The twilight zone: UK's first village for the over-60s opens

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The Independent Online
RESIDENTS OF Hartrigg Oaks want for nothing. They live in spick and span bungalows with views of the Yorkshire countryside, they sleep easy at night, lulled by 24-hour security, and they have a shop, restaurant and leisure facilities right on their doorstep.

The only catch is that the neighbours are all over 60, so social horizons can be somewhat limited. Hartrigg Oaks is a retirement community, the first of its kind in this country, designed to cater for all needs from old age to the grave.

The project, which has just opened outside York, was inspired by the retirement villages popular with affluent geriatrics in the United States - although the nearest golf course is four miles away and the climate compares unfavourably with Florida.

Healthy residents live in the 152 bungalows that make up Hartrigg Oaks, clustered around a community centre containing coffee bar, restaurant, shop, library, spa pool and fitness centre.

If they become ill or infirm, they are cared for at home for as long as possible. There is also a 41-bed nursing wing.

The estate, built by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, is home to 200 people. Residents - most of them, at least - brim with enthusiasm. It is, they say, an oasis of tranquillity and civilised companionship in which to live out their twilight years.

"You meet people of your own generation," said Alice Berry, 77, having a shampoo and set in the Hartrigg Oaks hair salon. "I was living by myself in the Peak District, a mile from the nearest village, and I felt very isolated."

The noticeboard in the foyer conveys a genteel social whirl. It advertises classes in calligraphy, needlecraft, line dancing and tai chi; shopping trips and outings to concerts and plays; gardening and German conversation; aquatherapy. And there are plans to build a bowling green on the site.

But all is not unrelieved sweetness and light. Claims of ballot-rigging marred elections to the residents' council, and there was a brief but bitter row about whether wheelie bins should be stationed outside bungalows or in communal areas, according to Rachel Plues, the administration manager.

More soberingly, Hartrigg Oaks - which began taking residents last year, before the official opening - has experienced what Ms Plues euphemistically calls a "high turnover".

"We've shipped eight people out in boxes," she said. "The flu epidemic last winter didn't help; we lost three in one week."

Opinion is divided about such communities. Some say they provide security and social life for the elderly; others feel uneasy about "geriatric ghettos" where old age and frailty are kept out of sight.

The pitfalls are acknowledged by Hartrigg Oaks residents like John Scott, 74, who lives there with his wife, Marjorie. "Inevitably you miss the presence of younger people," he said.

"And, without wishing to be morbid, you come face to face with death and suffering because your neighbours are visibly ill. People who get depressed by such things shouldn't come to places like this."

That was the mistake made by two women who have already packed up and left. One said that Hartrigg Oaks made her feel old.

But most residents cannot sing its praises loudly enough. "It suits me down to the ground; couldn't be better," said Ken Gibson, 75, as he dug his vegetable garden.

"I've got like-minded people to talk to and there's so much to do; you keep busy all the time. I came here because I wanted to grow old gracefully, and that's what this place enables you to do."