Retirement isn't the end of the story

Ever
wonder where journalists end up when their storychasing days are over?
Maxine Clayman visited a complex near Dorking which accommodates
elderly scribes

WALKING UP the path towards
the square of neat flats that are part of a retirement complex in
Ribblesdale, an elderly couple are returning from a shopping trip in
the nearby town of Dorking.

I stop the lady to ask how long she’s lived in the selfcontained
flats and try to find out a bit more about the couple. Tight-lipped,
she gives away little, other than to say that both herself and her
husband were journalists on nationals.

She turns to her husband,
who has stopped to chat to Press Gazette’s photographer and says, in a
stage whisper: “They’re journalists, don’t tell them
anything,” and steers him away.

As I am at the NPF – The
Journalists’ Charity’s accommodation complex to meet the ex-journalists
and their dependents who live here, this doesn’t bode well.

But David Ilott, director of the NPF, comes to our rescue and escorts us to Ribblesdale’s communal area.

Before
introducing us to some of the residents, he explains that there are two
sets of homes. There is Ribblesdale, where we are now, and more
sheltered accommodation, Aitken House, a quarter of a mile away, which
is due to be knocked down and rebuilt.

Sandy Cross, a care home, is situated next door.

The
NPF is currently raising funds to transform and modernise the complex
(see box). The aim is to design the accommodation to allow residents to
remain selfsufficient for as long as possible.

The concept of
care has changed since the NPF established its first housing in Dorking
43 years ago, Ilott explains. People are retiring later in life and
expectations of quality of life after retirement are also changing.

Residents
value the freedom of having their own front door, for instance, which
they are able to lock and shut out the world if they want to.

“We’re
filling in the gaps in care for when things are a bit more difficult,
but they still want a degree of independence,” says Ilott.

To
meet these varying needs Aitken House, and what is currently used as
staff housing, are to be converted to intermediate accommodation, a
series of flats a few yards away from Sandy Cross, which will become a
nursing home, complete with an elderly mental health wing.

Many
of the residents are lively and sociable, says home manager Debbie
Giles, who adds that visitors are sometimes surprised that residents
are allowed to drink. “They’re journalists so they like a drink,” she
says. “There’s this preconception that people in nursing homes
shouldn’t do things normal people do, like have a life. It’s their
home, it’s where they live.”

Fortunately, after the first
knockback, other residents in the home were more willing to talk about
their careers and how they found life in this unique establishment.

Betty Brown

Betty Brown, 88, has lived in the home at Ribblesdale for the past
14 years. She found out about it during a visit to see some old
journalist friends of hers – one of them now lives in Sandy Cross.
Although it is Betty’s son, an editor in France, who is a member of the
NPF, Betty also worked as a journalist, training at a south London news
agency and moving on to the Wimbledon Borough News before becoming a
freelance.

She later emigrated to Australia, where she became a teacher but
continued to write for the local newspaper. “It was a bush town where
they thought it was news if Mrs so-and-so went to Adelaide wearing her
white dress,” she laughs. “The back page would have a scandalous story
of someone who had usually committed fraud but they wouldn’t offend
anybody. I’d go to see plays the amateur dramatic society had produced
and say exactly what I thought.

I’d get told off. You weren’t allowed to. It was more old fashioned then.”

Betty’s
flat consists of a small sitting room, a kitchen and a bedroom. The
kitchen, she proudly points out, has been renovated to fit her
particular needs: “I’m quite short, so for a joke I suggested they
raise the floor so I could get to the top shelves of the cupboards,”
she says. “They did. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to reach
everything.”

Other than a hope that she will be able to take a final trip overseas, Betty is content with her lot.

“I
was jealous of my friends the first time I came here and I wouldn’t
want to live anywhere else,” she says. “Everybody’s so friendly here,
it’s great for companionship.

“I can’t say I’m bored in any shape
or form, there’s always something to do. We have drinks once a month
and we have a happy hour.”

Bernadette Titmus

Bernadette Titmus is a friend of Betty’s who lives at nearby Sandy Cross.

This is due to be transformed into a nursing home with an emergency
wing for the mentally infirm – at present it is not registered to take
people with even mild forms of mental illness.

Until recently Bernadette, 87, wrote a local entertainments column and was the only working female journalist on the complex.

She entered the world of journalism through her husband, Geoffrey, whom she met when she was 17.

It was through him that she met Betty, who was a colleague.

Bernadette
was trained by her husband and she claims the only rival she ever faced
for his affections was journalism, as he was devoted to the job.

She
discovered Ribblesdale when she wrote a story on it for the local
paper. “You never know…” she says to our photographer with a
mischievous laugh.

During her career Bernadette combined a mix of
local and national journalism. A lot of her work was aimed at
championing the underdog, she says.

“When I was at the Surrey
Advertiser we had an editor who just let us get on with it,” she
explains. “I was particularly proud of one campaign where, together
with a social worker, we managed to get housing for a woman living on a
gypsy site.

“Then there was a man who wrote to me years ago telling me to start a campaign to get women out of wearing trousers.

“I didn’t take it up. But I’m old fashioned, I’ve never worn a pair of trousers,” she continues.

“You look very nice though,” she tells me, when I look down at my black trousers.

Vera Webber

Vera Webber moved to Ribblesdale with her late husband, Hedley Higgins, a journalist to whom she was married for 20 years.

Hedley, who was older than her, died eleven months after theymoved
to Dorking. At 45 Vera was a youngster in comparison to the other
residents and intended to leave.

“Then I went and had two heart attacks. I’ve never escaped since!” explains Vera, who is now 88.

Vera had been a widow for 18 years when she met her second husband, Edwin Webber, another journalist, in Ribblesdale.

They
married when she was 63 after Edwin’s first wife died. Sadly, after
four years Edwin had a stroke, and passed away three years later.

Vera
now enjoys meeting with the other residents at Ribblesdale, she says.
“There’s a couple that live downstairs from me, I’ve had a conversation
with the wife once and I don’t think anyone else has seen her.

She goes to London, even on a Saturday, to have her hair done. I think he does all the washing, the cleaning.

What happened to me? When I have the next one I’ll see to it he does it all.”

Her
response when she’s asked if she has her eye on anyone in particular
is: “I’m getting old. Besides I like them with a bit of meat. You can
have a scrag end of mutton any day of the week.

“Nowadays I behave myself. There’s no-one to be naughty with.

“But there’s such kindness here,” she says. “The people are unbelievable. It’s fantastic.”

Arthur Garrett

A resident of 15 years, Arthur Garrett’s initial hopes of becoming a
journalist were quashed when he was told he was under-qualified. He
contented himself with becoming a printer.

“I still harboured a yearning to write,” says Arthur, 92. “I came
back from the Middle East where I’d been serving in the war. I’d been
writing letters home and the boss told me if he’d known I could write
like that they would have taken me on years ago.”

A successful career in the regional press followed.

He
worked his way up to deputy editor of the Hampshire Telegraph weekly
series, then deputy editor of the Portsmouth Evening News until 1965.

“When
I came here there were six couples that all moved in at the same time.
It was a very lively community, we’d put on plays, had a poetry group
and several other different sorts of groups,” he enthuses.

The residents of the NPF accommodation still produce a monthly newsletter.

Arthur’s wall is adorned with photographs of his family, who he says between them visit at least once a month.

Although
completely lucid, he claims his mind doesn’t work as well as it once
did. “A word of advice,” he says nonchalantly. “Don’t have a stroke.”

London Press Club

CHARITY BALL

The London Press Club Charity Ball 2005 is being held on Thursday 7
July at the Natural History Museum. The event is hosted by Carol
Vorderman and all proceeds will be donated to the NPF – The
Journalists’ Charity.

Tickets are priced at £200 and include a champagne reception,
auction and an exclusive raffle with prizes including an Audi TT
Roadster, dinner for two at The Dorchester and a week’s stay at a
health spa. See page 28 for full details.

To book call 020 849 7520, fax 020 8429 7521 or email LPC@entireaffair.com.

Life
membership of the NPF is available for a one-off payment of £50. For
this and for any other donations to the NPF call 01306 887 511 or visit
www.npf.org.uk

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