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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

April 2012


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month



Aging at Home: For a Lucky Few, a Wish Come True

By Jeanne Davis

“When a group of retirees in Boston banded together to help each other remain in their own homes as they grew older, they little thought they were creating a blueprint for a way of living that would sweep America. But ten years on, there are 65 copycats of their ‘village idea’ and another 200 in development across the US.
Could this idea cross the pond?”          Saga Magazine, January 2012

ALONE in his row house on Beacon Hill, with four precipitous flights of stairs and icy cobblestones outside the front door, John Sears, 75, still managed to look after himself after he was hit by a taxicab and left with a broken knee.

That is because Mr. Sears was one phone call away from everything he needed to remain in his home, a goal of most of the elderly both in the US and the UK.

Mr. Sears required both practical assistance and peace of mind: Transportation to and from the hospital. An advocate with him at medical appointments. Home-delivered meals from favourite restaurants. Someone at his side as he hobbled to the bank and the barber. Someone else to install grab bars in his bathroom. A way to summon help in an emergency, people to look in on him.

All these services were organised for Mr. Sears by Beacon Hill Village, an innovative nonprofit organisation created by and for local residents determined to grow old in familiar surroundings, and to make that possible for others. Community-based models for aging in place designed by the people who use them are the wave of the future, experts say, an alternative to nursing homes and assisted living centres run by large service providers.

Beacon Hill Village originated with a dozen civic-minded residents of this neighbourhood of 19th century gas lamps, red brick sidewalks and ancient elms. They all wanted to remain at home, even after transportation and household chores became difficult or dangerous, the point at which many older people quit familiar surroundings. They also wanted to avoid dependence on adult children.

Formed ten years ago, the Beacon Hill Village is a non-profit group, registered as a charity. It has 385 members aged 50 and over, who pay an annual subscription which covers 60% of the budget for the offices and a full-time executive director, a professional social worker and a team of part-time employees. It works as a sort of cooperative, combining a Village notice board for social events with a social services office and a concierge service. The Village will send the nurse but the member pays for the nursing service. Information and referral encompasses every service that might be needed, from builders to dog walkers and someone to water the plants when you go visit the grandchildren.

Professional providers are supplemented from a roster of 60 volunteers. John Sears, now 80, is dedicated volunteer. I knew John because my parents were his next door neighbours. Their house was very much like his, a five-story, one and a half room deep townhouse. My mother, with debilitating arthritis, maintained that the climb up and down the stairs, sometimes on her knees, was good for her. This was her answer when friends and relatives said she and my father should move to a flat on one floor .

I know that hilly cobblestone street, and the crooked pavements that can be treacherous in rain, snow and ice. But nothing deterred Mother and Dad from living the kind of life they wanted.

I recall too the good neighbour spirit John obviously has. He rescued my father one day when Dad, who was a sun seeker, had climbed to the roof top deck that was reached by a pull down ladder. He had settled himself, dozed, and then woke to find he could not open the roof door to go back inside. After an hour of crying for help, fortunately John heard him and rescued him.

John once more came to the parents' aid. Dad again, a cigar smoker, had settled down for an afternoon nap with the cigar still lit setting the bed on fire. As smoke poured out of the house, John rushed in, not only rescuing Dad but also of course attempting to save his own adjacent house. Though this historic home , which was filled with heirlooms passed down through generations of his patrician Boston family, ended up cloaked in black soot, he refrained from mentioning the damage to my parents with the good grace of a gentleman.

The Village had not yet been established when my parents lived there. Mother died at 86 after a short illness and my father, came to live with us in England, dying quite peacefully (we knew the time had come because he declined his evening cigar) at 97.


Saga is investigating the Beacon Hill Village concept with great interest. They aim to run a trial in the UK to see whether a similar model, adapted for British society, would work here.

If you would be interested, potentially in creating and/or helping to organise a village set-up in your area, email Saga at Or write to: Saga Villages Project, The Saga Building, Enbrook Park, Folkestone, Kent CT20 3SE.



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