HAVING worked both in the UK and abroad, Anita Ray-Chowdhury Herdeiro has seen huge differences in the way societies look after their elderly, and how they view retirement.

A GP with a special interest in elderly medicine, it has sparked a fierce passion to change the current way of life for older people in the UK, starting here in Cumbria.

Anita and husband Bruno recently bought the iconic Scalesceugh Hall on the outskirts of Carlisle.

They are currently restoring the home, converting it into a new retirement complex - but Anita said it will be a far cry from the traditional care homes we have come to accept.

Taking inspiration from across the globe, she has a vision to transform our perception of retirement and turn Cumbria's aging population into a positive rather than a negative.

Although the units will be sold privately, with carers on site to ensure residents can live there for as long as possible, she stresses this is not about profit. The couple's aim is to turn it into a social enterprise that will become a catalyst for change countrywide.

Nationally people are living longer, and in Cumbria those numbers are magnified due to the high proportion of elderly people.

Health leaders often talk about this aging population as "a challenge" due the additional strain it places on services.

But for Anita, it is about ripping up the rule book and starting again, focusing on individuals not demographics.

She explained it's about getting the journey right for the person, not forcing them to accept a retirement they may not want.

The mum-of-three believes that if we get this right, people will feel happier and more fulfilled, and more motivated to stay well.

She said this makes people less prone to ill health, and reduces the pressure on overstretched health and care services.

She said that just because someone has retired, doesn't mean they should give up on their aspirations, or lose their value.

The first step is to help give them the lifestyle they want, and not just presume all older people want the same thing.

"Nothing should be 'good enough'. That's not the way to provide anything. We have to break that mentality.

"One of the questions I ask people is what does good look like? I want to have conversations about their passions," she said.

"It's about empowering every individual. Once we start to make decisions for people, that's where it goes wrong. We need to put away the tick boxes and go back to that question, then people feel valued."

That has long been Anita and Bruno's vision, so they decided to lead the way in putting it into practice.

Having worked in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and travelled around Scandanavia, Anita said the UK can learn a lot from other countries.

"New Zealand is 20 years ahead of us. They would get a shock if they saw our retirement homes," she said.

Coming from the south of England, she and Bruno - who works in finance, based in London - didn't have any previous links to Cumbria, but it was the building and surrounding area that brought them here.

They heard that Scalesceugh Hall was for sale, but were told not to go and see it because it was too big a project.

They ignored that advice and came anyway, knowing as soon as they saw it that it was the right place for them. "It was in a really bad state but we could see it just needed love," said Anita.

However, seen as a money pit, no bank would lend them the cash and the project instantly stalled. Yet even that didn't deter them.

Anita, then pregnant, said they worked day and night, seven days a week, as well as selling possessions and calling in favours to get the deposit. They then set about building links with the wider community, which is another key part of the couple's ethos.

Anita, who practices as a GP in the south of England and also working for Luton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said part of the problem is that communities have been gradually eroded.

"They have become dispersed. That affects the young and old interaction," she explained. "We are very lucky in Cumbria. People here have not completely lost those community values.

"We have to hold on to those for dear life. Coming from the south I've seen where we've lost it and understand the value."

She said at present, people are living longer but feeling more isolated, with poor public transport links.

She wants to bring people of all ages back together, and show that older people have a lot to offer communities. "Because we have not lived in a community, we can become quite selfish with our time. We have forgotten about social currency," she said.

Care is also an issue, when people do reach a point where they need some assistance. Anita agrees that people need to be supported to live independent lives, but said the problem is young people are leaving the area and care is not seen as a career choice.

"Then it becomes a crisis because supply and demand don't match, and we do not have a solution," she said.

"We need to ask ourselves the question, have we created the right carers and the right system. If not, what have we done wrong that we can't create that talent base?"

Anita, whose professional work focuses on innovation, said the key is to find out what would attract people to those jobs.

"I want to make being a carer aspirational. To make it a career to attract people who want to drive change. People that really understand what compassion means," she said.

"First we have to ask ourselves how we get people who are compassionate and nurturing. We need to say we have a real respect for carers and value who you are."

Anita said that rather than just advertising a post and asking for qualifications, it would be better to find the people who are right for the job, then train them if needed. She said although salaries are always an issue, that is not the only factor.

"It's not always about pay. It's making sure people feel valued and using them as ambassadors, so we can create more of these people. It becomes aspirational," she explained.

Using her medical background, she added that early intervention can also help people live longer, happier lives.

For example with dementia cases, which are growing rapidly across Cumbria, she said the focus should not be on the fact that there is no cure, but on what people can do to prevent its onset.

"That's where we fail. Lots of things do not have an answer. What we should be doing is saying let's talk about dementia. Some people might be really worried about something really basic like being able to put on their own clothes, others don't want to be that crazy woman running down the street in the middle of the night.

"For example, card games are very good. They help prevent the onset of dementia. There are things we can do for ourselves. If I gave you a prescription to do a word puzzle every day you would do it. It's changing that mindset," said Anita.

Both Anita and Bruno stress they are fully committed to Scalesceugh as a community project, rather than a business venture.

They said that if it was purely about money, they would have looked to convert the site into far more than 13 units.

They see it as a way to prove what can be done, and hope it will have a snowball effect to improve life for older people locally and nationally.

In Cumbria, there has already been some positive work on housing for older people, with several new extra care housing schemes - billed as the way forward by Cumbria County Council - already open.

Anita said they want to really build on that and raise expectations.

"We were lucky to have this opportunity, but we want to create a platform, to encourage change elsewhere. We want to show what good really can look like," added Anita.