist Nichola Neill met up with the members to find out how the club has changed lives.

Meeting once a week, volunteers from the Causeway Cycle Club, act as pilots on the front of the club’s six tandem bikes - on the rear, blind and partially sighted members enjoy trips around the coast.

Chairman of the Causeway Blind and Partially Sighted Tandem Club, Robert Downes, who is also chairman of the Causeway Cycle Club explained: “We have seen so many lives changed through this club.

“It has been amazing to see how some of these people have grown in confidence - by simply jumping on the back of the tandem.”

Robert went on to thank the general public for their support for the Club.

“I just want to personally thank anyone who has donated money to the Club - this has helped us to buy bikes and equipment - without that help we wouldn’t be here today.”

With members of all ages and abilities - the Club meets every Wednesday. In the winter they train inside at what Robert called ‘turbo training’, like a spin class.

Not content with cycling routes around the Triangle, the Club have also been further afield.

Robert explained: “We took some members on a trip to Portugal a few years ago.

“We cycled 150 miles whilst we were there, and it was a great trip for everyone.”

72-year-old Elizabeth Chestnutt from Coleraine, who has been a member of the Club since 2009 told us why she enjoys being part of the Club.

“It keeps me young,” joked Elizabeth.

“I have been partially sighted since 2005. After my husband died, I had got myself into a bit of a rut, but this wee Club gets me out of the house, and I really love it. I’ll be here every Wednesday night as long as my health allows me.

Elizabeth said: “It is difficult for the pilot cyclist too, we have to have a lot of trust in them, but what I will say is that the craic is great out there.”

Ballymoney woman Stephanie Stewart (27) has been blind since birth.

Stephanie told The Times that she hadn’t been on a bike since she was a child, until she joined.

“It is really wonderful to get out there and feel the wind in your hair.

“We sing silly songs with the cyclists on the front, and to be honest we have a great relationship with them all. We don’t always go out with the same person, so there’s plenty of chat whoever I am paired up with.

Stephanie, who described herself as a ‘bit of a daredevil’ recalled the trip to Portugal, and the feeling of ‘freedom’ as her and her pilot cyclist free-wheeled down a steep hill. “It was just amazing,” she said.

If you would like more information about the Club, call at the Blind Centre or come along on a Wednesday night at 6.30.