Re-fire not retire: More clocking up than clocking off

Re-fire not retire

More clocking up than clocking off

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Clocking up experiences, driving change, reshaping the world of work as we know it. That’s the reality for more and more people choosing to shun retirement as they reach that pivotal age milestone. 

The generation that gave us free love, drugs and rock and roll aren’t ready to slow down and move aside and why should they. The societal changes they have seen throughout their lifetime, the advancements in technology, science, civil rights, social justice – those aged 50+ have been the key changemakers. We salute you!

Yet time and time again, those in later life are ignored or sidelined and believed to have little to offer. Much attention and fanfare are paid to young people achieving it all: Forbes Magazine’s famed 30 under 30 list, social media influencers becoming the world’s youngest billionaires and CEOs achieving so much at such a young age.

But this predilection with the achievements of youth ignores the very real and significant trends emerging regarding older people in today’s workforce.

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”


These trends are:

  • Setting up a new business 
  • Adopting a career change in later life
  • And of course coupled with this, many people are still going strong in their lifelong career, with no plans to retire.

Reasons for these trends include an increased self-awareness of what we’re looking for in later life (ie. flexibility, following a passion) a desire to work for yourself (be your own boss) as well as a widespread need to continue being busy, valuable and productive in the employment sector.

It can’t be ignored that a lot of older people have greater skills, knowledge, work ethic and business connections as compared with youngsters, purely as a result of the time they have put in and the real-world experiences they have gained.

We delved into these emerging trends and spoke to inspirational people leading the charge. 

Entrepreneurial flair has no sell-by date

Based on the seeming abundance of 20-something start-up founders, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the younger you are, the better off your business will be. Before you accept this as a given consider the wide variety of life and business lessons older founders can draw from when they launch their startups.

Experience rich

Older entrepreneurs tend to know exactly what they want and what they need to do to achieve it; they’re fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses and have learnt not just from their personal successes but from their mistakes too. They have gained the requisite skills and business know-how and have the patience and dedication to develop their business from the ground up.

No such thing as failure

It’s impossible to get through life without failing and the older a person is, the more failures they are likely to have experienced. But the thing about failure is it is full of invaluable lessons.  In this sense, there really is no failure, only opportunities to learn.

Be your own boss

The advantage of being your own boss gives you greater freedom to set your own work hours to fit around your other commitments, as well as the ability to choose work and assignments that are of genuine interest and enjoyment to you.

It’s who you know

Hand in hand with this greater life experience is a wider circle of contacts to reach out to.

Entrepreneurs in the spotlight

We caught up with two amazing people who have both created and built their own businesses in later life.

Simon Gudgeon is an award-winning British sculptor whose work sits proudly in locations of extreme significance including London’s Hyde Park, the gardens of Highgrove House – the residence of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall – as well as the gardens of Sandringham House. Now added to this prestigious list is The Parsley Box Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Having acquired a law degree and previously worked as a solicitor, insurance salesman and landscape gardener, Simon didn’t try his hand at sculpting until he was 40.

Now 62, Simon along with his wife Monique, owns and operates a 26-acre botanical sculpture garden, complete with galleries, café, retail bazaar and events space, from their home in Dorchester. Opening in 2007, Sculpture by the Lakes was originally intended as a method through which Simon could display his large-scale outdoor sculptures in their intended habitat to potential buyers.

However, upon deciding to open their gardens to the public for a charity weekend, Simon and Monique were quick to see the potential their property had to become what it now is: one of the UK’s premium sculpture parks and tourist attractions.

Simon Gudgeon pictured with his sculpture ‘Amorous’ which will feature in The Parsley Box Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021.

“Back in my day, a degree was the way to learn. But nowadays you can actually learn pretty well everything you want from the internet. So I would say to anybody, unless you are doing a vocational degree, don’t go to university. Go out there and learn, change as much as you like until you find something you actually enjoy doing. I’m totally self taught as a sculptor and all the skills I have I’ve just learned over the internet and through trial and error.”

Simon recently hosted the Dorset Arts Festival and had over 60 different artists all creating and exhibiting. One of the artists was a 92 year old potter and he only took up pottery at the age of 90.

“You can do whatever you like, you can change your career at any stage nowadays. 40, 50 years ago once you started a career you were in that career for life but now there is a much more flexible job market and you really can keep on changing.”

We asked Simon whether starting a business later in life had its advantages:

“I think so yes. I was very lucky because between doing law and art I did a whole lot of other things that have helped me in my career now. I learned a little bit about marketing, a little bit about exhibiting and it’s picking that knowledge and those skills up and working with it. I mean you can be an incredible artist but if all your paintings or sculptures end up staying in dark cupboards and nobody sees them, you won’t be a successful artist and you won’t be able to keep creating.”

When asked what advice he has for people in their later stages of life looking to make the leap to a different career path or start a new business or endeavour, Simon had this wisdom to share:

“You don’t know what you are good at until you try. Don’t be scared to fail. There is no such thing as failure, you learn something on everything you do. You can go and try something else, you might not enjoy it, you might fail at it or it might not work out, but then you can move on to something else. Just keep looking. Find what you love doing and then take the courage to jump.”

Flower power

In a similar situation to Simon, Fiona Porter (55) also set up her own business to capitalise on her artistic talents.

Having previously been employed as a geotechnical engineer and school teacher, at the age of 50 Fiona was looking for a change.

Fiona Porter, founder of Cotswold Country Flowers.

She had always had a passion for gardening and being outdoors and so decided to put herself through a cut flower growing course and try her hand at selling flowers she grew in her 1/3 acre Cotswold country garden.

Initially selling her flowers down the end of her lane and in her village shop, Fiona decided to take the plunge and set up her own business, engaging a website designer and joining Flowers from the Farm, a membership organisation promoting the sustainable growth and sale of British flowers.

Now in her fifth season, Fiona’s business Cotswold Country Flowers is going from strength to strength.

They regularly cater for weddings, funerals and promotions and making good use of her years of teaching experience, Fiona hosts workshops on everything from growing flowers and arranging flowers, to wreath making and flower crown creating (incredibly popular with hen’s nights apparently).

“At 50 I still felt fit and active and able to take on a new challenge. I wanted to do something different, something where I could work from home and explore my passions. 30, 40 years ago you felt that when you embarked on a career you were stuck with it for life. But nowadays there are so many opportunities and so many skills to learn along the way.”

We asked what advice Fiona might have for someone stuck in a career that they don’t feel is right for them. She had this to offer:

“Even if you have started out on a career path that you don’t particularly like or it hasn’t worked out the way you wanted it to, you will still pick up so many skills. Whether it’s personal skills, practical skills or business skills, you will always learn things that will be useful to you in another career. Don’t be scared to try something new and move in a different direction.”

When asked what Fiona finds the most rewarding from her venture, she replies: 

“I gain a great deal of personal satisfaction from my work and from client feedback and to know business success is down to yourself and no one else.”

On a social note, she adds:

“I have also really enjoyed meeting other people through setting up my own business. I didn’t even know what networking was before I started Cotswold Country Flowers, but now I really enjoy it; helping other people and figuring out if they can help you, learning all sorts of new tips and tricks and meeting a whole new circle of friends. It’s been really fun to meet people who are passionate about what I am passionate about and to have a common interest with them and hear their stories. It’s been really rewarding and also really motivational.”

A change is as good as a rest

It used to be that you would go to school, you would get a job and you would stay in that job, pretty well your whole life. But in recent years there has been a trend towards changing careers in later life. In their 40s, 50s and even 60s many individuals are deciding to take the plunge and make the change.

Follow your dreams

The most common reason offered for these career switches is a desire (and the availability of requisite means) to follow your passion, to get the most out of life and potentially leave a legacy.

Now is your time; you’ve paid off your mortgage, your children have flown the nest, you find yourself no longer having so many outgoing expenses. Accepting a pay cut for a career you really want or taking some time out of work to develop new skills is now feasible.

That work-life balance

A second common reason for changing up your career in later life is to achieve a greater work-life balance and give yourself more freedom to enjoy your downtime and pursue your hobbies.

A different career may involve more flexible hours, less stress, or indeed incorporate a previously purely recreational pastime.

One gentleman who has demonstrated this to perfection is Parsley Box customer and former BBC radio and television presenter, Alan Wright. 

Author Alan Wright, pictured here with rescue cat Buster, the cat who started it all.
Kitten Cuthbert is published by Michael Terence Publishing
and is available on Amazon.

“After Leeds University graduation in 1969 my main career was a BBC presenter, mainly radio and some TV for over 30 years. I hosted the mid-morning programme on BBC North every weekday from nine till noon. That led to the corporate speaking circuit. I’ve spoken all over the UK and on every continent except Antarctica. At one dinner in London a guest loved my presentation and he owned a cruise line. I now speak on leading cruise lines half a dozen times a year and love it.”

But being an after dinner speaker on cruise liners around the world isn’t Alan’s only career switch. He developed a passion for writing and is now at 74 years young, a successful author.

When asked about this impressive career change, Alan says:

“It evolved over time and I was lucky to be earning a living while making the transition. The big surprise came when a rescue cat, Buster, came into our lives. His full story is in Kitten Cuthbert Book One. I started making up stories for youngsters in the family about Buster and his friends – Cuthbert and Sherbert. I wrote them down and sent them to my publisher to see what he thought. Contract came by return mail and we now have three Kitten Cuthbert books out with 10 more commissioned in the series.”

The books embrace key issues of equality, diversity and inclusivity and encourage youngsters to want to learn. In Book Two for example, the cats take a trip to London on the train and become fascinated with railway history and steam power.

Ain’t no stopping us now

For those lucky enough to have found their vocation in life, there’s a disinclination to retire.

Many are choosing to continue working well past retirement age. 

Indeed, 2019 research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that the number of people aged 70 or over who are still working has doubled since 2009 and is steadily increasing.

Nearly one in 12 of those in their 70s are still working, a significant increase from the one in 22 working 10 years ago.

Office for National Statistics, 2019

While I can, I will

Naturally this trend begs the question of ‘why?’. Why are so many people continuing to work into their late 60s and 70s? Well modern medicine certainly has it’s part to play. In general people are living longer, feeling healthier for longer and as such seeing no reason to stop working when they are still physically capable. 

A 2015 ONS study asked the question as to why people are continuing to work past state pension age (currently 66 and rising to 67 in 2028) and the answer seemed to overwhelmingly reflect this sentiment. People were just not ready to stop work.

Take 99 year old David Flucker. David still works four days a week at a charity shop in Edinburgh – completing two bus journeys and a 20 minute walk to get there – and has no plans to slow down.

amount of people choosing not to retire

Flucker tells the BBC: “If they ever closed the shop, I don’t know what I would do – I couldn’t just sit in the house doing nothing. I will try my best to live as long as I can, and will only stop working when I collapse.”

This sentiment was reiterated by sculptor Simon Gudgeon, now 62 when we asked if he sees himself planning to retire in the near future:

“I don’t want to stop doing what I love and I can’t see any reason to slow down or stop doing it. I don’t want to go backwards. What I have created is something I am passionate about and something I really enjoy doing so I can’t see why I would want to stop.”

Former BBC presenter, now children’s author and after dinner speaker, Alan Wright agrees:

“I was 74 recently and, most days, I feel mighty energetic. I’m heading off shortly to speak on three consecutive cruises for Viking and, once we can fly again, have Kitten Cuthbert promotional trips booked in Seattle, New York, Dubai and Delhi. Fingers crossed, I hope to keep enjoying writing, speaking and travel for many years yet.”

Can’t stop, won’t stop

This mentality is also shared by a number of people in the public eye. Sir David Attenborough – still working and creating at the age of 95, Sir Tom Jones – still performing and touring at 81, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith – still both starring in films at 86.

These individuals certainly need not to continue work for the money, but rather they continue for the love of their craft, for the contribution they can make to society, for the satisfaction of a job well done.

Do you have experience with any of these trends?

Have you changed career in later life? Set up your own business in your 40s, 50s, or 60s? Or are you past state pension age and still happily working with no plans to slow down?

We would love to hear about it and tell your story.

Cover photo by Laura Jane Dale