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Friston man with dementia to cycle 300 miles around East Anglia on a penny farthing

PUBLISHED: 12:46 29 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 25 June 2019

Peter Berry, of Friston, on his penny farthing

Peter Berry, of Friston, on his penny farthing

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Peter Berry isn't letting dementia stop him cycling 300 miles around East Anglia, on a penny farthing, to raise money and awareness | Words: Jayne Lindill

To cycle 300 miles around East Anglia for charity is one thing. To do it on a penny farthing is quite another. To also do it when you have dementia takes it into another realm altogether. But that's what Peter Berry, of Friston, is doing.

At the age of 54, Peter has early onset Alzheimer's which affects his memory. While for most of us, a five-day cycle ride through the East Anglian countryside would be a memorable occasion, Peter will remember little or nothing of where he's been or the people he's met.

Not that he lets it get him down. Peter's whole approach to coping with his illness is strikingly positive. It's not the end of life, he says, just a different life, and one in which cycling plays a big part in keeping him as fit and well as he can be.

The Four Counties Challenge ride starts on June 23 when Peter and his team will set off from outside the Old Chequers pub in Friston to cycle about 50 miles a day through Suffolk to Cambridgeshire, up into Lincolnshire and around Norfolk.

Peter Berry and his wife Teresa share an active interest in gardening and enjoy relaxing in this spot.Peter Berry and his wife Teresa share an active interest in gardening and enjoy relaxing in this spot.

He'll be raising money for Young Dementia UK, a cause he supported last year when he rode from Wales to Suffolk, raising more than £6,000. This time, though, he'll be challenging himself a bit further by doing it on his penny farthing bicycle.

Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 50. He was running the family firm, a timber saw milling business when the first symptoms appeared as a series of mistakes at work.

His memory started to fail, he couldn't remember customers' orders, familiar calculations and measurements became difficult. "I'd meet somebody in the morning, see them a day later and have no knowledge of meeting them before," he says. "I had ways of coping, but it got to the point where I couldn't run the business and had to let go of it."

A period of severe depression followed when Peter admits dementia overwhelmed him, but he battled through it, helped by his wife, Teresa, and daughter, Kate, and by his naturally positive personality.

The cyclists received a warm welcome in Aldeburgh Picture: PETER BERRYThe cyclists received a warm welcome in Aldeburgh Picture: PETER BERRY

"I realised that if somebody as positive as me could be brought down by this illness, it could do so much worse to other people." His big mistake, he says, was to keep quiet about his condition out of embarrassment.

"But having some sort of network with people in the same age group is very important. It can save people from depression," he says.

A cyclist throughout most of his adult life, Peter decided to make it the focus of his life and believes physical exercise has played a big part in managing his illness.

"Cycling has given me a new sense of purpose, a different life and helps me stay independent." Cycling with dementia is not without risks, of course, and Peter is supported by his cycling partner, Deb Bunt, who lives in Saxmundham.

They met when Peter helped to fix Deb's faulty bike and struck up a friendship. Now the pair regularly cycle together which, says Peter, helps him to keep going.

"It's given me so much opportunity to cycle and do what I want, which is important for independence. It's also great for my wife as she's able to continue working three days a week, knowing that I'm with someone she trusts. It's very important that my family see that I'm coping."

While he has good and bad days, Peter's way of coping with his dementia is to let people into his world, however obscure that might be sometimes.

His mantra is that 'life isn't over with dementia, it's just a little different'. He produces a weekly video blog in which he discusses his condition openly and answers questions from viewers.

Peter Berry and fellow cyclists enjoy a warm welcome in Aldeburgh Picture: PETER BERRYPeter Berry and fellow cyclists enjoy a warm welcome in Aldeburgh Picture: PETER BERRY

He's also taken part in a Channel 4 documentary, The Restaurant that Makes Mistakes, due to be aired this year.

Along with 14 others with early onset dementia, he participated in a pop-up restaurant to demonstrate that the world of work should still be available to those with dementia and that they can still contribute in meaningful ways.

"People with dementia have all been somebody," he says. "Many have been professional people - engineers, lawyers, barristers, surgeons - we're from all walks of life and we still have a part to play. We're not due for the scrap heap yet."

Peter Berry, of Friston, with his penny farthingPeter Berry, of Friston, with his penny farthing

To support Peter Berry by donating to the Four Counties Challenge go to this link

Find out more about early onset dementia at youngdementiauk.org.

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