Life Get Amongst It: two men’s response to finding social connection in retirement

Two years ago, following his retirement as a video producer, Robert Simms wondered how he would fill in time. His friend and colleague, Brooke Walford, a TAFE teacher, was having similar thoughts

“Brooke wanted to write his memoirs and I have always worked for myself. I really didn’t know what one does in retirement,” Robert says.

Looking around for answers, Robert found little to provide direction. He suspected many other men struggled to form social connections and find a purpose beyond work, so the two friends harnessed their skills and developed a resource called ‘Life: Get Amongst It’ – a bank of videos designed to give men choices on how to fill their time.

Rob did the filming and editing, Brooke hosted on camera.

The videos encourage viewers to be physically active and form social connections around a number of different activities.

For example, one video features the Sydney Heritage Fleet, a sea-faring museum that requires volunteers to restore and sail a variety of vessels.

Another hugely popular piece showcases the State Emergency Services, an organisation made up entirely of volunteers. Others show how retirees might join whale rescue, raise a guide dog puppy, volunteer in a hospital, contribute to a Lifeline Book Fair, join a men’s shed or take a Pilates class.

The videos are of a high quality and, while originally developed with blokes in mind, have broadened to be relevant to both genders.

In a recent departure from showing people what they might do, Rob and Brooke are now exploring why they might consider a particular activity.

Starting with a video due out in the next few days on depression, they hope to educate their viewers on the importance of looking after their health and joining social groups.

“Why should you exercise? You should exercise if you are at all depressed for health and socialisation,” says Rob.

“With depression, we want to show people how to avoid it or how to ease it. We’ll be speaking to professor John Snowden from Sydney University, an expert on ageing and psychiatry, as well as the group R U OK? They will provide information about co-operation and connectedness while John will give us facts around depression from a medical perspective.

“We won’t get into the treatment of it, but the avoidance of it through socialisation and exercise.”

Other topics in the pipeline include cancer, diabetes and dementia from the perspective of prevention and managing these conditions.

Life: Get Amongst It could well be the beginnings of a mainstream documentary series, a suitable arc to Rob’s career as a photographer, medical journalist and documentary maker, working for – amongst other clients – the World Health Organisation and the Asia Development Bank.

For now, the two blokes are hoping to make at least 40 videos with scant financial support. But as satisfying and purposeful retirement activity, it certainly hits the sweet spot.

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