By Fred Redwood
Published in Daily Mail Sunday 29th September 2019.

Author Graham Oakley

Learning to draw is good for body and soul – and it’s never too late to start…

ARTISTIC inspiration burns brightest in adolescence, smoulders in our middle years, then cools to a cinder in old age. Or so we’re told.

But tell that to the artists and writers who live in the country’s retirement developments and they would smartly recall that Thomas Hardy published lyric poetry at 85, Verdi polished off Falstaff, his most acclaimed opera, at 80, and Frank Lloyd Wright hit 91 as his design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York took shape.

If you want to see senior citizen art in action, then try the McCarthy & Stone development, Bowes Lyon Court, in Poundbury, Dorset (, where the management do everything possible to cater for their artsy little community.

Graham Oakley, author of the Church Mice, the million-selling children’s book series, illustrates his books with intricate watercolours. Today, he re-works his manuscripts from the study in his two-bedroom apartment. ‘I need peace to work so this place suits me well,’ says Oakley, 90, who has been in the development for two years. ‘I can use the dining room if I choose or cook for myself.’

Rowena Hampton, 80, a very different kind of artist living in the same development, has a more garrulous approach. After a career as a secretary, Rowena returned to her first love — portraiture, running classes and winning prizes.

‘Now the management allow me to run classes from a function room,’ says Hampton, who has lived in Bowes Lyon Court for three years. ‘My paintings are hung in pride of place in the reception, I met Prince Charles when he visited and I have now sold 18 paintings to the other residents.’

It has been known for some time that art stimulates the mind and develops motor skills. Now researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, U.S., have an even better reason for taking up the paintbrush — having followed 256 over-85s for four years, they found painting, drawing and sculpting lowers the risk of developing the first signs of dementia by 73 per cent.

No one is better placed to comment on these findings than Dr Mary Greig, 79, a painter who is a resident in Castle Village, Berkhamsted.

‘There is a therapeutic value in using colour or words,’ says Mary. ‘Expressing ourselves through art is something we find easy when young, then we put it aside. However, many rediscover the joy of self-expression again in old age.’

Artists often bring with them an interesting story, none more so than Andy Smith, 77, who lives in the Cognatum village in South Petherton, Somerset ( In his heyday, Smith wrote scripts for the likes of John Cleese and Ronnie Barker.

‘I was working in insurance and it was driving me mad,’ says Smith. ‘So I sent a letter to the television company saying if they didn’t give me a job, I’d throw myself off Waterloo Bridge. They asked me to interview because they wanted to see who would write such a thing.’ Smith now spends his time painting.

INSPIRED: Castle Village in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire

Like Smith, Brian Hinett, 86, initially made a career from writing before taking early retirement 30 years ago and moving to the South of France, where he taught English. Then, in his 60s, he returned to Britain to study art and writing.

Brian, who has lived at the Wadswick Green development in Wiltshire ( for four years, has written more than 100 poems and is looking for a publisher. He also paints landscapes and self-portraits. ‘It’s important to have the right environment to be creative,’ says Hinett.

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