There comes a point in many a London family’s life when they pose the inevitable question: “Should we move out of the capital?” Many have laid down roots and choose to stay put, but others take the plunge, spreading the #nomumleftbehind mantra up and down the country. In this new blog series, we’ll be profiling a wide range of different areas in case you’re at a similar crossroads in your lives. From Cornwall villages to rural Wales, from the Kent coast to the Surrey suburbs, there are endless options to consider if you’re on the lookout for pastures new.
Where did you move to?
To a picturesque thatched cottage just outside Hadleigh, Suffolk.
Where did you move from?
We lived in Plumstead, where we gutted a Victorian home and rebuilt it from top to bottom.
Why did you leave London?
We lived just off Plumstead Common and loved the home we had created. It had been an adventure to renovate it and we had met such a lovely group of people locally. However, we had difficulties with the local independent school as they struggled with Arthur. We were then offered a state school place where kids bring knives and which had a horrible reputation. We felt we had to leave for his sake.
How did you choose your new location?
We first landed in Hawkhurst, Kent. We were maybe still in denial that Arthur had a problem and thought he just needed a place he could be more boisterous. So we found an independent school with 270 acres and lots of mud. However, by the second term they made it clear they could not manage him and we were forced to move – having only lived there for seven months!
The previous August Bank Holiday we had visited Suffolk and were really impressed with the area. As my husband still commutes to London, I did some research and initially our search was loosely around Sudbury and up the A12 up to Ipswich.
As a shot in the dark, we came up one week and saw seven houses on a Saturday. House number six was a 300-year-old empty thatched cottage. The beauty of the place was breathtaking. It overlooked a rural valley and the amount of land is more than we ever thought we would own. The main bedroom has a huge vaulted ceiling and our fireplace is the width of our living room. It is almost fairytale-like.
How long before moving did you start looking?
We’d initially planned to move to East Sussex. However, the house purchase fell through on the day of completion, so due to the need to get Arthur into a school by September, we had to move fast. Very fast.
At what point did you think about schools and childcare?
We moved previously to Kent for the schools and it went horribly wrong. This time we saw there were several good schools in the area, but (what we thought) was our local school was an outstanding village school. We organised a time to see them and had the most depressing school interview due their reaction to Arthur’s autism. We are learning to see the signs of places that can manage him. It wasn’t one of them. We were very worried we had made a mistake. Ironically, after we moved we found out that the primary school that covers our small village is a bit further away. They luckily had a place and there is even a small school bus that picks up the village children. Arthur is very happy and the school has organised one-on-one support. He has lots of friends who are local and is flourishing in ways we had not thought possible.
What did you do about work?
I spent the last two years taking the Diploma 4 exams to become an Independent Financial Advisor. I started a job a month ago and my office is a mere 15 minutes away. I even come home for lunch a couple of times a week. My husband still commutes into London. He gets the train from Manningtree, which takes a bit under an hour if he gets a fast one (plus a 20 minute drive). The trains are nicer than those we had in Kent as he almost always gets a seat and the quality of service much higher. It just doesn’t feel like a mass commuter belt, like Kent did, even though the trip takes roughly the same amount of time.
What’s the best thing about where you live now?
We have a stunning view that changes daily. I honestly think Hadleigh is the best kept secret in Suffolk. It has a picturesque High Street with all the main stores you could need, as well as many smaller ones owned by locals. We can get to typical High Street stores quickly by car or you can go into Ipswich or Colchester.
We are so much healthier and stronger as a family. We go bike riding as a family. There are many beaches within half an hour. We love our Sunday roasts and have the pick of many charming local pubs. The National Trust has several properties locally, and Colchester Zoo is easily accessible.
The nature that surrounds us is amazing we live on the cusp of ‘Constable country.’ Finally, we have a home and property that we never thought possible. For the price of a one bed flat in central London, we have a 5-bed thatched cottage, separate annexe/double car garage, barn, giant Victorian greenhouse and 3.5 acres. We let the neighbouring farmer use part of our land to graze his prize-winning sheep. It’s deathly quiet and the night sky is breathtaking. Yet we can still commute to London … although it can be a long day for my husband.
What’s the most surprising thing about where you live now?
That the vast majority of the people we meet are born and bred from the area. My husband and I have lived all over the world and London is so cosmopolitan that you just get used to having every culture on your doorstep. People who grow up here just don’t want to leave, for all the right reasons!
What do you miss about living in London?
Walking everywhere and public transport. Living rurally has its charm when you have already lived a busy life, but as Arthur grows up, he can’t just head out to meet his friends. Plus, I have never liked driving, but when I did in London I had a little eco-friendly run around. I now drive a Land Rover named Bertha. The cliché!
Have there been any downsides to the move?
I do miss my friends. I moved to London in 1996 and surrounded myself with such wonderful people. For example, Arthur has three Godfathers. We see everyone much less than I would like. Luckily we live somewhere they enjoy visiting and we have the space (and even separate annexe) for weekend parties. One of his Godfathers generously lets us stay with him in London whenever we need a city fix. And commuting is expensive.
What are your top three tips for moving with children?
- When we first moved out, we of-course did all the research into schools and it went pear-shaped. So my advice is to look at ALL the options and ensure there are local back-ups if your dream school doesn’t work out. Moving again after 7 months was insanely costly and heartbreaking.
- Find a reputable moving company. We went for a cheaper one for our Kent move and they not only found sneaky ways to double to cost (for example, arriving at our new home at 3pm and saying we had to pay for an extra day because it was too late to unpack the van), but we had a huge amount of stuff stolen. For our next move, we used someone with a good reputation and although it was expensive – it was lot less stressful for everyone.
- If you are moving with a child with Special Needs, do research into local services. We lucked out that Suffolk seems to be much more on the ball than Kent. There is a very active Autism parent group that I quickly found and they have been a Godsend for resources, friendship and shoulders.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone considering a similar change?
If you are buying into the lifestyle change, make sure it’s something you want and can live with for a long time. Ironically I now work with a colleague who made the move from London more than ten years ago and he hates the country, misses his latte and wants to be able to walk to the local store. He is trying to downsize his country pile for a village home to get some of that, when really all he wants to do is move back to London.
Where can people find out more about life in your new location?
The Guardian featured Hadleigh in its Lets Move to Hadleigh a few years ago (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jan/16/hadleigh-suffolk-property-review) which although it says it not the cheapest – there are many treasures in surrounding villages.
There is a real sense of community in Hadleigh and loads of clubs and activities young and old alike. For young teens there is The Porch Project (https://porchproject.co.uk) The library (https://www.suffolklibraries.co.uk/events-activities/children/?queries[library]=Hadleigh+Library) has an array of activities (such as Lego club) and there is an active cycling club for all ages (http://hadleighcyclingclub.co.uk). There is a push to get Hadleigh more well-known and so they have created a comprehensive website (http://visithadleighsuffolk.co.uk).
The detour to Kent and going ‘independent’ for schools.
Hadleigh: the basics
- House prices in Hadleigh here.
- Schools in and around Hadleigh here.
- Nearest A&E: pretty equal distance to either Ipswich or Colchester Hospitals
- MP: James Cartlidge, Conservative (https://www.jamescartlidge.com)