JANE SLADE discovers retirement communities offering a new rhythm to later life

Judy Allen started learning the piano when she was six. By the age of 10 she was playing in her local church. After a career as a piano teacher and music examiner she is now, aged 82, playing the organ at Caldy Valley Church, a short walk from a retirement village near Chester where she moved seven years ago.

Once a fortnight she also accompanies a singing group she co-founded at Grade II listed Boughton Hall, where she owns a two-bedroom apartment.

Once a fortnight some 29 regulars gather round Judy’s grand piano, which occupies a space in one of the communal areas for a good old sing song. “We have a repertoire of over 40 songs,” Judy trills. “We sing a mixture of show tunes, popular tunes like Simon and Garfunkel and the Carpenters as well as hymns, and war songs.”

Music has been Judy’s life and she is showing no signs of stopping – she even tutors at a summer school in Tonbridge. “Singing a wonderful way of getting to know people, integrating and socialising,” she adds.

“It’s so good for mental health too. Two ladies joined us recently who had lost their husbands and one man who came for the first time said afterwards, ‘I have just spent an hour not thinking once about my aches and pains.’”

Singing has been shown to release endorphins, reduce stress levels and, according to a report published in the Journal of Music Therapy, help cope with chronic pain. A joint study by Harvard and Yale Universities in 2008 even claimed that singing in a group can increase life expectancy.

One of Judy’s singing regulars Stan Fielding has just turned 100!

Boughton Hall is part of the Enterprise Retiring Living group which is building two more retirement villages; The Red House in Ripon, Yorkshire comprising 59 apartments priced from £250,000, and Mount Battenhall in Worcester which has not yet begun construction.

Boughton Hall singing group

Choirs and music groups are becoming standard features of retirement communities, and operators are nurturing this trend by providing pianos, rehearsal rooms and even performing spaces.

“All our villages have a hall or large space for musical performances,” says Oscar Russell, Group Estates Director of Retirement Villages’ 14 developments. “Most villages have choirs, sometimes all female or male and sometimes mixed, while others even have a nightlife vibe with music from the decades, dancing and a bar.” Owners at Castle Village near Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire have even formed a jazz club.

James Cobb, sales and marketing director at Renaissance Villages, part of the Inspired Villages Group, adds:

“Music is a passion for many people, including a lot of our residents. As operators of retirement villages, we strive to make peoples’ lives as fulfilling as possible, and the grand pianos in many of our villages’ clubhouses help to achieve this – a reflection of the passions of our residents.”

Retired musician Dorothy Moore, 80, has 14 members in her choir The St Elphin’s Singers which she formed at Audley St Elphin’s Park which occupies 14 acres in the Derbyshire Dales.

“It started with a few people singing carols one Christmas to cheer up residents who didn’t go out much,” she explained. “We then did a concert and are now doing a cabaret night.”

Dorothy, a retired music therapist and teacher, even has room in her apartment for a piano and a cello. Music has been her life; she met her late husband when they played cello together in a local orchestra and were married for 56 years.

“I have a lovely spacious apartment with triple aspect windows and lovely views. I couldn’t imagine music not being part of my life. I still get together with old friends from music college to do part singing. It gives so much enjoyment and brings people together. It also cheers me.”