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Be inspired every day with Living North
How to Stay Busy in Retirement
June 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

You've got all the free time in the world? How will you spend it…

Retirement might be looking like an increasingly distant prospect for many, but when you do reach that longed-for milestone another problem presents itself. You're not working and the limitations of the nine to five (if you were lucky enough to work regular hours) are gone, but the structure they provided have gone too.

That’s before you’ve even taken into account workplace friendships, and the extent to which (whether we like it or not) our identities tend to form around our job description. In short, retirement can come as a shock to the system and it’s not unusual to feel unsettled, as well as liberated.  

So what to do? Sometimes it can be a lot easier to dream about all the things you could be getting up to if you didn’t have to work than to actually get them done when you finally don’t. Nevertheless, there are lots benefits to creating some new commitments in your life, from new routines and opportunities for socialising, to the self-esteem boost of seeing a skill improve.

Here are a few ideas to get you started


We all know that volunteering is a good thing: it gives you purpose, connects you with a community, and there’s the feel-good buzz of giving back. However, the key to finding the right role for you and your lifestyle is understanding just how varied volunteering can be. Think outside the box: what do you enjoy, what skills do you have, who would you like to help and what would you like to learn?

Maybe you think your professional experience could be useful to a board of trustees, or you’d just like to give a few hours to a community garden when you can. If you’re interested in history or the arts, why not consider being a tour guide at one of your favourite museums? If you’re passionate about education, you could support primary and secondary school students as a tutor. Alternatively, you might think about combining volunteering with travel, in which case, Projects Abroad have programme specifically oriented toward older adults.

Whatever you land on, the feeling of having contributed (and meeting like-minded people en-route) is hard to beat. If you’re looking for ideas, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is a great place to start.

Explore Lifelong Learning

Returning to university as a mature student is always an option, but if you want to keep learning in a more leisurely manner there are other ways to get back into education. The Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York has a great offering of Learning for Pleasure Courses. These vary from short to long courses, online and in-person and cover a wide range of disciplines, from Creative Writing to Social Sciences. Another place you might look is Rossett Adult Learning in Harrogate. They do offer courses in academic subjects like history and philosophy, but we think that their range of more practical courses, teaching skills from floristry to furniture making, make them particularly unique.

Explore is a Newcastle-based programme of adult learning events. Their sessions are held face to face in venues around the city centre or over Zoom, and are run by specialist tutors from local universities and further afield. There are talks, study groups, practical art sessions and field trips covering an ever-evolving range of topics ranging from forensic anthropology to art history, Latin and geology. There is a fee to join, but visit their website first to join one of their free taster events.


u3a (the University of the Third Age) is a UK-wide movement of more than 1,000 local groups (or u3as) for people who are not working full-time to come together and learn for fun. Membership averages less than £20 per year, and a typical u3a will be a home to multiple, varied activity and interest groups, where members come together online and in-person to learn from each other on an informal basis. From ballroom dancing to birdwatching, your local u3a is a great place to meet new circles of people with shared interests, and if the group you want doesn’t exist – set it up! This July, members from across the UK will be gathering in York for the first u3a Festival, where they will have the chance to participate in three days of member-run talks, sporting events, musical entertainment and workshops.

Get Creative

One of the great blessings of taking up hobbies in later life is that you can focus on enjoying yourself; there’s no requirement to compete or try to kickstart another career unless you want to. As well as the social benefits of joining a group, and the satisfaction of picking up a new skill (at whatever level), getting creative can be a very mindful way to spend a few hours luxuriating in sitting still – you’ve earned it!

So where to start? If you’re interested in learning a more specialist skill like pottery, jewellery-making or stained glass, The Craft Courses website is a great resource for finding classes and workshops near you. There are lots of venues that host one-off and regular art classes, but some of our favourites are the North Yorks Art School, which operates in multiple locations across North Yorkshire, The Craft House in Bingley, Sunny Bank Mills in Leeds (these guys are especially good for textile crafts) and The Art House Sheffield. For generalists, Colour Wheel Art Classes run some great courses form Ushaw College in Durham, helping you get to grips with a new painting or drawing process each week. Finally, keep an eye out for groups in your community – one of our favourites is A Stitch in Time, a knitting and crochet group based in Benwell that spend a few hours every week creating items for needy recipients like patients on neonatal units, or to show their support to veterans. If the latter sounds a bit more your style, then local libraries and noticeboards in community halls, churches, cafés and shops are a good place to look for groups near you. Alternatively, head online to scour community Facebook groups, or have a browse on

Move Into Music

‘I wish I’d learned to play a musical instrument’ is a common regret, but there’s no need to be defeatist about it. If you really want to commit, find a local music teacher so you can finally get working on that dream of a sax solo. Having said this, it’s worth asking yourself if you really are more likely to practise your scales at 64 than when you were 12 before investing in an instrument. If the answer is no, there are still plenty of more casual groups you can get involved in. Choirs are a classic option, and we particularly like the sound of groups like The Great Yorkshire Chorus in Saltaire and Stockton Arts Centre’s Singers, but you might be surprised at what else you can find with a bit of digging. For example, Parental Guidance at Harrogate Music Centre is a band for adults who want to learn to play a wind instrument and Sambanistas at Gateshead’s The Glasshouse is a samba band that gives attendees the chance to try their hand at traditional Brazilian drums and hand percussion – no experience required!

Start-up Afresh?

Is there a business idea you’ve been cradling over the years, a dream of self-employment that you’ve been waiting for the right moment to pursue? So called ‘seniorpreneurship’ is more common than you might think, with plenty of people realising that the experience they accrued over the course of their career puts them in a great position to create their next. If you think this could be you, rest assured that there are organisations out there to offer support and guidance on how to make the leap, just head to the directory of the National Enterprise Network to start your search.

Learn a Language

As well as physical fitness, keeping yourself intellectually active should be a priority in retirement and a great way to do that is by learning a language. Learning languages is generally harder for adults than the infinitely-absorbent brains of children, but understanding the benefits of trying (research suggests it can delay cognitive decline) is a good way to stay motivated. If you’re looking for in-person classes, Durham University have courses that are open to the public, or try one of the courses from Newcastle City Learning, another good place to start is a course from Languages for All (LfA) at the University of York. If you want to practise your conversation, Newcastle Language Exchange meet every Thursday evening at Horticulture to speak and practise a diverse range of languages as well as an organisation called Language Exchanges which organise weekly events in York, Leeds and Sheffield for members to meet and practise in casual venues like bars and pubs. If French is your thing, a membership of Alliance Française will give you access to their talks and social events for French-speakers across the North East and Yorkshire. / / /

Blaydon Racers Blaydon Racers

Socialising with a Side of Sport

Plenty of people spend their retirement taking on triathlons but there’s nothing wrong with having some gentler options up your sleeve – particularly when they’re such a good place to find communities of other retirees.

Walking Football
There are plenty of groups around the North East and Yorkshire which can be found through the National Walking Football Association’s website. This is a way of playing football with adjustments, most notably removing running, but also tweaks like swapping throw-ins for kick-ins so that you can play on regardless of age.

Walking Touch Rugby
If you’re a rugby fan but the thought of a scrum now has you running scared, walking rugby might be the thing for you. This is a slower, non-contact version of the game that is suitable for all ages and abilities, and is a great way to socialise, get active and get outside. Read our interview with the founding member of the Blaydon Racers walking touch rugby team or head to to find a team near you.

Walking Netball
This sport pretty much does what it says on the tin, taking the traditional game of netball and slowing it down to walking pace with adapted rules so that anyone can play without feeling excluded by age or fitness. There are probably more local clubs than you think too, just head to England Netball’s website to find the closest game to you.

Pickleball Pickleball

Pickleball was created in America in the ‘80s, but has had a real surge in popularity in the UK over the last few years. A mashup of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball is relatively easy to learn and is generally considered lower impact than other racket sports.

Sometimes clichés exist for a reason, and if you’re feeling resistant to the notion of become a retiree that golfs, consider this your permission to give in. And why wouldn’t you? A nice walk, a good chat and a bit of friendly competition are all ingredients for a delightful afternoon spent outdoors. There is plenty of coaching available at courses across the North East, from Elite Golf Academies at Northumberland Golf Course, to lessons with Darren Pearce at Darlington’s Headlam Hall as well as some beautiful and prestigious golf courses throughout Yorkshire (Lindrick, Moortown and Ganton Golf Clubs have all hosted the Ryder cup) and most will offer coaching. Being outdoors is obviously integral to the appeal of the sport, but if you want some hard data on your swing, try out one of the new indoor golfing venues like Back Nine Golf in Otley or for total beginners we particularly like the tech-forward approach at Jarrow’s Scratch Golf Studio, an indoor golf venue that can take you on a virtual journey across 150 of the world’s best golf courses, and uses data-led recommendations to help improve your game.

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