Sheila – Age 72

“When I retired from nursing I started doing the Healthwalks because I think it is really important for people to go out, exercise and meet others. Some great advice I was given was this: If you want to be a nice older person, be a nice young person.”

I’m a member of the Brighton and Hove City branch of the NHS Retirement Fellowship, which is a national organisation founded by a lady called Irene James, who was a nursing officer. She established it for anyone that worked in the NHS who retired, so you could be a nurse, doctor, a receptionist, a laundry worker, whomever. It’s been running since 1978, so next year it will be forty years. It’s for support, friendship and prevention of loneliness for anyone that worked in the NHS. We’re a very active branch in Brighton. We’ve been running for seven years and I organise the speakers for some of the events. We have an events team who organise lunch clubs and outings. We meet once a month in Sussex House, near to the Royal Sussex County Hospital. 

We’ve got quite a few members that have lost their partners and I think they find coming to the meetings once a month very helpful. Obviously, we’ve got people who are married, who’ve got partners. I think about half and half. The groups tend to get together and meet at the lunch club. People talk. It’s a nice, relaxed atmosphere. People make friends and even go on holiday together.

When you retire, you miss your work colleagues and the buzz of actually what’s happening in the day to day business of life but as years have gone on, you discover new things – going to U3A for instance. There are a lot of U3A groups around Brighton. They have speakers and activities. I get a lot of my speakers for the NHS Retirement Fellowship from the U3A. There’s a very large branch, the Preston Park U3A, and they meet once a month as well. If you go to one meeting, somebody else is doing something else, you can share information and you can get quite involved in different things, almost to the extent that you have to restrict some of the things. You get so busy because the other thing is, my husband’s an archivist for an old windmill. Now, he used to be a policeman in Brighton, so he’s lived for thirty years in Brighton. When he retired, he worked for the National Trust for a bit and when he got to 65, he was looking around for something else to do. He was over at Keymer, because we used to walk over there, and he discovered this old windmill that was being restored. So, he went and asked about that and they said ‘Oh, we need an archivist – can you research the history of this windmill?’ So now, in my house, I have bags full of old minutes and letters accumulated and he’s putting all that on the computer for the Windmills Archive Trust. They have open days throughout the year – the next one is in September. They’ll have the Copper family singing folk songs at the windmill. It’s over at Keymer-  it’s called Oldland Windmill. That will be quite a big event. We haven’t done it this year but we used to have to do the barbeque for it. When you’re retired, you end up doing lots of things. The answer is – sometimes you don’t really have the time to do it but you sort of fit it in.

My main purpose when I retire – I thought, I want to keep people out of hospital. I want people to be health, fit, happy – that’s my main object and that’s how I started these Healthwalks. This is why I wanted to do it. When people see that you’re retired, it’s like ‘Oh well, we need someone to do this’. Of course, Peter was involved with the windmill and they said ‘Will you do the barbeque?’. So we did that for three years. Because I like drawing and painting, I’ve done some little bits of cartoon work for them – I did a Christmas card for them. To raise funds for the windmill, they sell these Christmas cards each year. These things sort of happen. I have been retired for nine years, so these things do happen.

There are different people that go to different groups. For instance, people who go to U3A, you get people who are retired teachers and maybe academics. So they tend to go towards to the U3A type things, but you do get people who just go purely for the company, so there are all sorts of reasons why people go. It’s a bit like adult education – people either go to learn something or for social reasons, company and things like that. These various groups serve different parts of the community, I think. Because I’ve always liked being outdoors, I think it’s a healthy way to live – to get fresh air, walk and exercise. In fact, I get up in the morning and, if I’m not doing a Healthwalk, I’ll go for half an hour’s walk just around where I live. I live in Westfield Crescent in Brighton. It’s on the top of the hill – we’ve got a fabulous view that looks over the Downs. I can walk up my road to the Ditchling Road, then walk down Surrenden Road, look in people’s back gardens, which are interesting. I can make a nice walk all the way around for about half an hour at 7 o clock in the morning. We’ve got a view from the back of our house, which will look right over towards the South Downs. You can see from the Great Wood from Stanmer Park right across to Devil’s Dyke.

I was born in Brighton, just up the road from here in Herbert Road. I was born on the morning a doodlebug flew down the road. Obviously, I didn’t know because I was just a baby – my mother told me – a doodlebug flew down the road, went past trees and crashed into a building in Preston village. That’s at the end of the war, so I was born in 1945. I’ve seen a lot of change in the city. Before I took up nursing, I used to work with horses and I travelled a lot. So I worked with show jumpers, racehorses – I worked down in Hampshire with horses down there. I took up nursing because I wanted to travel, but then I met my husband who was riding the police horse in Brighton. I met him in 1968. I saw the horse and I thought ‘That’s Kim isn’t it?’, and I thought ‘Nice horse, and he’s not bad’. When Kim was retired (because the policeman who was actually riding him, he retired), Peter was the relief rider and they brought Rowland from London. Rowland was the grey horse here. We used to go out riding together and walking the dogs and things like that. Anyway, eventually we got married – we got married in 1970 – and he rode the horse for five years in Brighton. I think part of it was being attracted to the horse as well as him.

If I was to give some advice, it would be to treat people as you would want you or your relatives to be treated, and sharing good practice. This is something that came about with clinical governance in nursing. One of the important things was sharing good practice. I’ve always looked towards improving healthcare and improving situations in hospital. I did some work for the infection control team – I designed a poster for hand washing. It was for wristwatch wearers. There are more germs living under your wristwatch than there are people living in Europe. You take all those germs home, if you didn’t wash your hands in between seeing patients. It was to prevent infections, the job I had with the infection control team. When I started working with them, the hospital was getting quite a bad press. We reduced the infection rate, just by creating awareness of things such as washing your hands and using alcohol to disinfect.

If I was to give advice to young people entering the world of work – well, it depends on the age. I was on the bus the other day, and she had a child of about three months old… it had a bottle propped up in its mouth and it was sucking on it. She was busy with her phone, she got off the bus and the bottle came out the child’s mouth and I couldn’t help watching it. She rubbed it off on something then stuffed it back in the kid’s mouth. You think ‘Parenting skills?’ Sometimes, just people don’t take an interest in their children. You can’t say that for everybody.