The term ageism (agism) was coined by Dr Robert Butler in his seminal Why Survive? Being Old In America, in 1969. In the intervening 47 years, scores of academics, successive governments, NGO’s charities and foundations have created vast reams of position papers, voluminous reports and spawned significant levels of concern about the demographic crisis attributed to global increases in longevity. This has generated a lot of hand wringing and media interest but little discernible action.

In October 2014,  Dr Jonathan Collie and George Lee, dubbed themselves The Age of No Retirement (TAONR) and pulled together a two day event at the OXO Tower Bargehouse. Their intention was to puncture this inertia in the burgeoning ageing space. With 130 debaters and 350 participants from 200 organizations, across every sector of the economy; they rolled up their sleeves and thrashed out 27 provocations. It was the biggest exploration ever of life, ageing and work in the UK.

Now, Jonathan and George are at it again, this time with a disruptive event at the end of September (28/9-1/10) called the Age Does Not Matter Festival. Via their intuitive, age neutral and whole life course emphasis, they have successfully positioned life long productive employ as a reasonable option – not a fluke and something that can be valid and available for everyone. TAONR, acknowledges that while ageing has highly variable qualities that can neither be predicted nor controlled, considerable scope exists to give people a sense of control that will enable them to be the architects of their life-long-productive-life. The ultimate consumer for their work is anyone who is alive, because while everyone alive is ageing,  not everyone gets to grow old.

TAONR has also recognized that merely being aware of ageism in the workplace has not corrected this bias and this duo has been busy creating new memes surrounding ageing. Their fresh, eclectic and inter-generationally design led approach puts them in a unique position to enact positive change. They have been spreading stories, ideas and behaviours to individuals, corporates, NGO’s and governmental agencies. This has been achieved through conferences and the development of workable prototypes including isolating the benefits of exploiting 10 more years of productive employ with their Xtra 10 initiative.

TAONR has proprietary quantitative research from 2K respondents aged 18-99 and the preliminary findings are conclusive. Far more unites than divides the generations and 21C businesses need to be age neutral if they are going to benefit all of us who are participating in the new longevity. That’s the bonus decades, the 10-30 years no previous generation has ever considered in terms of whole life value. Classifying people by age is no longer valid or viable. Businesses needs age neutrality to satisfy consumer preferences as well as an older, multi-generational work force, with four generations working simultaneously.

Longevity is an inescapable fact, ageism is real and it’s rife. That is what the Age Does Not Matter festival and the Age of No Retirement is addressing from 28/9-1/10. Co-design labs, speakers industry experts designers all tackling age issues by industry sector in a non-competitive and collaborative environment.

As the poet Mary Oliver famously  asked “Tell me, what is it you plan to do,  with your one wild and precious life?” TAONR  has new tools and new answers for all the wild ones, entering both the new and the later chapters of their own precious lives.


Deborah Gale, Senior Change Manager/Lead Catalyst for the Age of No Retirement