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Five ways modern retirement’s inspired by holidays

Helping a relative make the move to a retirement home? Check out a pioneering new model.

We’re living longer, leading fitter, more active lives and the perception of ‘old age’ is changing. Where once pensioners would have been content to lie in a deckchair abroad, one of Saga Holidays’ most popular tours is now gorilla trekking in Uganda.

So it stands to reason that if you have relatives hitting an age, or situation, where they could do with the reassurance or sociability of a retirement home, they’re going to be looking for something a lot more modern than was the norm just a couple of decades ago.

Among a new breed of retirement villages is Hawthorns in Eastbourne. Muddy went for a look round to find out how it has borrowed ideas from holidays, hotels and cruise ships.

1. The look

Past the hotel-style reception desk with a help-yourself bowl of fruit, the first thing you see is cruise ship-style atrium, with a grand piano waiting for residents or visiting musicians to tinkle those ivories. A staircase (there are lifts too, naturally) winds round the open plan dining hall leading to the rooms. The whole place is a chintz free-zone – no swirly carpets here. Apartments come in neutral shades, ready for residents to add their own homely touches.

There are some contemporary pictures and retro holiday posters on the corridor walls that I wouldn’t mind in my own home. Free wifi? Of course. There are also IT classes for silver surfers who need a helping hand.


Retirees (average age here is 85) chose from studio, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments with kitchenettes, or two bedroom bungalows with private gardens and full kitchens (so people can switch between self-catering and meals in the dining room as the mood takes them).

Bungalow garden

2. Food 

Food is all-inclusive, with wine served with the three-course meal at lunchtimes (certainly sounds like how we want to be spending our retirement!) Fillet of hake with prawn thermidor sauce, lamb korma or stuffed tomatoes were the choices of main on our visit, along with the self service salad bar. The chef and team have been recruited from hotels. In fact Hawthorns recently achieved Hospitality Assured accreditation – a quality standard for customer service used by hotels. Just like you’d find in a hotel or restaurant, there’s also a private dining room residents can reserve for special occasions.

3. Entertainment and excursions 

There’s a cinema room, library, snooker table, and a social room with darts, board games etc. Fitness is encouraged with walking trails around the complex and further afield, and an exercise bike is set up with a suggested ‘route’ equivalent to the seafront. Looking at the activity board the modern pensioner is as likely to be trying laughter yoga as bingo. The new dance floor is put to good use when bands visit or there are party nights.

Cinema room

A minibus runs a shuttle to the nearby town centre and seafront for those who don’t want to use regular public transport, or it’s a 15 minute walk. There also day trips along the coast, to National Trust sites and the like.

Pampering has not been overlooked with not just the usual hair styling available in the salon but pedicures, facials and massages as you’d expect in a hotel.

4. All-inclusive 

OK we’re not talking Club Tropicana-style bottomless cocktails and complimentary use of windsurfers but there is a flexible, all-in model that means your relative doesn’t necessarily have to sell their house to move.

Photo by Andy Butler

Retirement apartments have historically been something you buy. Hawthorns has pioneered the rental model and it’s just starting to catch on elsewhere. All-inclusive means the food, rates and housekeeping are covered, right down to maintenance of the neat gardens (though residents are welcome to help tend the herbs and veg the kitchen uses). Some residents move from renting elsewhere, some keep their existing home and rent it out, others’ pensions cover the fees.

There’s a notice period of just 28 days should a resident wish to move on (we’ve known gyms and mobile phone contracts trickier!) So if your relative’s health deteriorates and they need a more hands-on home, rather than a visiting carer, or they want to do something fun like head off on a cruise for a year, that’s fine. They can also change their mind about staying. They can even have a trial beforehand, checking in for a month’s stay with no obligation.

5. Twin centres

Twin-centres – pairing two destinations, are all the rage for holidays and Hawthorns residents can chose to take a week away each year at another home in the chain – that’s Braintree in Essex, Upton in Northants or Clevedon in Somerset.


Clevedon is particularly popular for an alternative coastal break as it’s right on the seafront. Though the others prove handy for residents who have family or friends to visit in those regions.

Don’t forget to send a postcard!

Find more ideas here


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