The community which Anita and Bruno Herdeiro are creating at Scalesceugh Hall near Carlisle is designed to keep over-55s happy and healthy for longer.

The couple's journey to Cumbria has featured young people too.

Bruno led the team which created Save the Children's 10-year global plan. Anita cared for children with Mother Teresa's charity in Calcutta, at the nun's request just a few days before she died.

Anita also gave her skill and her love to those devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Bruno helped negotiate the £12.5 billion takeover by BT of mobile phone company EE.

Compassion and business acumen are useful qualities as this pair of high-achievers embark on their Cumbrian venture.

Anita and Bruno bought Scalesceugh Hall, three miles south of Carlisle off the A6, 18 months ago. This saved the former home of Cumbria Cerebral Palsy Society from dereliction.

They are constructing 13 homes in the Edwardian mansion's grounds as part of an innovative "later-living development". The first of these should be ready to occupy in April. The homes are priced from £250,000 to £350,000. The hall itself is being transformed into nine apartments with communal areas such as a library and a ballroom.

If their plans come to fruition the couple will build several similar complexes around Cumbria, potentially housing and employing hundreds of people, using the county as the model for a better way to live later life.

Enthusiasm is the fuel for this and much else they have achieved. Bruno, who grew up in Lisbon, often illustrates stories by leaping to his feet.

At one point he mimes an older person struggling to walk up stairs while carrying a vacuum cleaner: struggling because the gap between stairs in British homes can be bigger than in many other countries. His passion is backed up by a formidable grasp of facts and figures.

Anita is quieter but no less driven. She grew up in Dorset and is a GP. Her work with charities has seen her sleep in a field in Tanzania while leading a team of 15 people building a girls' school. She was just 20 at the time.

"I was a builder!" she says, smiling. "I learned bricklaying and so forth. It was fascinating. How you work in different environments... in Tanzania it was a case of, until you create your own house, you stay in a field.

"I think that's what makes you very resilient and determined. We've worked in different situations. You can only do it if you work with the people."

She says this principle applies equally to building high-spec over-55s' accommodation in Cumbria. While this is important work, it is inevitably less dramatic than some of her overseas endeavours.

In December 2004 Anita travelled to Colombo in Sri Lanka to work for the Red Cross. She had been there just a few days when the sea went out so far that fish were left floundering on the sand. The tsunami which followed killed 230,000 people in 14 countries.

"I was a few roads in," recalls Anita. "I saw the water go out. I didn't see it come in. We just heard the screams.

"When you went out you could see bodies and destruction. I had family friends there. One was on a train. It got swept away by the tsunami. They died. To see bodies everywhere is pretty grim, even if you're a doctor.

"There was just complete chaos. You go into a mode of just having to get on with it: try and organise.

"The whole world wanted to help. They were sending people from all over the globe. If this is not co-ordinated it becomes a complete mess. The Red Cross worked with the government and co-ordinated the NGOs [non-governmental organisations, such as charities]. I ended up staying for three months."

An earlier formative experience came 20 years ago when Anita was in her late teens. "I'm Bengali by background. My family are from Calcutta. I was visiting family. Mother Teresa had come back to Calcutta, working with children who were traumatised.

"My cousin said 'Let's just pop by.' The sisters who worked at her charity said 'She's upstairs. Would you like to meet her?'

"When I said to Mother Teresa 'I work with children. I'm a doctor', she said 'Would you work with us? Can you spare any time?' So I did.

"I was meant to be on holiday. I ended up staying longer. She said 'Continue in medicine. The point of what you do is your ability to help and change anything that you can. That's what power really is.' That was four or five days before she passed away."

Bruno's work with the needy has been less hands-on but extremely influential. He was a management consultant with global company Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and met Anita in New Zealand. They moved to London where Bruno worked for Save the Children through BCG, spearheading the charity's 10-year global strategy.

"They were struggling to attract revenue because of the financial crisis. And the need goes up. I spent about 18 months trying to help. Part of the problem with global NGOs is lack of transparency at where the money is going. We increased transparency and reduced HQ costs. We trebled the size of revenues in eight years. We were super lucky."

(This seems to be Bruno's catchphrase: he attributes numerous achievements to being "super lucky").

Much of Save the Children's work during this period was in war-torn countries. "There are no schools, no education. If children grow up with no education, what is going to be the future of the country?"

Recent weeks have seen numerous scandals involving global charities. Oxfam covered up claims of sexual misconduct by staff in Haiti. The Red Cross says 21 members of staff have left their jobs in the last three years for sexual misconduct. And former Save the Children head Justin Forsyth resigned as deputy executive of Unicef last week, amid reports that he had faced three complaints of inappropriate behaviour from staff in his previous post.

Anita says: "It is sad to hear of people in NGOs exploiting their positions. If allegations turn out to be true, those staff should be punished. However, it must be emphasised that these organisations help to deliver excellence in desperate situations. The people I have met working in NGOs have been compassionate and generous, forsaking basic lifestyle needs to help at grassroots level.

"Please let us use this opportunity to help the organisations create more robust structures for the people who work in and support them. Let us not stop funding these important causes. That would harm so many people in the world in desperate situations."

Anita and Bruno have travelled widely together, including the USA, Australia and Scandinavia. Seeing how older people live elsewhere was the inspiration for their Scalesceugh Hall development.

Neither had any links to Cumbria. They were attracted here by Scalesceugh's potential and by the desire to tackle loneliness in old age.

"Age is just a number," says Anita. "It's really how you feel and how you want to live your life. The environment should allow you to live the way you want to live. Living how we want keeps us healthier for longer."

They say the countries which rank highest for happiness value older people. In those countries people look forward to retirement as a chance to travel and pursue hobbies.

Anita recalls of Vietnam: "Early in the morning the parks are full of people aged 60-plus doing salsa and tai chi. You come back home and think, why can't we do that?"

Bruno adds: "You work all your life quite hard. Raise your children. Work many hours. When it gets to the point where you retire, you're in a nursing home, in a shoebox-size room. You lose your independence.

"Moving into a care home reduces your life expectancy by half. If you were going to live another five years, the chances are it will now be two and a half years."

"As a clinician you see that every day," says Anita. "You go and visit care homes. Where people have mild dementia, a lot of times they'll go to the same home as someone with advanced dementia. They're fast-tracked towards deterioration. When you see something like that it's quite frustrating."

Cumbria has an older than average population and, some research suggests, higher levels of loneliness. Perhaps the county's geography and poor infrastructure lead to isolation.

Anita and Bruno have organised focus groups and surveys across England, asking people how much they are looking forward to retirement. Out of 36 areas, Cumbria ranked fifth-bottom.

Bruno says: "In Cumbria quite a few people say 'We're worried about access to healthcare. Maybe we have to go to Newcastle if it's quite complex.' Children and grandchildren are not around. When people finish work they have no social structure and lower income."

Scalesceugh Hall has been designed with community in mind. The couple say the most attractive parts of the grounds, such as south-facing gardens, are communal.

They do not use the term "retirement village". Anita says: "There will be a mixture of people as many do not retire until their mid-60s or 70s. We hope to create a mixed community."

The site will have healthcare and estates staff. The newly built homes are energy-efficient with a Scandinavian feel: decking, huge windows and countryside views.

The £3.6m development looks impressive. But Anita and Bruno initially struggled to find anyone to share their vision. Bruno says: "The building had been empty for years. People said 'It's impossible.' Every construction company said 'It's a disaster.'"

They worked long hours in their previous jobs, used their savings and sold the family home in London to make the project viable.

"Many people say 'It's not right for these buildings to be derelict,'" says Bruno. "Not a lot of people do anything about it. Sometimes it's important to go and do stuff. Not just talk the talk but walk the walk."

The Herdeiros hope Scalesceugh Hall will help to raise the standard for older people's accommodation nationally, with Cumbria becoming "a centre of excellence" for later living.

Anita says: "We see no reason why Cumbria cannot be seen as a very desirable destination for people to plant their roots later in life, bringing employment and wealth into the county."

They plan to create more over-55s' communities in Cumbria, saying that in two years they should have 200 properties in the pipeline. In five years they hope to be building 800-1,200 homes a year.

They describe Scalesceugh as a community project as well as a business venture, saying that if this was purely about money they would have looked to convert the site into far more than 13 units.

Ultimately their plans are about quality of life, including their own. Cumbria is a good place for young people too: their sons Andre, seven, Miguel, three, and Sebastian, one.

Anita and Bruno have more time with them now than they did in London, where Bruno played a major role in BT's purchase of EE. "I worked so hard," he says. "I never spent time with my kids. It would have been a lot easier for Anita and I to still be in London on our big pay cheques. We could have used our education to make money. But let's put it to good use. Try to inspire builders that there is another way of doing things."

Anita has been a medical director with NHS clinical commissioning groups. She says: "You don't get change at the pace you need. Maybe we're impatient and that's why we're doing this.

"Advising large organisations, there's a lot of 'cant's'. There's something very liberating about saying 'Actually, we can do this.'"