Pensioners’ collective aims to take an innovative approach to retirement

Tailor-made residence for the elderly


On a patch of grass in the mountains north of Madrid, a small group of elderly people are practicing Chi Kung, a set of ancient, oriental exercises for mind and body. In the cool, autumnal breeze, they silently obey the whispered instructions of their teacher.

They are members of Trabensol, a 50-strong collection of pensioners who believe they have created an innovative way of living out their old age, ensuring their physical and spiritual well-being while allowing them to sidestep the economic turbulence of modern Spain.

They have formed a co-operative, pooling their savings to build their own, tailor-made residence next to the quiet town of Torremocha de Jarama.

Sharing is the watchword at Trabensol. None of the members owns the apartment they inhabit, or the dining room and many other communal spaces that make up the large complex.

“We wouldn’t be able to get into one of the private old people’s homes because they’re so expensive,” says Paloma Rodríguez (pictured above) a 70-year-old widow who is the president of the co-operative.

“But nor can we get into the state-run pensioners’ homes because there aren’t that many and there are lots of people who need them much more than we do. So we realised we had to do something about our situation.”

Mrs Rodríguez moved here, like most of the residents, in the spring of this year, shortly after the Trabensol complex was completed. She grins as she talks about a project that she says has given her a new lease of life and banished her concerns about becoming a burden for her own children.

Understandable worry
It’s an understandable worry given the UN’s prediction that nearly 40 per cent of Spain’s inhabitants will be 60 or older by the year 2050.

“We all had some pretty heavy experiences with our own [ageing] parents and knew that our children wouldn’t want to go through the same thing with us,” she says.

Each member of the co-operative has contributed €150,000 to the project over the past decade. They also pay a monthly fee of about €800. For that, they get accommodation, a daily meal prepared by a contracted caterer and all basic services and utilities. But equally important are the activities, which are also included. Residents can take part in regular hikes into the nearby hills, shiatsu sessions, meditation, memory games, astronomy, DIY classes, gardening and table tennis.

“The activities aren’t spiritual in the religious sense,” says Teresa Sagasola, a 77-year-old who does Chi Kung each day, as well as occasional dance classes and hiking. “Any activity strengthens our energy and we need to keep developing that. It just gives us a sense of well-being.”

The building itself encourages inner peace. All the flats, which are spacious and tastefully designed, face south, with a view of the co-operative’s vegetable garden. Windows are designed so that the sun heats the apartments in the winter, but is too high in the summer to overheat them. It is still early days for the co-operative. But eventually it is likely that some members will want to move out because they are too infirm to take part in activities or simply because they need round-the-clock care. Trabensol’s statutes state that if a member leaves, they are entitled to recover the lump sum they invested and a replacement can then arrive. Fortunately, with most of a €3 million credit line from a local branch of Italy’s Banco Popolare still intact, the co-operative’s finances would seem to be as healthy as its members.

Economic storm
But despite the calm that Trabensol seeks to cultivate, its residents are only too aware of the economic storm that has been blowing in the world outside. Spain is just emerging from the longest recession of its democratic era and the country is still struggling. The government of Mariano Rajoy is battling to slash the deficit through spending cuts and unemployment is at 26 per cent.

Some Trabensol members voice concerns at the government’s virtual freezing of their pensions, with which many of them pay their monthly contributions. María Luisa Llorena (73) points out that she has several retired friends in Madrid who have not joined the co-operative because they haven’t been able to sell their homes to raise the money.

The depressed housing market is a reminder of the property bubble, whose collapse in 2008 sparked Spain’s current woes.

“By not being the owners of the property, we manage to prevent speculation,” Mrs Llorena says. “That is the spirit that drives us. The people who come and live here know what it’s all about – it’s about living together, solidarity and helping one another.”