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Best years are yet to come

28 June 2013

Retirement presents challenges, but also new opportunities, Huw Spanner discovers


Time release: retirement makes space for pursuits such as travel

Time release: retirement makes space for pursuits such as travel

THE popular image of retirement used to be that when you reached 65 - 60, if you were a woman - you got a gold watch or a clock for your mantelpiece, and you went off to live out your sunset years as a senior citizen.

Whatever truth there once was in that picture, today the reality is much more fluid. The present age of austerity means that, as the public sector contracts, businesses are restructured, and the public purse is tightened, more people are finding themselves obliged or persuaded to retire early, whether they want to or not.

Others are discovering that - as prices continue to rise, and savings dwindle, owing to low interest rates - they cannot afford to stop work, and have to carry on, if only with work as part of a new "portfolio". Meanwhile, the Government is slowly raising the age at which the state pension begins.

As the average lifespan in the UK increases - by ten years for a man, and eight for a woman, since 1960 - the media declare that 60 (or is it 70 now?) is the new 40. And, as Rolling Stones headline at Glastonbury this year (Mick Jagger is a month shy of 70), no one is sure any more when the "third age" is meant to begin, how long it is likely to last, and whether it should be spent winding down or living it up.

THE director of the Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy, the Revd Kathy Lloyd Roberts, says. "Retirement is a very different issue for different people. Some of that is to do with finance - a lot of people now are feeling a bit vulnerable - and some of it is to do with attitude of mind.

"Some people hit retirement and think: 'Oh, how wonderful. I've got all this freedom.' But after a while, they become very unsettled when they realise there's not enough structure to their lives - they don't actually have to get up in the morning - and they miss the camaraderie of work." Clergy, in particular, can feel acutely the loss of relationships when they leave their last congregation.

Loss of status is another issue. Canon David Winter, the author of The Highway Code for Retirement (CWR, 2012), says: "When I retired the first time, from the BBC [where he was head of religious broadcasting], I became a vicar and I was no longer the boss. The people who worked with me were volunteers; I couldn't tell them what to do.

"A lot of men suffer from this loss when they retire. Some try to regain it, by becoming churchwardens, or whatever, and throwing their weight around, because that's what they've been used to in their working lives."

When he retired for the second time, from the ministry, Canon Winter encountered a second issue. "Suddenly, when people ask you 'What do you do?', you have to say what you used to do, which puts it all in the past."

THE sense of passing a final milestone can be traumatic. Steph Spanner had a fulfilling life as a teacher and vicar's wife in a Hertfordshire village when her husband retired last year. "It was a massive deal for me - much more than it was for him," she says. "I saw myself on a zimmer frame, waiting to die, because the only way now is down.

"My past came up and hit me in a way it's never done before. When I was working, I had a future, and I was moving forward, but now I looked back and thought, 'What have I done with my life?' and felt terribly sad because I couldn't have it again." She also struggled with the loss of her position as vicar's wife, with "not being at the centre".

After a year, she and her husband ran into a new difficulty. "We now find we have a lot less in common," her husband, James, explains. "I have lots of time for my hobbies, but my wife really doesn't have time for them." Like a lot of married women in retirement, Mrs Spanner sometimes wishes that she could have the house to herself. "I want to say to my husband: 'Go away. Go out.'"

That sentiment is echoed by Kris Uttley, a former head-teacher of a Church of England school: "When you start to spend much more time with your partner, you can get on each other's nerves, and sometimes you think: 'This is it until I die'."

Her job had been "a way of life, much more than a livelihood", and her retirement, six years ago, was the more painful because ill health brought it forward before she was ready for it. "I was hugely disappointed," she says. "I still feel a bit cheated, because I wasn't able to finish what I'd started. That was the worst thing for me. So I feel: what else can I achieve that's of value to other people? What difference can I make to people's lives?"

PATRICIA BURNS, a bookkeeper, who retired in 2008, has seen the damage done by investing too much of yourself in a job. "I've noticed that those of my friends who had hobbies throughout their working lives fare better in retirement. Those for whom work was all-absorbing often slide into depression, until they find something to do where they feel needed again."

The biggest blessing of retirement, Canon Winter says, is time for family, friends, or hobbies, and, in the early years of retirement at least, time to travel.

But to make the most of retirement requires making active choices. Phil Spray, an engineer-turned-care-home-manager, who retired 12 years ago, at the age of 63, says "There's no point expecting things to come to you. You can't afford to wait for someone to invite you out. You've got to go out and look for things to do." He advises anyone who is retiring to get involved in civil society - in a Rotary Club, or a Probus Club, or the University of the Third Age.

Pat Mackay, who retired in 2005 after more than 30 years as an NHS administrator, says that it is important to consider how to stay physically and mentally fit in retirement. "Some people stop work, and all they want to do is sit in front of the television all day. They fall into the trap of thinking that because they're retired they don't have to do anything, or, because they're less mobile than they were, they can't do anything. But that's not a good attitude: it makes you age quicker."

Many people appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with family. "Grandparenting for me has been very rewarding," Mrs Uttley says. "Even if I'm only talking to the children on Skype, I'm contributing to their lives."

CONVERSELY, retirement can present difficulties for those who are single and/or childless, who may feel that they have no obvious, natural stake in the future. The Revd Liz Smith, who was Rector of Shepton Mallet before she retired three years ago, says: "Being on your own makes it quite hard. I feel the lack of children and grandchildren more now than I ever have done, because you don't actually matter to anybody, really.

"I did matter to my parishioners, and I felt I was doing a job that had significance and value, and now I have to find that in a different way." She has become a school governor, which connects her to other generations.

Those who are part of a church are likely to have the advantage of a social networks already, and opportunities to get involved in doing something new to be useful, and to serve God. "The Church is run by retired people - churchwardens, treasurers, Sunday-school teachers, all manner of things," Canon Winter says. For a number of people outside the Church, he points out, "the end of work is actually the end of contact."

Mrs Lloyd Roberts warns: "The Church has so many jobs for retired people to do that it can overburden them. It can be important to be able to say no. You shouldn't end up filling your life with things you don't really want to do."

PHYSICAL health is a factor in how people experience retirement, but even there, Mrs Lloyd Roberts says, it can be trumped by attitude. "Some people who are very physically able become inactive; but then you get people who are less able but still think, 'I'm going to make the best of life.' And when people have a purpose, sometimes they get a new lease of life, and they may even find that actually this is the best part of their life."

Today, there are more opportunities than ever: VSO welcomes applications from experienced professionals up to the age of 75; and CSV has a "retired and senior volunteer programme", that particularly welcomes people in their 80s. And Christian mission organisations offer other ways to serve God. The key is to be willing to go in a new direction.

In 2003, Lesley and Bob Somers reversed the stereotype when they sold their cottage in the West Country to retire to a terraced house in Tottenham, north London. Mrs Somers initially undertook a three-year degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, while Mr Somers, a former accountant, spent his time exploring the city on his bike.

Today, she is on the leadership team at Church on the Farm, on the Broadwater Farm estate, a plant from St Ann's, Tottenham, and works part-time as the church's administrator. Mr Somers, who is 73, is also on the leadership team, and works part-time in an accountants' office.

The couple are enjoying life in a multicultural environment, and in serving God in an urban setting. "We never have a day when we don't have more things to do than we can fit in," Mrs Somers says.

For those who are free from having to please the boss, retirement can also bring a sense of release. "I've learnt who I am," Mrs Spanner says, "and learnt to be me, without a role." It's a "great feeling", Canon Winter says. "You spend your working life trying to prove yourself, that you can do this job, that you're worth the money, and all of a sudden you don't have to prove anything."

ONE of the traditional perks of stipendiary ministry is the (often delightful) house that goes with the job. But many clergy have a rude shock when they retire: they have to find some­where to live. Many have little prospect of getting on to even the lowest rung of the housing ladder.

The Church of England's so­­lution to this problem goes under the winsome name of CHARM: the Church's Housing Assistance for the Retired Mini­stry. For this purpose, the "mini­stry" means clergy, deacon­esses, licensed lay and church workers, and Church Army officers who have completed a certain number of years of pen­sionable service, plus their spouses, widow(er)s, or civil partners.

The first option is shared ownership. Under this scheme, you find an appropriate house or flat on the open market, and pay at least 25 per cent of the cost (and own an equivalent share of the property), while the Church's pension board pays the rest, up to a current maximum of £150,000. In addition, you will have to pay rent on the proportion of the house that you do not own yourself - plus a service charge to provide for repairs and maintenance; so that, as the board's housing services ma­­nager, Maria Jacobs, puts it, "you don't get a nasty shock when the roof needs replacing in 15 years' time".

This option was introduced quite recently, and to date has been taken up by 160 people. (1100 more are still catered for by the old equity-sharing mortgage scheme it replaced in 2008, after changes to tax laws made that unworkable).

The second option, which currently caters for 1200 people, is a scheme that offers modest, un­­furnished properties on a "heavily su­b­­­­­­sidised" assured short­hold ten­ancy. Ms Jacobs says that this is "the ultimate safety net for those who have neither the capital nor the income to even part-purchase a home". The Church is currently investing heavily to ensure that all its stock is energy-efficient, safe, and warm.

If you want to retire to a part of England where the Church of England does not, at present, own anything acceptable, you can look for a property on the market, subject to certain cri­teria, up to a ceiling of £200,000 (or £225,000 in the south-east). The Church offers advice and assistance to first-time buyers.

Finally, the pension board has seven supported housing schemes around England, from Scar­borough to Exeter to Worthing, where you can live in your own self-contained flat within a Chris­tian community. For those who require nursing, there is also Manormead Care Home, in Hind­head, Surrey, which now has fa­­cilities specifically for people suffering from dementia.

On 7 July, the Church of England will publish the findings of a survey of all of its clergy due to retire in the next 15 years, and, in response to these, will launch a consultation on the General Synod fringe on proposals for the future of the CHARM rental scheme.


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