"I DON'T really count myself as being retired," says Hazel Hawes. "I talk about the time when I left employment. If I didn't work now it would drive me mad."

Mrs Hawes, from London, used to run her own marketing company, finding products for the construction industry, but decided to get out when she was 56 and the recession bit. Now she divides her time between teaching exercise and line dancing as well as practising aromatherapy and the Bowen technique, an Australian therapy which helps muscular and skeletal problems.

"Other people were scared for me when I gave up work. I didn't feel the same way," she says.

Mrs Hawes believes that for people who have worked as more of a team there is a period of adjustment. "People have to realise that when you retire you are on your own. You have to be aware of the isolation. There is no one to bounce ideas off. Everyone is busy - even your family. "It's easy for retired people to feel they don't matter to society. I think people should be educated not to think of retirement as doing nothing, but as going on working. I want to go on with dignity."

Peter Colley and his wife Barbara took early retirement - he was a town planner, she a teacher - but with children still at home they needed to find another way of earning a living. "Our income needed to be sufficient and my pension situation wasn't good. I think this is a common problem. The other thing that you have to consider is your mortgage. We were lucky because ours matured when I was 60 and it's been very useful these past five years."

Mr Colley, who lives in Cockermouth, Cumbria, found work as a part- time consultant, and then, with Barbara, became involved in running an appeal for the conversion of a school into the Kirkgate Arts Centre.

"We work very well together as a team and we get a lot of things done." says Mr Colley."I don't think I've had time to watch the television since I retired. I have never seen a single soap opera and I'm proud of it."

Glenda Cooper