Designing the National Retirement Service

Simon Jebreel

I’ve just come back from the launch of a report on “Life transitions and retirement in the 21st century”, excited about the National Retirement Service (NRS) that it proposes, and energised by the level of insight and energy in the room during the launch.

The report is available here and has gained coverage in a range of media outlets including the BBC, Telegraph, and Guardian. It explores the fact that the transitions we go through in life – from starting or finishing school, to getting married, having babies, entering and leaving jobs, retirement, and many more – are often the most challenging times, and may have negative consequences if not handled correctly. The State is, perhaps understandably, not set up to deal with these transitions but instead focusses on the phases between transitions: for example resources go into the services we receive in school or hospital, not into easing the transitions into and out of education or poor health.

The report looks to the example of National Citizen Service for young people, which focusses on the post-GCSE transition, as an example of a large scale and effective intervention. Personal resilience is key to successful transitions, and NCS builds two pillars of resilience: social capital (in particular ‘bridging capital’, which describes strong relationships and networks with people different from yourself) and purposeful activity (in the case of NCS, through social action in the community).

The report suggests that these two could be similarly effective in building resilience in older people. One of its key proposals is to develop a programme that brings older people together to look at dealing with the transition from working to not working, and the transitions that all-to-often accompany it – such as from healthy to not healthy, from networked to lonely, and from an ‘empty nest’ to looking after elderly parents or young grandchildren. Built on this, and on the relationships formed, will be an exploration of the opportunities to fill the gap left by retirement – whether by becoming part-time self-employed, volunteering in a local charity, or helping to set up a new enterprise.

The challenge for The Shaftesbury Partnership is to now design a similarly impressive intervention for older people, drawing upon the lessons of National Citizen Service. Our own experience with NCS and its leading provider, The Challenge Network, has given us an insight into the important ingredients.

The response to the report, both at the launch and in the media, has helped to crystallise some of the questions that we’ll need to answer in the next phase, such as:

•   There are many great organisations out there for people facing the retirement transition; how do we focus NRS on those people who wouldn’t normally be engaging with any of these? Meanwhile, how do we partner with and draw upon the experiences of these organisations?

•   How do we harness the energy and talent of older people, to ensure that they are front and centre of the programme design?

•   How should the programme be branded and marketed? The Challenge Network’s marketing is one of its great strengths and is the result of careful research followed by lots of practice and subsequent refinement. We need to find will resonate with older people, and avoid falling into the traps of being patronising or manipulative.

The most poignant moment for me today was the description, taken from the report’s focus groups, of a policeman’s last day before retirement: when he had to give back his badge, uniform, and equipment – the artefacts of his identity for the preceding decades. Older people such as this policeman are not a drain on resources; they are a huge resource in themselves. Hopefully by smoothing their transition, we can harness this to benefit themselves and wider society.

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