Meet Doreen, Nottingham’s 102-year-old keep fit instructor


Meet Doreen, Northampton’s 102-year-old keep fit instructor

On first glance, given her diminutive stature you would forgiven for not guessing that 102-year-old Doreen Gretton has a sideline as a keep fit instructor.

Yet her 40-year career has won her praise and attention of staff at the Abbeyfield Firs complex in Nottingham. Doreen was nominated earlier this year in the 'Outstanding Resident' category of Abbeyfield’s Making Time Awards, a prize given to recognise staff, volunteers and residents who consistently go above and beyond to make time for older people.

When we meet in her beautifully decorated apartment she finds it quite remarkable that her keep fit sessions are attracting so much interest. When asked the secret to living to such a long age she answers, “It’s a question that I’m asked quite often. “To be honest, I don’t really think there is one specific factor that I can put it down to. Doreen smiling at the camera

“When I moved in here following my husband’s death I told the then manager the year in which I would be going,” she explained. “My mother died when she was ninety-two, as did my grandmother so I thought ninety-two would be my year. But look at where we are now, I’m still going!”

Doreen says her good genes could explain her longevity but a common theme across her life is a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to staying active. While modern day gym bunnies might be inspired by the latest lycra-clad Instagram sensation or hottest vlogger, Doreen’s journey into keep fit was slightly more unusual.

First step into fitness

In 1939, Doreen started her first job as a teacher at a school in the Nottingham area. In those days, long before the creation of the comprehensive school system, a secondary school teacher was responsible for schooling the pupil on each and every subject on the curriculum, including P.E, which was when Doreen’s love affair with physical wellbeing was born. 

When she retired in the 1970s, Doreen set about offering keep fit classes to all people of ages, including pensioners. When she arrived at Abbeyfield’s The Firs in 1993, continuing her keep fit classes with fellow residents seemed like the obvious things to do. 

Not only does she plan the lessons but she knows each resident’s physical abilities and ensures that the exercises are personalised for them. She has a record of each lesson that she has planned and claims that she has never delivered the same programme twice.

It’s obvious from the passion with which Doreen talks about her classes and the wistful look in her eye when the conversation moves to slowing down that keeping fit at the home has come to be a huge part of Doreen’s raison d’etre.

TodayDoreen celebrating her award with friends

“I’m quite a determined person but I must confess that I’ve recently dragged myself down to classes and thought why am I doing this? Yet I always come away feeling youthful and I thought if it does it for me it may do it for other people as well,” she says.

So if there are fewer keep fit classes in the schedule, I ask how she’ll fill her time. It turns out that for the quarter century that Doreen has been a resident at The Firs Complex she has been a constant presence in the garden.

She started by filling an abandoned trough with bulbs one winter which filled her neighbours with delight when the colourful blooms began to appear in the spring. She’s since graduated to tending her own plot, which she points out from her living room window on the second floor.

This year though, she confesses that she can’t quite bear the thought of tending to the plot on her own in the cold. “I do love it but perhaps this might be the year I have to stop.” When asked her if she’d considered asking some of the school children at the neighbouring primary school for help she said, “Do you know I’d never thought of that? After all these years as a headteacher I would love to be able to spend some time with children.”

“You’re already doing so much Doreen, there’s no way that you can think of everything,” smiles a manager who’s walked in to let us know that lunch is ready. The 102-year-old powerhouse nods her head but the faraway look in her eye suggests that she’s already planning her next venture.

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