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LEARNING AFTER RETIREMENT
BY ALASTAIR WALLBANKS
To some retirement is an event to look forward to with happy anticipation, to others it's something they approach with trepidation, either way it's a new chapter in one's life.
I want to dispel the myth, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." There are many educational institutions and establishments offering a variety courses popular with retired people.
Subscribing to a course in retirement is an excellent way to fill your time, meet new people and can also create a sense of achievement and self-worth that may have waned slightly now that you are no longer part of the 'machine'.
Such an institution is Central Saint Martins located near King Cross, London, and one of the six colleges making up the University of the Arts London.
Art, Design, Fashion and Performance are just some of the courses provided by CSM. When students join a short course, they join the Central Saint Martins community accessing the state of the art studios and the library. All classes are small allowing for maximum teaching contact and ensures that students are given the opportunity to improve and develop their skills.
Shauna Scott, Sales and Marketing Co-ordinator, said, "We find students over 60 on a wide range of courses, including graphics, jewellery fashion, business and writing courses."
Shauna went on to say, "The benefits of enrolling in one of our courses include the community feeling and sense of structure that comes with attending weekly sessions. The short courses provide opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills, all while enjoying the buzz of 'being in art school'"
Cliona De Bhaldraithe Marsh was 67 and retired when she studied at CSM. Former Head of School of Languages and Literature, University College Dublin, Cliona, who took a course in 'Stone Setting in Silver Jewellery' said that the best things she liked about the course was the enthusiasm in the workshop due to the engaging nature of the course and her tutor, Anastasia Young, of whom she couldn't speak highly enough stating, "Her preparation is exemplary; very clear written hand-outs accompanied by a step-by-step practical demonstration; all questions were dealt with, I never heard the words 'no', 'not correct' or 'not that way'. She is very patient and motivating." This was Cliona's first course at CSM but she is determined to return.
Another past student is 52 year old Lisa Hillerdal from Stockholm who chose 'Enhanced Illustration - Pencil, Paint and Pixels'.
This is the second course Lisa has taken at CSM. What she likes so much about it is being able to use 'traditional' artistic skills together with new modern digital techniques. She says, "I have learned to use my artistic ability with the computer. It's just not all learning to use a computer programme, it really is enhanced illustration." She continued saying, "My tutor, Bill Wright, is great, he's very ambitious I've learned a lot." Lisa is considering returning for a third course.
Another institution is Manchester Metropolitan University. MMU was awarded university status in 1992 and is part of the largest higher education campus in the UK and one of the most extensive education centres in Europe.
It offers more than 1,000 courses and qualifications, the majority of which have a strong professional bias.
Manchester Writing School Manager, James Draper, said, "Our MA Creative Writing programme attracts a high number of mature students, many of those are retired, ranging from those in their 50s and 60s who've recently taken early retirement, right up to students in their 80s and 90s."
The end product of the course is a full-length book (a novel, poetry collection, or book for children or young adults) which is developed through a series of writing workshops and completed under the one-to-one supervision of an established writer.
James added, "Students cite this as a major draw and retired people, through virtue of having lived, tend to have some of the most interesting stories to tell and are looking for the opportunity to share and cultivate their work in a supportive environment."
As well as Creative Writing they are broadening their portfolio of courses offering online through distance learning. For entry from September 2015 these will include MA's in Creative Writing, English Studies - The Gothic, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, European Philosophy, European Philosophy Aesthetics and History (part time route).
Situated near Stroud in Gloucestershire at the southern end of the Cotswolds is Hawkwood College, an educational charity. Under 2 hours by train from London, Stroud is near the M5 and 40 minutes from the M4, so it's surprisingly central to England.
Katie Lloyd-Nunn, programme manager, says, "We offer a wide variety of courses in arts, crafts, music, nature and well-being which attract people of all ages, including retired people who are often keen to try different things. Our July Creative Arts Summer School is great because they can do one-day or weekend courses in a variety of subjects,"
Nigel Westaway, a retired management consultant and now artist, offers a day in April entitled "Who am I without my work?"
Nigel believes, "Most of us can expect at least 15 - 20 years of life after retirement. We may love our work or we may loathe it but it provides us with structure, social interaction and meaning, and the prospect of losing this is worth looking at in advance. I aim to help people to approach the challenge with realism and creativity."
Alicia Carey, principal, says, "Keeping the mind young through mental and physical challenges can benefit every aspect of health as well as increasing self-confidence."
Former student Lynne Churchley from Hampshire said, "Hawkwood has had a profound effect on my life and I can't wait to return."
In the heart of Wiltshire is Marlborough College Summer School. In 1974 Brian Ashley, Head of PE at the College, was given permission to have a trial run. This convinced the authorities that a Summer School should start in earnest in 1975 when 210 people attended 20 courses over a period of two weeks.
Since then the Summer School was extended to three weeks and the introduction of Children's Activities became a special feature, making the enterprise truly a matter of learning at leisure for all the family.
The long term success of the Marlborough College Summer School has evolved from the steady improvement of facilities, the unusually wide range of courses, entertainments and the congenial atmosphere, all of which have enhanced the quality of the Summer School experience.
I asked John Blake of Marlborough College if there were any courses particularly popular with people in retirement to which he replied, "With over 500 courses there is so much choice so it is difficult to choose. However, retirees have a propensity to choose arts and crafts based courses as well as history, architecture and literature."
John also said, "There are many benefits in participating such as keeping an active mind in a relaxing, social environment. Imagination needs feeding, whatever the age."
Field Studies Council, FSC, is an environmental education charity providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.
They have a network of centres in stunning locations around the UK from the Scottish Highlands to South Devon. Marketing Officer, Mel Cousins says, "All of them are situated in beautiful landscapes with unique wildlife nearby, many are also in or close to National Parks."
For arts holidays there's Flatford Mill, located in 'Constable Country', Suffolk - the place which inspired John Constable, and a wonderful spot to be creative.
FSC is an independent charity receiving no statutory funding and therefore relies on fees paid by visitors and the generosity of donors, trust funds and grant bodies to finance their activities.
FSC philosophy is, "The more we know about and take inspiration from the world around us the more we can appreciate its needs and protect its diversity and beauty for future generations."
Many of their courses are popular with retired people particularly walking, painting, photography and natural history. Some retired people also visit FSC with younger family members on their Real Family Holidays.
Their aim is to inspire people to learn about the environment, all the courses focus on the Anglia Leisure Learning have their head office in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk but use venues in East Anglia, the Midlands and on the London/Essex border, mainly hotels. Their courses run at weekends, from Friday afternoons to Sunday afternoons with the first class taking place on Friday evening after dinner. Fees include meals, use of hotel spas and swimming pools.
The courses provided include portrait photography, learning the ukulele and solving cryptic crosswords to lace making, beading and patchwork and quilting. Director Liza Jones says, Textile courses are particularly popular with retired people."
Liza continued, "Anglia Leisure Learning Limited is a relatively new company. After an initial series of pilot courses, the company was incorporated in September 2013. But running adult courses is not new to the team. My colleagues and I have been successfully providing business seminars and workshops for over 30 years."
Anglia Leisure cater for adults only with a fairly high percentage being retired. The friendly, welcoming environment is particularly appreciated by people living alone who come on a weekend course to be pampered and looked after, while at the same time having an opportunity to develop their skills and make friends.
One of the courses that is of particular relevance to older people is entitled 'Investment and Generating Income in Retirement'. This is running in Ipswich in September and in the Midlands in October.
All of these institutions can be contacted on line, just by entering their name. There are fees for the courses, so good luck and enjoy. Remember, you are never too old to learn.