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98-year-old woman takes on Captain Tom-style cycle challenge for homelessness

Diana O’Flynn is cycling on an exercise bike in her front room in honour of her great grandmother Katherine Price Hughes who launched homelessness charity West London Mission in 1887

Captain Sir Tom Moore rewrote the rule book for nonagenarian charity campaigners as his lockdown heroics for the NHS proved age is no barrier to making a difference. 

Now a 98-year-old woman has got on her bike to raise funds for a homelessness charity, much like her great-grandmother did 134 years ago when she launched the charity West London Mission. 

Diana O’Flynn has turned lockdown boredom and confinement into the ‘Around the Sitting Room in 80 Days’ challenge which will see her cycling on an exercise bike from her arm-chair everyday until June 30.

The challenge is in aid of homelessness charity West London Mission (WLM) – set up in 1887 by Diana’s great grandmother Katherine Price Hughes.

Diana’s granddaughter Jovie McMillian told The Big Issue: “She’s doing really well. Because we’ve raised more than the £1,000 she said she has been cycling more every day just because people have been paying more. She’s loving it, she gets excited every time a donation comes in and she calls me to say ‘Look, did you see?’.”

Diana told Times Radio “people have been very kind and generous” in supporting the campaign but was modest about the challenge. She said: “I really don’t think it’s very impressive because I’m sitting in a comfortable chair in my own sitting room.”

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Diana’s challenge stemmed from Covid-19 lockdown boredom when she asked Jovie to send an exercise bike to her home in Ottery St Mary, Devon.

From there, Diana – a former teacher in prisons – has stepped up her cycling and launched a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year to raise funds for WLM. Diana has already smashed her £1,000 funding goal and she has raised more than £1,700 so far.

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Her goal of cycling half an hour every day on the exercise bike has not been straightforward.

Diana recently broke an elbow in a fall but Jovie told The Big Issue that her grandmother continued to show resilience and spirit not unlike another nonagenarian lockdown fundraising hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore.

“I think most people were inspired by Captain Tom but I don’t know if it’s a direct thing – she’s always done charity work of some description.” Jovie added. 

“She did a glider flight once, she’s been skiing, cycling around the Pyrenees. She’s very active and she doesn’t say no to anything. But maybe Captain Tom did nudge her along.

“When she fell over and broke a bone in her elbow, she called me and said: “Listen, I’ve done something silly but don’t worry I can still cycle”.  She’s still knitting at the same time. She does all her own stunts.”

Diana’s family links to WLM remain strong. One of the charity’s services is still named in honour of her ancestor. The WLM Katherine Price Hughes (KPH) service provides accommodation to house 20 ex-offenders leaving prison to help them with their transition into mainstream society.

“We are so incredibly grateful to Diana for her efforts on our behalf. We are very proud of our founders Katherine and Hugh Price Hughes,” said WLM’s chief executive Roger Clark.

“Just like her great grandparents, Diana has shown an amazing commitment to helping people who have found life difficult. Following an incredibly challenging year responding to the pandemic Diana has inspired us to keep empowering positive change for those we serve.”

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