Why community matters …

by Catherine Rickwood

A number of years ago I caught a train from Sydney to Canberra. The train left Sydney late morning so the majority of passengers were pensioners. I sat opposite a lovely couple and, as is my tendency, we chatted. Their story is one I’ve not forgotten, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

The couple was retired. Happily retired and enjoying life. Well, they were at the time I met them. However, it wasn’t always that way.

Upon retirement, and as empty nesters they had looked forward to living in a particular location on the Central Coast of NSW. They sold the family home and found their dream location and their new dream home. Aware that it always takes time to settle into a new place they allowed time to meet new people and become ‘local’. However, as the days became weeks and the weeks became months they became increasingly unhappy.

When telling me their story, they talked about being unseen. Faceless. No one said hello. No one seemed to notice them. No one was particularly friendly.   Not even the local storeowners seemed to show any sort of recognition or familiarity.

This couple became increasingly aware that most of their neighbours were younger and still working full time building their careers. After less than 12 months they decided to sell and move to a retirement village. It was a big decision as there was some financial loss, and their adult children were not convinced. However, the loss was minimal compared with the loneliness and isolation that they felt in their new “community”.

Whilst neither of them had envisaged or planned on moving to a retirement village, they had heard positive stories from their friends and were happy to give it a go and be with other people at the same stage in life. To be ‘seen’ within a community. At this point in their story their eyes and faces lit up as they recall the difference between their original dream and their revised choice.

Apparently not long after they moved to the retirement village he had become sick and had to spend some time in hospital. Whilst they had only been recent arrivals to this retirement village they were both overwhelmed with the support and kindness that they had received. He talked about having many visitors and cards whilst in the hospital. She spoke of being given meals and invited to dinner. Their joy in the recollection of the story was evident.

The experience of this couple exemplifies findings by the Human Rights Commission. In their report  it was found that “age discrimination and invisibility [led to] older Australians feeling a sense of shame, anger or sadness”.  An equally valuable lesson from this story is the importance of the role of community when we retire. Research1 shows that social relationships are important to the wellbeing of all people – the young, the recent and soon-to-be retired and the old.

Why tell this story? Because it reminds us about three important aspects of community.  Community matters because it contributes to:

  1. Better health.
  2. Life Satisfaction.
  3. Our sense of happiness. 

Living in the dream home in the dream location doesn’t replace the importance of connection, real connection, to others. To be noticed. To be acknowledged. To be cared for as a person. Whilst at some level we know this, it’s easy to forget. Particularly when we’re attached to an idea of what we think we want. Of what we think is important.

I’m not advocating retirement villages.  They may suit some people, but not everyone.  What I am advocating is the importance of feeling connected and part of our local community – wherever we choose to live.

What are your plans for retirement? Where will you live? Why? Let me know. I’m genuinely interested.

If you know someone who you think would also enjoy this post, please share it via email or Facebook, or use one of the links below.



1 Eheart, B.K., Hopping, K., Power, M.B., Mitchell, T.T., & Racine, D. (2009), Generation of Hope Communities: An intergenerational neighborhood model of support and service, Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 47-52
Emlet, C. A. M., J.T. (2012). “The importance of social connectedness in building age-friendly communities.” Journal of Aging Research.
Steels, S. (2015). “Key characteristics of age-friendly cities and communities: A review.” Cities 47: 45-52.
About the Author

Catherine Rickwood

An experienced researcher and business executive, Catherine's work is informed by academic knowledge and evidence to deliver practical actions with measurable outcomes. These combined skills create a powerful and useful ability to delve deep on issues, ask incisive questions, think laterally, and bring knowledge and insights to individuals, a team, and an organisation keen to engage with, and include the over 50's as a valuable part of their business strategy.

Catherine Rickwood is solutions-focussed, working with innovative organisations keen to improve customer and employee insights and empathy to increase their success in new markets, build loyalty, and increase innovation. She does this using a co-design process that engages employees and key stakeholders to create collaborative solutions. Contact Catherine to discover how her services can support your organisation to harness the changing demographic reality.

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