Why you’re never too old to explore fresh directions to change your life

With more people living longer, the retirement age is being pushed back. Chris Bond talks to three older people about continuing to find fulfilment.

BY 2020, the state pension age will have risen to 66 for both men and women and in the years to come that figure is going to rise as people live longer.

The fact we’re staying fitter and healthier for longer is a cause for celebration but the burgeoning cost of our ageing population is putting pressure on our economy and public finances at a time when the Government is trying to cut the national deficit.

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The upshot of this will be that more of us will have to work well into our 70s in the future. Those who earn enough money during their working lives will be able to make provision for their old age, but many more will be forced to work longer than previous generations to stay above the poverty line – even though, at the other end of the spectrum, we also have worryingly high levels of unemployment among young people, many of whom are struggling to get a toe-hold on the career ladder.

Apprentice star Nick Hewer, who met pensioners for a BBC season of programmes, recently criticised the system saying “people have the right to enjoy their old age with dignity and comfort.”

No one, surely, would disagree with that but what about those people who are retired now – what is life like for them and what can we do to make our retirement more enjoyable and satisfying, whether spending most of our time in leisure or choosing to continue to work in some capacity? Here, three people talk about their different experiences.

Roger Godden, 64, of Leeds. At the age of 61, having worked for the same company his entire working life, Roger Godden took early retirement three years ago. He had started out as a tea boy and worked his way up to company director. Having left his job he decided to go to university.

“I left school with a couple of O-levels and I never had the opportunity to go when I was younger, so I wanted to prove I could do it,” he says.

He applied to study philosophy and was offered a place at Leeds University, where he graduated with a 2:1 last week. “Shortly before I started the course I went to my golf club one day for lunch and I overheard two guys talking and one of them asked the other what he was doing later and he said he was peeling some potatoes, and I thought ‘My God, I’m glad I’m going to be using my brain’.”

He found his university experience exhilarating. “It kept me alert because I had to compete with the younger students to make sure I kept up with them.”

Prior to his studies Roger ran seminars in several local schools teaching students interview and time management skills aimed at helping them in the workplace.

While at university he found that although many graduates had excellent CVs many of them had little idea what employers were looking for. It was then that he came up with the idea of creating a mobile phone app so more students could access his seminars and his Interview Bites app is now available on both Apple and Google play stores.

He believes there are more opportunities for retired people than ever before. “The internet has made a big difference but it’s easy to drift once you retire. A friend of mine who’s a decorator talked for years about retiring, but when he did he looked lost because he had nothing to do and he ended up going back to work.”

Since retiring, Roger has been able to spend more time with his family and do what he wants to do. “I play in a rock ‘n’ roll band and I’ve started doing water colour painting because I’ve never done it before. People say ‘I’d like to do that’ but they never do. It’s like they’re waiting for something to happen. I can’t do that, I need to have structure and some kind of excitement in my life. Water colour painting might not sound exciting, but it is when you can’t do it.”

Now that he’s finished his university degree he’s already looking at what he might do next. “My wife said to me I’m going to have to find something else and she’s right because going to university was a fantastic experience, it was hard work but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

Roger is in the fortunate position that he doesn’t need to work, unlike many others who have to keep working beyond 65.

“I do feel sorry for those people who have to keep working because there isn’t much support for older people. There’s even been talk about stopping free bus passes and prescriptions, which I think is outrageous,” he says.

“Some people say the grey brigade are a drain on society but they forget just how much they have contributed during their working lives and that shouldn’t be disregarded.”

For Roger, retirement is about finding new challenges. “Life doesn’t stop at 64, it begins. My maxim is every night is a Saturday night and the weekend starts on Monday afternoon. Life is for living and as long as you have your health, everything else is a bonus.”

David Morton, 74, Ilkley.

David retired from full-time work in his mid-50s. Since then he has worked in theatre education and spent five years as an Ofsted schools inspector. For the past seven years he’s been involved with the University of the Third Age, a learning co-operative for older people, and he is now a U3A regional trustee for Yorkshire and the Humber.

He has a lifelong love of theatre and drama and has held workshops and produced amateur plays throughout his life. He became involved with the U3A after talking to a friend and through the organisation he runs two or three drama workshops each year.

He says that being creative can have huge benefits as you get older. “Studies have shown that it’s a great way to exercise your brain and your memory, as well as being fun.”

David likes to keep busy and the reasons, he says, are simple. “I don’t want to become a cabbage and I want to learn and have new experiences. Plus, my wife is 15 years younger than me and she’s still working. If I was just sitting around doing nothing that wouldn’t go down very well. But also drama and theatre are something of an obsession for me, I’ve been doing it all my life and I find it very enriching.”

He feels that choosing to work, rather than being forced to because you can’t afford to retire, is important. “Some people are lucky because they can choose if they work or not and that is the key, being able to do what you want to do.” But he also believes it’s important for pensioners not to be afraid of trying new things. “I’d never done aqua exercise before but a friend of mine was running a class and said I should give it a go, so I did and the fact I was aching afterwards means it probably me some good. The challenge is to do things with other people and learn something new and make decisions that allow you to live your life to the full.”

Margaret Davison-Scott, 68, Driffield. After retiring from the civil service in her mid-50s, Margaret went on to work part-time for a local council doing two jobs, including one in a library. “I really enjoyed that and it was great because I was able to go on extended holidays and come back and the job was still there.” But when she reached 65, rules at the time meant she had to leave both posts. “I liked to go on activity holidays to places like Vietnam but now I couldn’t afford that, which came as a bit of a blow.”

Her daughter had just finished university and was still living at home. “I felt I had all the disadvantages of being a single parent. I was a homeowner and houses need repairs and suddenly I was having to dip into my savings.”

Not long afterwards she heard a conversation between some friends who mentioned they were going to the Canary Islands to house-sit someone’s apartment. “It was those two words ‘house sitting’ that got me thinking and I started looking into whether I could do the same thing with people’s pets.”

This was nearly four years ago and since then Margaret has travelled to the United States several times, as well as France and Ireland to look after people’s cats and dogs while they’re away, in exchange for living in their house for weeks or even months at a time.

“I have to pay for my flights, but apart from that I don’t spend much because they look after you and make sure you have enough food and provisions. I spend more money when I’m back home.”

For Margaret it’s been a great way of seeing the world without spending a fortune and it’s brought an added dimension to her life. “I only choose places I want to visit and it’s worked out really well and I’ve met some wonderful people,” she says.

“My biggest fear when I stopped working was I would be cut off from the world but now when I’m back home I’m busy all the time. I spend time working with jazz musicians, or I’m at the health club or out in my garden – there’s always something to do.

“You spend your life working your finger to the bone and juggling family commitments, so I think it’s only right at this point in your life that you should be able to start thinking about yourself.”

THE UK’S AGEING POPULATION

The number of people aged 80 and over is growing faster than any other part of the population.

The fastest increase has been in those aged 85-plus. Over the last 30 years the number of centenarians, those people aged 100 years or more, in the UK has increased sharply from 2,500 in 1980 to 12,640 in 2010.

In the last 25 years the number of people aged 16 or under has decreased from 21 per cent to 19 per cent. By 2034, 23 per cent will be 65-plus and 18 per cent under 16.

In the UK, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 1.4 million people above the state pension age were still employed in 2011, compared with 753,000 in 1993.

According to Age UK just under a third of people aged between 65 and 74 participate in some form of volunteering.

It is estimated that 16 per cent of people over the state pension age live in poverty, while 3.3 million are affected by fuel poverty.