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Retirement planning with a difference: three social retirees who are busier than ever before

Monday, September 19, 2016

Three retired ladies walking with walking poles

Read three heartwarming stories from a trio of trendsetting retirees who, despite hard times, a loss of routine and a language barrier, made new lifelong friends and now have a better social life than ever before.

  • A widow who started a nationwide social network
  • A chorister singing to stay social and active
  • A writer who became a bestseller after a change of scene
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Sylvia Yates on  a bicycle, Peter McCarroll on a boat, Tina Koniotes: Shoes bag and glasses

Yvonne Vann and the Jolly Dollies

My husband was diagnosed with multisystem atrophy aged 47, and he died when he was 60. During that time, he gradually deteriorated to a stage where he could do absolutely nothing for himself.

I looked after him all that time and after he died I felt utterly lost: I had lost a lot of confidence socially and felt uncomfortable in the company of couples.

Around this time I met a woman in a similar situation, and we started going out together. We joined a tai chi class and went out for the occasional meal. Other widows in the area got to about hear us and started to join in.

After about a year or so I realised that if this works for us, because there was a real bond between us, why shouldn’t it work for all widows?

I decided to launch a social network for widows called Jolly Dollies. My daughter put me in touch with a web designer and a tech expert who built the website. It was an extraordinary journey because when I started I could hardly text!

Before widows decide to join the Jolly Dollies they can have a taster meeting with members in their area. Once they have become members, they gain access to the community pages on our website, where they can chat, share photographs of their group events, go on online shopping sites and keep up to date with our News Blasts! But the biggest benefit is belonging to a group with others who completely understand.

Retired ladies sitting around a dinner table

''It's vital for widows and widowers to remain socially active.''

It's vital for widows and widowers to remain socially active because we can become very isolated – we have become singletons and not by choice. I have an amazing family but how can they understand what it's like to lose their life partner? The Jolly Dollies and Gents have an amazing bond of understanding.

After the success of the JD's we decided to launch the Jolly Gents so that widowers can find the friendships and camaraderie our groups can give.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to join social groups, as being able to communicate with other people again is vital.

How Lindy rediscovered her voice

I was unwell for the first four months of my retirement but this gave me breathing space to decide how I wanted to spend my time and what I was able to manage, recognising the importance of routine in my life, but also flexibility.

Before retirement, I had joined a Workers’ Educational Association ‘singing for fun’ group. Now, I sing with the group once a week, although it has since become privately organised.

Being part of the choir opens up a whole network of likeminded people to me. I have met other singers, taken part in music workshops and made friends with people with similar interests.

It is so therapeutic to sing. In my choir, I have covered songs from around the world and songs in different languages. It challenges me mentally, rhythmically, physically, orally and musically – singing is like a gym for me!

Bonding with others through a shared experience helps create a sense of achievement and provides me with the opportunity to learn new skills and to lend and receive support from the group.

It is important not to try to fill every moment of every day, instead carefully deciding what you want to commit yourself to. There is the danger of taking on too many commitments at the start, whereas in fact you need to have a balance.

Balancing your lifestyle allows for spontaneity – for instance, I was able to take part in music workshops, attend spur-of-the-moment rehearsals, go to concerts and meet up with friends on a whim.

Lindy in the garden

''Bonding with others through a shared experience helps create a sense of achievement.''

Victoria's journey to New York Times bestseller

It was yet another cold, wet English August weekend that inspired me to compose a list in the hope of persuading my husband Joe that we should retire to Spain. My pitch included: sunny weather, cheap property, friendly people, local wine and a healthy Mediterranean diet.

Unfortunately, Joe’s counter list nearly destroyed my dream: Can’t speak Spanish! Too many flies! Moving house is the pits!

After weeks of debating and bouncing arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ like a game of ping pong, Joe surprised me and agreed… providing we looked upon the venture as a five-year plan.

We stayed twelve years.

We turned our backs on the Costas and chose a cottage in a tiny, whitewashed, mountain village. The biggest challenge was that the house we bought was almost a ruin. The three-foot-thick walls were built of dry rubble, and bare electricity cables spewed out of the walls like spaghetti. Making the house habitable took five years – five years of puzzling how Spanish drains work, how to stop ancient walls from collapsing and how to stop roofs leaking.

Victoria cooking

"We came to depend on our wonderful neighbours, who supplied us with plenty of homemade red wine."

We came to depend on our wonderful neighbours, who supplied us with plenty of advice and even more homemade red wine. Our social life consisted of sitting in our neighbours’ tiny kitchen, while Carmen cooked something delicious on the open fire, Paco advised us on the finer points of raising chickens and quails clacked in domed cages high on the wall above our heads.

I couldn’t wait to write about it all, capture all the hilarious and heart-warming events. It was like seeing in colour for the first time, and the book bubbled in my head. A year later, the ‘Old Fools’ series was born and I had become a writing addict. Since then, my books have been on the New York Times bestsellers list – and all thanks to making the decision to move somewhere new!

You can find Victoria’s blog about her experiences in Spain, as well as a link to her books, on her website.

Retirement can be a shock to the system, but with the right network of friends and loved ones you can live a fuller life after leaving work than you did before – no matter what challenges you take on. Just remember to get the financial and personal planning right, and you will find a balance that is perfect for you.

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