Meet the women who now live in their old school
Liz Liz Rowlinson Rowlinson meets residents with long and happy memories of their new homes
When Jean Wood looks out of the window of her third-floor apartment, she sees the little green area where, 67 years ago, she used to sit under the trees as a pupil of The Friary School in the historic town of Lichfield, Staffordshire.
It was a strict grammar school, and the staff and prefects kept a close eye on their charges. “However, during those rare times when they weren’t looking we would sneak across the road to get an ice cream from the dairy. I have such happy memories of those years,” says the bubbly 82-year-old, who now lives on the site of her former school.
Wood, who became a primary head teacher, has been able to reminisce with old schoolmate Brenda McMinn, who was in the same year at The Friary. By coincidence, she too has ended up buying an apartment at Chapter House, the Pegasus Life retirement development that opened in June.
“I didn’t know Brenda well as she was much sportier than me – I was more academic – but it’s been lovely to have someone familiar to help me get used to a new way of living,” says Wood, who has downsized from a fourbedroom family home five miles away.
It certainly seems a fun way of living too. The thoughtfully conceived development is a mix of new and old buildings, some dating from the 1500s, set around geometric flower beds and a pathway through wild flowers and herbaceous borders. There’s a courtyard garden, an orangery full of greenhouse plants, a lounge and kitchen for the owners’ use (including an honesty bar for the ladies’ Friday night G&Ts or wine and canapé evenings). The 38 one and two-bedroom apartments start from £285,000.
Both Wood and McMinn love the fact they can step straight out of the development into the centre of Lichfield, a lively place with a theatre, good shopping and a host of cultural events held by the cathedral.
“I used to play lacrosse and tennis on the spot where my apartment now sits,” says McMinn, who bought a two-bedroom flat around a year ago for £360,000. “I now go to Age Concern fitness classes with five ladies from Chapter House, but I also play bridge and whist. I have met some lovely people here.”
Twice-married McMinn worked in a bank most of her life, and when her second husband, a doctor, died suddenly in 2008, she moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham.
“When one of my two daughters moved back to the UK and settled in a village nearby, it was the right time to move into a development that will be suited to me when I am not quite so fit,” says the grandmother of five 20-somethings.
“The apartment is nicely configured so the second bedroom is used as an extra sitting room, but it has a sofa bed and can be closed off if needed. I did really want to live in one of the seven apartments in the original part of the Franciscan Friary but it doesn’t have a lift, so is not so ideal in the long term.” There are digital connected healthcare units in every apartment (to contact external care firms) and her annual service charges are £3,340.
The availability of extra medical support was also important to David Herneman, an 89-year-old for whom life has also gone full circle with his choice of retirement home.
A few months ago, he moved into a two-bedroom property located in the place he worked for more than 30 years – the Fry’s Chocolate Factory in Keynsham, between Bristol and Bath on the River Avon.
The iconic red brick buildings of the 1922 factory, which once produced 57,000 tons of chocolate per year including Curly Wurlys and Crunchies, now house The Chocolate Quarter, a £60million development of 136 retirement apartments, and Charterhouse, a 93-bed care home created by St Monica Trust. Facilities include an art and pottery studio, gastropub, health spa, cinema and gardens.
During the Fifties, Herneman worked as an analytical chemist at the factory, and now lives with his wife Winnie, 83, in a property on the “chocolate-making” floor where his father also worked.
“My job was really doing quality control,” says Herneman, who has four children now in their 50s. “In the lab we did have some fun, and a few romances and marriages started there!”
Back then, the Hernemans lived in a three-bedroom house on the Fry’s estate, which was built for the workers. “I lived there with my family until Winnie and I got married, and then we had a four-bedroom house in Keynsham for 35 years,” he says.
With his wife in a wheelchair due to her multiple sclerosis, moving into the Chocolate Quarter, where remaining properties cost from £233,500, made sense. Service charges are £6,900 per year for a two-bedroom apartment which includes a concierge and an emergency call-button service.
“It felt made for us,” adds Herneman. “From our window we can look across the fields towards Lansdown and Bath. Eighty years on, I still love that view.”
‘I used to play lacrosse at school on the exact spot where my apartment now sits’
SWEET RETREAT The Chocolate Quarter, left, and David Herneman, who worked and now lives there, right
PRECIOUS PRECIOUS MEMORIES MEMORIES Jean Wood and Brenda McMinn, who live on the site of their old school