Connagh Aspinall is a 24 year old, with Cerebal Palsy. He lives in Shipston-On-Stour, originally from Lancashire, and he is absolutely committed to making the most of every day.
As a very active member of Heart of England Mencap’s Cyc-Ability group, which meets every Thursday at the Recreation Ground in Stratford Upon Avon, Connagh has agreed to share his story of living with a disability and the challenges of participating in physical activities and getting involved with every day activities with his family and peers.
Connagh and the Cyc-Ability group are the latest fantastic feature of Think Active’s Moving Stories campaign. Moving Stories aims to shine a light on everyday people, who are using sport to improve all elements of their wellbeing.
Heart of England Mencap is a charity that supports people with learning disabilities across Warwickshire and Worcestershire, with a HQ in Stratford Upon Avon. The charity recently received grant funding from Think Active in support of the acquisition of a new specialist Trike, which enables wheelchair users to participate in cycling activities on an equal level to their peers.
Connagh has been joining in the sessions on a Thursday in Stratford for more than a year now and very rarely misses an opportunity to get on board his specially customised trike and speedily do laps of the Rec ground.
“I absolutely love coming to Cyc-Ability, I even came straight from the airport after getting home from a family holiday one time.” Explains Connagh.
“Being a part of the group has really given me such a fantastic opportunity to re-ignite my love of cycling. I had a trike when I was younger, but out-grew it in my early teenager years. So when I joined Cyc-Ability, it was after a period of about 10 years where I hadn’t ridden at all.”
Kate Buttrick coordinates the Cyc-Ability group for Heart of England Mencap, and has been instrumental in helping the sessions thrive and grow, with more than 25 people regularly attending every week and new bikes and trikes being funded to accommodate people with a wide variety of additional needs.
“All the bikes and trikes we use, have to be bought from a specialist supplier called Tomcat, who are based in Gloucester as they’re all customised and tailored to the needs of our members.” Kate tells us.
“The trike that Connagh pedals himself, has had a special device fitted to the right pedal, which compensates for the weakness he has from the Cerebal Palsy which affects his right hand side. This was a bespoke customisation of the Trike made by one of our dedicated volunteers, who was an engineer in a former life!”
“The wheelchair accesible trike Think Active helped to fund has been brilliant, as it enables us to get Wheelchair users fully engaged in the activities, this one and the side-by-side bike comes from a specialist maker in Holland.”
It is very clear that the ethos and mission behind the Cyc-Ability group is about inclusivity and accessibility. Which is a true testament to the efforts of Kate and the Heart of England Mencap team.
Think Active managed the Sport England fund for support of groups and activities following the Covid19 Pandemic and Heart of England Mencap were one of the many groups in Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull to receive funding like this. Abi Dixon from Think Active said:
“The Cyc-Ability group in Stratford-Upon-Avon are the epitome of inclusive sports for anyone to be able to access. Their weekly sessions are a brilliant way of encouraging people with a learning disability to be able to get outside, socialise with other people and have a really lovely morning exercising in a safe environment. Connagh is a local legend and it is brilliant to see his enthusiasm and support for the group and Heart of England Mencap as a charity as well.”
The Heart of England Mencap’s Cyc-Ability group have been meeting on the Rec ground in Stratford Upon Avon for quite some time and they’ve gathered support from a number of partners who have provided grant funding and infrastructure improvements, including the District Council who built a bike store alongside the old pavilion building.
There has also been a mini ‘road circuit’ created at the bottom end of the rec ground, which imitates real road ways, with mini traffic lights and street signs and recognisable Stratford road names. This is really helpful to members with dementia, memory loss or brain injuries, helping them experience real world scenarios in a safe environment.
The group were also able to be involved with the Baton Relay events that took place in 2022 as part of Birmingham’s Commonwealth games, which Connagh was a part of and acquired his red cycling helmet, which he still wears with pride every week.
Connagh is one of the youngest members of the Cyc-Ability group, but he is by no means the quietest. He is a key member of the ‘Reach Out’ group, a stakeholder consultation team, who meet every 6 weeks to give advice and feedback to the Heart of England Mencap Services, as well as other local and national organisations – sharing their expert knowledge and experience of living with a learning disability.
Connagh talks openly and comfortably about his disability and the difficulties that has bought with it while growing up and being able to participate fully in regular activities with his family and peers.
“It isn’t always easy, when you have a disability like Cerebal Palsy, to be able to do the things that others take for granted. Spending time with my family, going out for the day or playing games has to be planned and thought about.”
“The Cyc-Ability group has had such a positive impact on me. It gives me something to look forward to every week, it has introduced me to new friends and made me exercise for the first time in years. I’m now starting to plan going to play golf with my Dad, which I can’t wait for.” Connagh Continues.
“My Grandad was a keen cyclist and I have very fond memories of him riding. Grandad passed away in 2015, and now, every-time I get on my trike, it is like I’m paying homage and respect to his memory. That makes me feel really happy and close to him as well!”
Connagh isn’t letting his Cerebal Palsy slow him down, or get in the way of any of his other plans for the future…. Which he hopes will include romance some time soon.
“I know this isn’t a dating profile and is an article about my exercise and Cyc-Ability, but I’d just like to say that I’m 24, single and ready to mingle. I’d love to meet a lady from the Stratford area, in her 20s and perhaps who has Cerebal Palsy too, so we can support each other…”
So if you would like to find out more about Cyc-Ability, Heart of England Mencap or Connagh’s availability for dates, visit the Heart of England Mencap website – or find them on Stratford Upon Avon Recreation Ground every Thursday from 10.30am…