Keeping active in retirement

HELP the Aged has revealed that many pensioners are returning to work because they feel bored and miss having a sense of purpose. After a lifetime of activity, the pace of retirement can come as a shock - but that need not be the case.

HELP the Aged has revealed that many pensioners are returning to work because they feel bored and miss having a sense of purpose. After a lifetime of activity, the pace of retirement can come as a shock - but that need not be the case. JOSH WARWICK visited Suffolk New College's over-50s club to find out about the action-packed learning going on.

THERE isn't an exam in sight, and stress just doesn't feature in the curriculum.

For feisty over-50s going back to school at Suffolk New College's Friday Club, the ethos is not about grades or results but the simple enjoyment of learning in a relaxed environment.

Add to that the opportunity to socialise with like-minded people and the unwavering popularity of the decades-old scheme is easy to understand.

With an estimated 400 learners flocking to the college each week, the programme plays a vital community role, a role which is set to continue despite funding cuts. Courses are available in an array of subjects including art, pottery, Italian, German, Spanish, French, computing, patchwork, keep fit and genealogy.

Learners are fully welcomed into the college community, enjoying full access to facilities available to other students including the library, Learning Resources Centre, internet, and the restaurant.

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The college's Michelle Blom, from the Community Learning team, said the Friday Club courses played a vital role.

“We get people who tell us their course is the only reason they leave the house,” she said.

“The social interaction is so important at that age.”

Karen Ravenscroft, art lecturer, said the classes gave students a chance to learn at their own pace.

She continued: “You have the time when you are retired to take time and look at the things you rushed through life and missed. I have one gentleman who is 90 and he has been coming to my class for 20 years.

“The course is subject to Ofsted and we have learning outcomes. It covers a lot, it's a real potpourri of things. The students produce a painting every week, which is a very good output, and the standard is very high. Their achievements by the end are excellent.”

Fiona McDonald, French course leader, said the emphasis was on enjoyment: “We try to make it fun. I have heard that people have gone to France and they said they felt more confident in speaking the language.”

Lesley Benneworth, pottery course leader said her lessons followed a hands-on approach.

“They try various basic techniques and then for the last five weeks they work on their own project,” she said. “They produce sculptures or functional things like fruit bowls.

“We run two two-hour sessions on a Friday but there are a couple of them who stay all day by booking themselves into the morning and afternoon lesson.

“They really love it. Some of the people who come very much enjoy the social aspect to it.”

One of those dedicated potters is Denis Gahagan, 71, from Aldeburgh.

He said: “Two hours is not enough for me because you have to get things to a certain state before you can leave them.

“I'm a tile freak. I'm really keen on them. When I was 15, I played truant from school and worked for a builder and decorator. I used to have to haul the wagon from the builder's yard to wherever they were working. When I had done that, they would wonder what they could do with me so I was set to work pulling out cast iron fire places and smashing them up. I think my passion for tiles is reparation - it comes from having to smash up those beautiful fire places.

“I am conservation secretary of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society so this class enables me to know what I'm talking about.

“I have been coming here for about five years now and most of what I do is experimenting.

“It's staggering how good some of the people who come here are. There are some incredible talents and you get inspired by each other and swap advice.

“There are some very positive things about the Friday Club. Some people here are already friends and some are becoming friends.”

If you would like a Friday Club taster session, phone 01473 343666.

Are you a member of Friday Club? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

Case Study: Florence Hall

SEMI-retired physio Florence is living her dream, having always harboured a desire to paint.

So when she heard about the water colour course at Suffolk New College's Friday Club, she jumped at the chance.

Florence, of Ipswich, said: “Thirty years ago I tried painting in oils and then life got busy and my job and family took over.

“My two sons both turned out to be quite talented in art. One became an architect and the other turned out to be an archaeological illustrator. I always envied their talents. This was something I wanted to do because I want to have a fellowship with them.”

Florence, whose husband Russell is taking French at Friday Club, said the relaxed study atmosphere helped make classes enjoyable.

She added: “I have to admit I started totally from scratch and I'm not pretending I have any talent whatsoever. This is a very slow process, but it's a fun thing. You are not working for exams, you are not working under any pressure. The only pressure is from yourself. We are doing it for ourselves and nobody else.”

For too long the older generation has been overlooked as people suffer care homes closing, dwindling pensions, hospital wards closing, and not enough carers in the community.

Our new Golden Years series aims to make sure that the older years really are Golden Years.

We will:

Listen to our older generation.

Fight for dignity in old age.

Make sure older people get the voice they need to raise the topics that matter to them.

Crusade on issues affecting pensioners.

Inform older people about the help and assistance available for them.

Dig out those inspirational stories that show old age need not be the barrier to a fulfilled and active life.

Champion achievement

If you have a story for Golden Years, call James Marston on 01473 324731, e-mail or write to him at The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

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