Is Retirement Living Housing the answer to loneliness as we get older?

As we age and enter retirement our social circles often become smaller; we no longer go to a workplace, people move away from our community, family grow up and move out on their own etc – so it can become a lonely time for many people.

In fact, according to Age UK 1.4 million older people in the UK are often lonely, with half a million older people going five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.

These figures don’t show any sign of improving, with the Campaign to end Loneliness reporting that the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6 - a 49% increase in 10 years.

Living on your own in your retirement years can play a significant factor in loneliness – if you’re not leaving your house for work, with a partner or children, then it can be easy to go for days without seeing anyone, particularly if your mobility and fitness begin to decline, or you may no longer drive.

Retirement living housing schemes are becoming a choice for many people aged over 55; they offer fully independent living, but in a social community setting, and with support on hand should it be needed now or in the future.

Your Housing Group has 17 Retirement Living schemes, across Cheshire, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Yorkshire and Lancashire.

We met with a group of residents at Smithy Croft in Stockport, Cheshire, to talk to them about their experience of loneliness and living in Housing for Over 55s.

We spoke to Jean aged 80 and divorced; Hylda aged 90, widowed, and Hilda aged 95, also widowed. They have all lived at Smithy Croft since it opened 9 years ago.

“These facilities are great, and they are needed,” said Jean. “When you’re in your own house, unless you’ve got real good neighbours or family then you could not see anyone for a week or two. In here you don’t have to sit in the flat. You’ve got the bistro, lounge, courtyard. This has got to be better.”

Hilda had been living with her son just across the road from Smithy Croft. “I had my own apartment in my son’s house. But they obviously wanted to go on holidays, and I didn’t like being there by myself. When I saw this being built I put my name down for here and didn’t tell him. We agreed that I’d go for a month and see how I find it. Been here nine years now.”

Hilda added “It’s very nice here when you’re own like we are. I come to everything, and in the summer we sit out in the courtyard. I’m better here than I was there.”
Comparing to where she was living prior to Smithy Croft, Hylda said “I wouldn’t have liked it. I had no company. Here there is always someone around”.

In our conversation the topic of feeling safe came up a few times. They clearly all find a sense of safety and comfort in living around others.

“It’s a good place to live as you always feel like someone is around.” Said Hylda. “It’s a bit of reassurance as you get older. I never used to be nervous about living by myself.”

Jean, agreed. “I was frightened in the house on my own. Here there is a feeling of safety and security. There is a night watchman and a secure car park.”

As we chatted numerous neighbours past coming in or going out. There were always smiles and laughter as the residents chatted. We asked one resident “are you lonely?” and she quickly replied with a resounding “no!”.

Having a bistro and hairdressers onsite, as well as social events clearly keep the residents busy and stops anyone feeling lonely. “You don’t have to sit in your flat” said Jean, “you can always find someone to talk to.”

Bingo on a Wednesday is certainly a popular event, they all use the hairdressers, and most use the café daily – Hilda left our chat to go and meet friends for lunch as she had booked a table. There is also a coach trip to Llandudno that they are booked on, as well as a quiz planned for the Friday.

This community living has definitely enabled these ladies to stay social at a stage in their life where if they had been in a flat or house on their own, they wouldn’t have been able to socialise so regularly or independently. They have a friendship circle, they feel safe and supported – what more could they need from their home.

“A lot easier than when they were living alone.”

We also spoke to Angela and her husband Derrick who live at Your Housing Group’s newest complex, Waters Cross in Northwich, about their experience and what they were looking for when they moved.

“We were particularly looking for a site that would give us some support” said Angela, “but we really didn’t want to move into an assisted living complex, and Waters Cross certainly meets our needs.” Like the residents at Smithy Croft, the Bistro is a highlight. “We have an onsite restaurant here called Kanya, which is great for having somewhere to go when you don’t feel like cooking.”