Ageing naturally

Growing old as a member of an eco-village has its perks, writes Findhorn resident Rhiannon Hanfman.

Following on with the theme of the ageing population of Findhorn and (everywhere else, really) I would like to approach it from the perspective of one of 60s generation who is now in her sixties. Since it was we who instigated the cult of youth and coined the phrase ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’, we can hardly complain if there are those who now feel that there are way too many old people around, and that this is somehow a bad thing. It is the natural order of things that the old make way for the young, who in turn will become old and make way for the next generation. What is different now, however, is the timing of it. People are living longer and staying active longer.

Is this a bad thing? Perhaps, if you are young and want to find your place in a world full of oldies who won’t get out of the way.

Over that past two decades I have seen the demographic pattern change in accordance with the state of the community. When the community was young, most of the people were in their twenties and single. They were enthusiastic and energetic. They didn’t mind roughing it or sleeping six to a caravan because, hey, they were building the new age and having a ball doing it. Most didn’t stay long and moved on. Those that did aged along with the community.

When I arrived in the 80s I, like almost everyone else, was in my forties. There were a handful of older people, a few young people and even families with young children. We bemoaned the fact that we were a middle-aged community, and even worse, that there were hardly any men. I would say that no more than 20 – 30 per cent of the population was male. It seemed at the time that men weren’t that interested in spiritual journeys and self-exploration. The focus of the community at that time was personal growth, which appealed predominantly to forty-something women.

In 1990 I left for five years. When I returned things had changed enormously for the better. The energy had shifted to environmental concerns like building energy-efficient housing and creating the eco-village. Whereas when I left there had only been the Foundation, there was now a vibrant outer community surrounding it. The boundaries were dissolving as people who shared the Findhorn ethic but didn’t want to join the Foundation arrived. They created their own projects and businesses. As a result, there were more men, more young people and more families. The demographic is now far more normal, but there is still the issue of a large ageing population here as elsewhere. We have to get used to it and begin to see it as an asset rather than a problem. Believe it or not, the old do have something to offer.

We all have to get old somewhere, and some of us are doing it at Findhorn. It’s an excellent place for that, and the reason is that age doesn’t matter. In all my time here it has never been an issue in the friendships I have formed or the work I have done. For example, I designed the Foundation brochure for four years. I was sixty-two when I got the job, although nobody asked. Would I have obtained a job in graphic design, a field that is dominated by the young, in the ‘real’ world? I doubt it. And where else would I be invited to a 30th birthday party and seriously be expected to come?

There are a lot of older people here but they are active and engaged and don’t view the community as a retirement home. There is an easy flow between the generations that happens here that I like. The varied perspectives and strengths of people at different stages of life’s journey complement one another to the benefit of all.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.