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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Philip Hammond's house gaffe is a reminder of what the Tories lost when David Cameron left

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's blunder confirmed an old fear about the Conservative Party. 

Philip Hammond got into a spot of bother this morning describing the need for a transitional agreement with the European Union by comparing it to moving into a house, saying: "you don't necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it”.

This immediately surprised a lot of people, because for most people, you do, in fact, move all of your furniture in on the first day you buy a house. Or rent a house, or a flat, or whatever. Most people who buy houses are part of housing chains – that is, they sell their house to raise some of the capital to buy another one, or, if they are first-time buyers, they are moving from the private rented sector into a house or flat of their own.

They don’t, as a rule, have a spare bolthole for “all their furniture” to wait around in. Hammond’s analogy accidentally revealed two things – he is rich, and he owns more than one home. (I say “revealed”. Obviously these are things you can find out by checking the register of members’ interests, but they are, at least, things that are not immediately obvious hearing Hammond speak.)

That spoke to one major and recurring Conservative weakness: that people see them as a party solely for the rich. Focus groups conducted by BritainThinks consistently showed that when people were asked which group of TV families might vote Conservative, the only one that people consistently picked were the “posh couple” from GoggleBox.

David Cameron’s great achievement as Conservative leader was in winning two elections – the first, in 2010, the most successful night for the Conservatives since 1931, with 97 gains overall, the second, their first parliamentary majority for 23 years – despite being a graduate of Eton and Oxford leading a party that most voters fear will only look out for the rich.

He did it by consistently speaking and acting as if he were significantly less well-to-do than he was. Even his supposed 2013 gaffe when asked what the price of bread was – when he revealed that he preferred to use a breadmaker – projected a more down-to-earth image than his background suggested His preferred breadmaker cost a hundred quid and could easily have been found in any upper-middle class home in any part of his country. One of Cameron’s great successes was in presenting himself as an affable upper-middle-class dad to the nation, when he was in fact, well-to-do enough to employ a literal breadmaker had he so chosen.

This is slightly unfair on Philip Hammond who went to a state school in Essex and is by any measure less posh than Cameron. But his gaffe speaks to their big post Cameron problem (and indeed their big pre-Cameron problem) which is that while many conservative ideas are popular, the Conservative Party isn’t. Most of their big politicians are a turn-off, not a turn-on.

And until they can find a genuine replacement for David Cameron, miserable results like 2017 may become the norm, rather than the exception. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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