The village where women live to England's highest life expectancy

The village that death forgot: Women live to England’s highest life expectancy of 95 and men average 86 in Kent district where the old keep busy and the pub banned smoking five years early

  • Detling, a village of 800 people, has the highest life expectancy in England 
  • Irene Nobbs, 102, is one of two centenarians in the Kent-based village 
  • The female life expectancy, 95, is twenty years more than some areas of UK

In the ward of Detling and Thurnham, near Maidstone, women haven an average life expectancy of 95 , 12 years more than the national average of 83. 

The village has the greatest life expectancy in England, and prohibited indoor smoking five years before the national ban was enforced in 2007.

On the slope of the North Downs, along the historic Pilgrim’s Way, lies the village of Detling, with a population of 800 people.

Among the 800 residents are some of the oldest people in the country, including Irene Nobbs who turned 102 in April.

According to the Office for National Statistics there are 15,000 centenarians in the UK, and two of them reside in Barty House nursing home in Detling. 

Irene, who is a retired hairdresser told the Times that a good, busy life is the secret to her longevity, plus ‘a glass of rosé every night before bed.’ 

Detling (pictured) in Kent has the greatest life expectancy in England, and prohibited indoor smoking five years before the national ban was enforced in 2007

There are many theories floating around as to why the life expectancy is so high in Detling, from the quality of the tap water to the hilly terrain. 

One resident, Margaret Cooke, 89, believes the covered reservoir near the village could be a contributing factor.

It’s only a few hundred yards away and ‘it’s filtered through all the chalk,’ she told the Times.

It’s not just Detling’s proximity to fresh water that the village has in its favour.   

The local GP practice has eight doctors, or one doctor per 100 residents, and accepts face-to-face appointments during a time when in-person consultations are hard to come by. 

Health has always been at the forefront of the villages’ agenda, Detling prohibited indoor smoking in pubs and workplaces, five years before the national ban was enforced.

To get a better understanding of why the life expectancy is so high in Detling, it is worth looking at areas with low life expectancies.

Bloomfield in Blackpool for instance has an average life expectancy of 73 for women and just 67 for men. 

The GP practice in Detling has eight doctors, or one doctor per 100 residents, and accepts face-to-face appointments during a time when in-person consultations are hard to come by

It means people from Detling can expect to live for two more decades than those living in Bloomfield. 

The seaside town has long-been at the foot of most life expectancy lists with many people pointing towards Blackpool’s economic hardships as a possible cause.

A 2013 Guardian profile found that over half the population of Bloomfield smokes, including one in three pregnant women.

The Joint Strategic Needs Assessment Blackpool (JSNA) found that 20% of deaths in females was caused by respiratory disease in the most deprived areas of Blackpool between 2015-17.     

According to Veena Raleigh, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund healthcare think tank, Detling, though not especially affluent, does have low levels of deprivation.

She told the Times: ‘Very often people living in deprived areas will have a cluster of unfavourable risk factors that weigh on their health, such as obesity, smoking and poverty.’  

The solution, however, is not to pack your bags and move to Detling in search of a longer life-span.

Raleigh says: ‘It doesn’t work like that. It’s more to do with the people themselves and their histories and habits.’

Detling has very strong community spirit which really came to the fore during the pandemic, the local council organised visits for residents struggling with their mental health and neighbours relished the competition of daily exercise routines.

With the worst of pandemic hopefully behind us, the people of Detling, young and old, have been able to enjoy the many amenities the village has to offer.

As for Irene, she has her sights set on her 103rd birthday, where she hopes everyone join in and sing to the tunes of the late great Vera Lynn. 

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