When I'm 64...

PUBLISHED: 12:02 03 April 2013 | UPDATED: 21:23 05 April 2013

When I'm 64...

When I'm 64...

Is Essex the Florida of the UK? Well, last year more than one-in-ten British retirement homebuyers chose Essex as the place to enjoy their twilight years. Nicky Adams finds out why

The last thing 78-year-old Irene Webb wanted for her golden years was to be surrounded by older people in a typical retirement town. Being around young people keeps me young, says Irene. I wanted to live somewhere not too remote, with a lively atmosphere and a real mix of people and ages.

For the past two years, Irene and her husband James, also 78, have lived in the Essex town of Witham. You wouldnt necessarily think of Essex as a place to retire to, Irene admits, but the county has some beautiful countryside, its towns are attractive and easily accessible, and in the summer we can go on day trips to the coast - even without a car. Essex has pretty much all of the amenities we could conceivably need, but if we fancy a trip to the theatre in London, thats only a short journey away too.

Irene and James are not the only ones choosing Essex in retirement. In fact 11.1% of all retirement properties sold by national expert Retirement Homesearch in the UK were bought in our county last year.

This comes as no surprise to David Gabriel, head of Retirement Homesearch (RHS). Modern retirees have come to expect much more out of retirement living, says David, and Essex has come into its own as a county offering the right mix of culture, amenities and scenery, with attractive towns and lovely countryside and coastline.

But can Essex really rival the established favourite retirement locations? It seems so. Unbelievably, Chelmsford is currently only just behind Bournemouth in the pensioner popularity stakes and both Romford and Witham are in the top 20 choices. Indeed, retirement complexes are popping up all over the county.

South coast towns such as Bournemouth have always attracted retirees, and will continue to do so, predicts David. But Essex has the coastline and scenery of more traditional retirement hotspots, plus a lot more to offer too - with its varied towns, excellent transport links and proximity to all of the attractions of London. The county itself has brand new cultural attractions, such as the firstsite gallery in Colchester, as well as a wealth of history and historic monuments, and traditional seaside ports like Maldon. So its perhaps to be expected that Essex is now the most popular county for retirees.

Irene and James decided to live in Witham, because, explains Irene: it has a high street with all the shops I like, and there are plenty of other towns like Chelmsford nearby we can easily get to, so we never feel cut off here.

Their home is an apartment at Foster Court, a retirement development for the over-55s, managed by Peverel Retirement. In-house facilities include a residents lounge, laundry, guest facilities, landscaped gardens, hairdressing salon, a library and a management team who are on hand to help out when needed. There are two further similar developments in Witham available through Retirement Homesearch, and apartments are being snapped up very quickly.

Across Essex, demand is high. Gordon Swan is manager of The Hawthorns retirement complex in Braintree, which offers residents and all-inclusive lifestyle for a monthly rental. For Gordon, the attractions of retiring to Essex are clear. A number of our residents enjoy spending a weekend in London or a spell in the sunshine, explains Gordon. Braintree, with its excellent road-links and Stansted airport so close, is ideally located to enable our residents make the most of their retirement years. Its the place to be if your idea of retirement is having fun and keeping active.

Developers have not been slow to notice this trend in the countys popularity. Signature Senior Lifestyle a developer of private communities specialising in residential, nursing and dementia care only looked at a couple of sites in Essex and chose to build a new 25m complex, The Beeches, in Brentwood.

We open our doors in the summer, and the reservations and general interest for The Beeches has been enormous, says Amanda Fisher of Signature Senior Lifestyle. Its a wonderful area to live in, but it is very under-served for retirement property.

Signature has found that many would-be residents at The Beeches already live within 20 minutes drive of the development, which means they can keep in close touch with their friends and family. Certainly not having to drive too far to catch up with familiar faces or to enjoy a day out is a big factor for many retirees when it comes to choosing a place to live. Carol and Ken Smith were able to give up their car when they moved into a retirement home at McCarthy & Stones Tythe Court development in Romford.

Its such a convenient location, says Carol, so not having a car is just no problem. Moving to Romford has taken away so much of the stress and the worry. We feel much more relaxed now we dont have such a big house and garden to look after, and its a great place to live.

McCarthy & Stone have no fewer than four new retirement developments in Essex at Tythe Court in Collier Row, Bailey Court in Chelmsford, Weighbridge Court in Chipping Ongar and Kingsman Court in Clacton on Sea.

Those wanting to make the most of their later years find it easy to maintain active and independent lifestyles in Essex, says Julie Ward of McCarthy & Stone. Thats not just because of the ideally located and well-established town centres, packed with all the amenities you might need, but also due to the excellent transport links which make the countys vast collection of historic sites, museums, coastal attractions, and green open spaces so easy to access. Essex is an ideal place for anyone relishing the opportunity to slow down their pace of life, but wanting to remain close to the hustle and bustle of a town or city centre.

And of course, the traditional seaside is not too far away, with the Blue-flagged beaches of Southend and Clacton rivaling Bournemouth for the number of deckchairs, windbreaks and ice-creams on the prom. Indeed, Essex is a place where retirees can have the best of all possible worlds.

Did you know

  • Essex and Kent are the top selling counties for retirement property in the UK

  • 11.1% of retirement properties were bought in Essex last year

  • Nine of the top 20 selling towns are in the east (East Anglia, Essex and Kent)

  • Chelmsford is the second best-selling location for retirement homes in the UK (a 130% increase in sales compared to the previous year) second only to Bournemouth

  • Romford and Witham are also in the top 20 towns most popular with retirees

  • The average cost of a retirement home is 114,761

(Figures for the 12 months to 30 September 2012, report by Retirement Homesearch)

Chelmsford is becoming the most popular place to retire to

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