The Second Half Centre

Jill's charity idea for ageing well.

The oldies of London’s Notting Hill should rejoice that Jill Shaw Ruddock has reached the age of 57. Because once she encountered the menopause, she decided to write a book about it, and being American, she has an upbeat take on it.

At the launch of the book, The Second Half of Your Life, she announced that she was going to set up a charity to promote better ageing for all, and went on to set up an entire centre to put into practice  all the things she advocates for ageing well.

The Second Half Centre was officially opened at the end of January by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

What is the Second Half Centre?

The Centre is based on the premise that we’re all living longer – ‘100 is going to be normal,’ says Jill cheerfully – ‘and it’s up to us how well we age.’  We can all talk about isolation of older people, but this centre does something about it.’

The Second Half Centre is based in the NHS St Charles’ Centre for Wellbeing – the government too is thinking about hospitals and health centres as places people attend when they’re well – and she thinks it’ll pay for itself. ‘When you think what we spend on Dementia…. Well this place is all about prevention.

Wide range of activities

It’s got an extraordinary range of activities, from needlepoint to gardening to juijitsu, delivered by experts (the art history teacher is from the Courtauld). It also has a café and a lending library, and bright airy rooms. And, most importantly, the classes cost only three or four pounds each. Membership is ten or twenty pounds, and there’s a bursary for people who struggle to pay. 

What sort of people go to the centre?

The attendees at The Second Half Centre range from West Indian ladies in their seventies doing computing to middle-class gents trying to launch a post-retirement career. Jill has over 450 members but she’s aiming for 1000. Frankly older people in the area should be kicking down the doors to this cross between an unfogyish club, community centre and further education college.

Five a day prescription for ageing.

The Second Half Centre is based on the prescription for ageing in her book, what she calls her five-a-day:

  1. Engagement with community and family.
  2. Regular exercise.
  3. Wholesome diet.
  4. Mental stimulation – cultivate a passion.
  5. Have a purpose in life.

All of which she says you can get at the centre.

Hormones change with age.

It’s underpinned by interesting research on how hormones in both sexes change as you age. Essentially, dips in the level of the female hormones as women pass the menopause – the ones geared towards having babies – mean that women become, to put it bluntly, more like men.

So they acquire the drive and focus that would have been handy at the outset of a career and can now be usefully deployed in all manner of ways. By contrast it seems that, hormonally speaking, men become more like women and discover their nurturing side. ‘that’s my next book!’

 Where does Jill get her energy?

What drives Jill? ‘It was my parents’, she says. Her mother gave up on an active life after retiring from teaching in her 50’s. ‘She had been an amazingly energetic women, but after that, whenever you called her, she had a whole list of the things that were wrong with her.’

What's next?

Jill, a former investment banker who is married to Sir Paul Ruddock, founder of Lansdowne Partners, could afford to take things easy. But she gives every impression that The Second Half Centre is just the start of her campaign to make ageing more fun. She wants it to be a template for say, thirty others around the UK.

She would throw herself into helping set them up, thought she draws the line at running them. ‘Think what the NHS could do with £10 million!’ she says.

People are encouraged to mix.

Convinced that social contact is critical, she worries that some help for the elderly – carers and meals on wheels – keeps them at home. ‘When people sit at tables by themselves in the café here, I encourage them not to. It’s not what we’re about.’ And it works: people do mix.

Jill Shaw Ruddock should become an oldie pin-up, and not just because she’s petite and pretty. The more Second Half Centres, the better. By herself, she’s a human dynamo; heaven knows what she might do with support from older people around Britain.

Melanie McDonach. Originally written for the Oldie   

Find out more by following the link to The Second Half Centre 

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