With an ageing population, finding centenarians in Scotland who clock up a hundred years or so is becoming less rare, but finding a 99 year old who lives independently is still quite a find.
Miss Jean Butchart is her own boss, owns her own home, has her own friends and hobbies, and she’s as sharp as a tack. When presented with a birthday cake with ’99’ decorated in icing on the top, she frankly and amusingly described it as “An unnecessary caper”.
When any of us consider living life to such a ripe age, an independent lifestyle such as Miss Butchart’s, and the maintenance of a good sense of humour, is probably the scenario we’d ideally envisage. When asked what her secret was, Miss Butchart retorted, “Your guess is as good as mine”. Admittedly there’s no magic wand or secret potion.
Born in Newcastle, Jean Butchart moved to Scotland aged six months old when her father secured a job in Glasgow. Aged eight, the family moved to Edinburgh where she lived until qualifying as a teacher in Domestic Science and Home Economics. Then, during the war Miss Butchart taught in a boarding school in Herefordshire, and remembers battling with rations and trying to source real eggs to demonstrate how to make a soufflé, until a role in the famous Aberdeen College of Domestic Science (known as the Do’ School) brought Jean to the Granite City in 1948.
Miss Butchart admits that “My life has been a very ordinary one”, and perhaps a steady, fulfilling life, lacking hyperbole and drama, is the key to longevity. Jean has always been independent, she didn’t rely on a man to take care of her, so she’s always known how to look after herself. But her caring, family side was clear when she left teaching in 1972 to look after for her elderly mother who lived to 92 years of age. Clearly good genes run in the family.
After retirement Jean faced the practicalities of the forthcoming years and decades, “I realised that it was time, I had no very close relatives that could cope with me if necessary. I had friends in sheltered accommodation so I thought where do I go? I’ve friends in the South and in the West of Scotland, I’ve got friends in Edinburgh, I’ve got friends in Fife, I’ve got friends in Angus, I had friends in Aberdeen.” She was overwhelmed with choice. Many retirees follow their children and grandchildren, often settling nearby and taking up much of the childcare duties that the UK’s workforce so desperately require. Being so independent meant that Miss Butchart was as free as a bird, and her choices regarding where to settle down were limitless.
After much consideration and several viewings Jean bought a home in the Inchmarlo Village on Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire, a classy address with a comfortable and reassuring offering. The estate has around 200 privately owned homes and, at its heart, is the elegant Georgian B-listed mansion house of Inchmarlo House itself, an onsite residential home that offers a range of facilities that Home Owners and Residents alike can tap into.
Home owners must be over 55 years old but, apart from that, they are their own agents. What helps residents like Miss Butchart are the services they can utilise, as required, that assist them to live independently for longer. At one end of the spectrum Home Owners can engage in Inchmarlo’s social scene, eating or drinking at the bar or, at other end of the spectrum, check in for respite care in a location they are already familiar with, they already know the staff and they’re confident that their home is secure during their absence. Rather than facing a huge upheaval, a few weeks or months of respite is literally just down the road.
Miss Butchart knows this scenario well, “I used to play bridge with several friends. I went down to the house for social forum meetings and things like that. I’ve had meals in the bar, I’ve taken friends to have meals down there. I was in the house on respite for a while but I just knew that I wasn’t ready for it [fulltime]. I needed to be there [temporarily] as I couldn’t be here without help.” After a brief period of respite, Miss Butchart’s house was ready and waiting for her once she was back on her feet.
Jean arrived in Royal Deeside a retiree, but now has assistance that has adapted over the years. “Yes, I have a care plan. They provide help four times a day, to get me up in the morning to get washed and have breakfast. They come about 12ish to make my lunch, clean up afterwards and do odd jobs that need to be done. They come at teatime, then come to put me to bed.”
Inchmarlo’s General Manager, Julie Mackenzie, has seen it all, “Some people who live on the estate we don’t know very well because they’re fiercely independent. They’ve got their family and friendships already. Some people have second properties, so the Home Owners may spend the winter in Europe or further afield, but like the security of knowing their home is secure and protected 24 hrs a day by our security team.”
Julie has also seen the subtle shift in people over the years, “Someone moves onto the estate, they’re quite independent, but as the ageing process progresses they can start utilising one of more of the services we have on offer. For example, care at home and housing support, we offer befriending services through our Community Liaison Officers, we offer a nurse agency service, which is like an emergency call-out system. It means that even though people are vulnerable, or have the potential to be vulnerable, we can keep a closer eye on them and make sure they are as safe as they can possibly be, and enabling our Home Owners to live their independent lifestyle.”
Pensioners who receive care at home will already know that many professional care-givers can no longer cook for them, due to health and safety reasons, so many of the UK’s elderly are fed a diet of processed foods and ready-meals straight from the microwave. Specialist sites such as Inchmarlo take a different approach, which they know is more appetising, and believe it’s one small factor that helps Home Owners stay strong and, ultimately, independent.
“We offer meals, so we can send hot meals straight to people’s homes’, says Julie. ‘They eat in their own home, and they eat the dishes we’re making for our residents in Inchmarlo House. It’s freshly prepared daily by our chef in the kitchen.”
Much of Inchmarlo’s menus are inspired by the travels of Professor Charles Skene CBE, the founder and owner of Inchmarlo. Having dined in Michelin-starred and famous restaurants all over the world, he decided, when he opened Inchmarlo in 1986, that the quality of the food served to Residents and Home Owners should reflect his interest. More than 42 food tasting dinners have been held, and recipes from chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Paul Bocuse regularly grace the menus of Inchmarlo.
Miss Butchart is still enjoying the flavours of Inchmarlo and Royal Deeside, and the freedom of continued independent living, regardless of her age. She plans to live in her own home for all her days, but has few plans for her 100th birthday. “I always said I didn’t want to live to be 100, but my doctor keeps telling me that I’m going to! It’s not that I don’t enjoy what I’ve got, I just didn’t want it. But I think I’m very lucky in many ways. I’ve got good friends and I’ve got good health.”
And with that, we tuck into a slice of birthday cake – such an unnecessary caper…