Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Grey majority rules in Cornwall

By Chloe Axford
BBC News South West

David Marshall playing table tennis (Pic: Gilbert Rimes)
David Marshall, 81, plays table tennis at the University of the 3rd Age

Cornwall has the highest proportion of retirement age residents in the UK, according to a BBC survey.

BBC News has spoken to some of the county's older residents who believe life begins at 60.

Tony Herring is a busy man.

As chairman of the Carrick branch of the University of the Third Age, the 77-year-old retired neurologist has more than 750 members to look after.

"We had a chap of 91 who was leading the rambling group and another chap in his 80s who flies his own plane and does abseiling," he said.

"I play tennis with an 85-year-old doctor's wife - we've got some pretty active octogenarians."

It is no wonder the social organisation, which is open only to retired people, is thriving in the Carrick area.

Avoiding loneliness

The Changing UK survey, commissioned by the BBC, shows Cornwall (jointly with Norfolk) has the highest proportion of people of pensionable age in the UK.

Researchers from Sheffield University found 23.9% of Cornwall's population were pensioners.

They used Census data and information from a number of other sources to examine how UK society has changed over the past 40 years.

Mr Herring said the popularity of the local University of the Third Age, dubbed U3A by its members, was "beginning to rival the WI".

"The biggest thing down here is the social side. We've got so many people down here who are lonely.

"We've had widows and widowers who come for company, we even had several marriages last year."

Gwyn Haslock at Tolcarne Beach in 2006. pic by Geoff Tydeman
I live for the day, you just don't know what's going to happen with your health etc
Gwyn Haslock, 63, surfer

For Sheila Boyer, 66, from the St Austell Players theatre group, taking part in drama productions is a good way to avoid loneliness.

"I think if you come here later it's a lot harder to build friendships, or get from A to B if you're living somewhere remote," she said.

"If you're in a [theatre] group you're mixing with all ages, which keeps you young, you don't have to hang out with the 80-year-olds."

Robin Miller, who studies population figures for Cornwall County Council, said the high number of over 60s was partially due to the high birth rate in the 1950s, as well as people moving to the area to work and choosing to stay once they retire.

"Obviously people in their 30s to 50s moving to Cornwall in the last 20 years are bolstering the numbers of people aged 50/60 plus now," he explained.

Youthful outlook

Mervyn Kohler from Help the Aged said the mild climate may entice people to retire to Cornwall.

He believes it would be a shame if communities became too polarised.

"I think part of the richness of society is its interactivity between people of different ages, genders, races etc," he said.

"A totally monochrome society would not be my choice."

Some over 60s in Cornwall participate in fencing.

While Cornwall's population may be ageing, its older residents are increasingly young in outlook and lifestyle.

Gwyn Haslock, 63, from Truro, is still working full-time after her employer raised the retirement age for women to 65.

In her spare time she is a keen surfer, something she has been doing competitively since the 1960s. She also fences and plays tennis.

"I live for the day. You just don't know what's going to happen with your health etc," she said.

"I just do these things because I enjoy them and I meet people."

Mr Miller said: "A 60-year-old today acts very differently to one from 30 years ago, and there is likely to be as much change in the next 20 to 30 years."

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