International Club of Estepona's 25th Birthday Party
It was early retirement from a job in London that brought Joan to Estepona in 1987 at the age of 50. The grandmother of four had been coming to the Costa del Sol for a number of years but after the death of her husband she decided to move to Spain permanently.
Shortly after arriving the energetic Brit enrolled in a Spanish language course and has been helping by volunteering her time in the local Spanish and foreign community ever since.
In addition, the now sprightly 76-year-old even found time for a long distance romance after meeting an Australian man in New Zealand nine years ago.
Joan, a former mail room supervisor who was born in Buckinghamshire, said: “It is a love story but it had to stop last year because he is now 80 years old. It lasted eight years but if it hadn’t been for emails and Skype we could not have continued it for so long.
“We always knew it would come to an end because of our ages. He has family over there and I have mine here and travelling 12,000 miles to see each other for three months at a time is expensive. Plus you don’t really want to spend 23 hours on a plane at our age, especially on your own.
“We were very fond of each other and we still Skype at least once a week but we lead very busy lives so we are not pining for each other.
“But not everybody gets to do that in their seventies.”
Nowadays Joan volunteers her time at the Anglican Church of the Costa del Sol West, which is based in San Pedro.
Last week she was busy organising the church’s Christmas Fair, which raised 3,500 euros for charity. Through the church she has helped raise thousands of euros for a number of Spanish and international charities over the last two decades including Emmaus, Cáritas, Aspandem and the Little Sisters of the Poor in Ronda.
However, perhaps the biggest feather in her cap is how she helped found the International Club of Estepona.
Joan, who is currently the secretary of the Club Sierra Bermeja Socio-Cultural de Estepona (SIBERME), started the club 25 years ago with fellow Brit Raymond Oldfield (this year’s Foreign Resident of the Year) and two others.
Joan told SUR in English: “There were so many ex pats in Estepona at the time and there was nowhere we could all go to congregate and get to know each other.
“We were like nomads as we used to meet in certain restaurants in Estepona but eventually they got fed up with us so we moved on to another one. That’s why we bought a place in Estepona Port but then we got too big for it so we moved to our present club, where we have been since 2002.
“We had no high falutin ideas at all that it would grow like it did.”
Joan explained that the club is one of the biggest English speaking clubs on the Costa del Sol, with more than 430 members of various nationalities and a further 37 new members for next year.
“All this doom and gloom in the media is not true. There are still lots of people moving out to Spain”, said Joan, who has also previously worked as a local government administration officer in Jersey.
She added: “When most ex pats come here their families are back in the UK. So friends here in Spain are very important to them. We make very good friends in the club and you come to rely on them. They are like your family.
“I know of at least three couples who have got married after meeting in the club.”
Explaining her lust for life and boundless energy, Joan who worked at the Health Centre in Sabinillas as a translator for a couple of years, said: “If you are busy, you just carry on. Life is too short to just sit down and face the wall.”
And when Joan is not occupied organising coach trips for ICE, she is visiting the far flung corners of Spain – in fact since moving here she has been to every province in the country, except Asturias.
She said: “My favourite province was definitely Galicia and especially Santiago de Compostela. It was beautiful and the people were so friendly. Plus the mussels and the seafood were wonderful.
“But I love my home in Estepona and I have no intention of leaving. I’m not a rich foreigner with a home in another country. But even if I was, why would I want to live anywhere but here?”