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A new generation of “elder orphans” are pooling their resources and skills to create a safe environment for an alternative and innovative retirement

What happens when living on in the family home isn’t an option, the children are on a different continent (or don’t exist), buying into a lifestyle retirement village is beyond the budget and the prospect of a traditional old-age home inspires dread? 

A new generation of “elder orphans” are pooling their resources and skills to create a safe environment for an alternative and innovative retirement.

Fifty-something Cate Turner and Maria van Egily, business partners and long-time friends, plan to retire with their best friends in a purpose-built community in a semirural area, preferably on the Garden Route. 

Turner says: “We want to create a sustainable community where we can live independently within a group and hope to be able to buy the land in the next couple of years so that we can build over time. We all have different skills and our dream is a creative space where we can grow old together with the emphasis on living life to the full.” 

Clinical psychologist Louise Machinist and Karen Bush, a consultant and teacher, who set up Shadowlawn with nurse and business owner Jean McQuillin. Picture: Retirement Roomies Images

Innovative retirement communities established by retirees with common interests are springing up across the US, from LGBT seniors and artists to Zen Buddhists and even caravan enthusiasts. 

The best-known one is a latter-day Golden Girls set up called Shadowlawn. 

The three friends bought a rambling house together and established the commune. They have since written a book (and have a website) about their co-operative living experience called My House Our House that offers a wealth of advice to others considering a similar lifestyle.

Former music professor Millicent Rink realised the benefits of communal living with like-minded people many years ago when she retired to her smallholding near Hermanus. Picture: Supplied

Millicent Rink, retired associate professor of music at UCT, is in her late 80s and is the matriarch of a community which lives on a smallholding with a main house and separate cottages in Onrus in the Overberg. 

The residents include retired architect Hendrik Viljoen, former trust administrator Magda Viljoen, three generations of the Colyn family and Elisma Willemse who Millicent took in as a toddler 20 years ago and who is now a permanent family member and housekeeper. 

Rink says as long as everyone has a private space to call their own, communal living has many advantages and can work exceptionally well.


Bernie McDonald is semiretired and still enjoys an active life living on a beautiful farm near Riebeeck-Kasteel with two friends. Picture: Supplied

Eddie and Anne Kettle, who are in their 60s, and Bernie McDonald, 71, have set up home together on a farm just outside Riebeeck Kasteel, and happily co-exist with a menagerie of rescue animals. 

The Kettles still own two small businesses and McDonald does part-time admin work for a local guest house. 

McDonald, whose son lives in Dubai and daughter in Cape Town, says: “The three of us get on fantastically and we still enjoy very active lives; we entertain regularly and often visit friends in the village. I don’t feel my age at all. My finances don’t stretch to a cottage in a new lifestyle retirement village, so I plan to live here until I literally can’t any more.”


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