Routine price to pay for a life of leisure

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When Janis Owen, 44, was made redundant six weeks ago, her first priority was to cancel the newspaper delivery. Not because she wanted to shut herself off from the outside world, but quite the opposite.

"I wanted to have to go round the corner to the newsagents so I would have to speak to someone each day, otherwise I might not," explained Ms Owen, from Brentwood, Essex. "I make sure I take the dog out by lunch time ... I make sure I get up in the morning and get dressed to keep some sort of routine but it's actually quite hard to do that."

Ms Owen was a pounds 31,000-a-year group worker at Brentwood's St Charles Centre, a government-run secure unit for youngsters. The first hint of the centre's closure came in May and by August it was history. "I had worked there 14 years. To be told with such short notice that you weren't wanted any more made me angry."

Vowing to be positive, she signed up for a one-year university course in management. But recently the reality of her situation has begun to hit home. "It's quite difficult being self-disciplined. There is a part of me which enjoys doing very little after working very hard, but then the novelty wears off. Just this week it has struck me... the first signs of depression."

Ms Owen has noticed subtle changes in her habits and attitude. "I never used to watch much telly but now I find myself looking at the listings to see if there is a film to watch in the afternoon. I find there is a slight tendency to smoke more now, although my drinking hasn't altered," she said.

"The future is uncertain. I'm a realist and know exactly what the situation is like when it comes to finding employment in your forties, particularly in a new career."

The course is part-time and all the other students are in paid employment. "I no longer have colleagues. I miss just saying `good morning' and the office-type chats. When we couldn't fix a course meeting for an evening next week I almost felt bereft because that was another thing I could go to."

Although Ms Owen received a pay-off of three years' salary, being unemployed means she must watch her money more carefully. "Now that I have finite resources I can't be spontaneous with money in the knowledge that I have next month's salary coming in."

To Richard Lock, 54, a pounds 36,000-a-year team leader for Customs and Excise, the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy was good news. "When I became aware of the option my mind was made up within 10 minutes. The civil service was being run down to a second-rate service and cash wasn't a problem for me."

Mr Lock, a keen sailor from Carshalton, Surrey, eased into early retirement. "I knew when I took the decision that it would be a positive experience."

Since receiving a pension of half his annual salary plus a lump sum, Mr Lock has lost a stone in weight, cut down considerably on the amount he drinks and still cannot find enough hours in the day.