We moved to the country for more space

Joppe Coelingh Bennink - Nadine Brandt Photography
Joppe Coelingh Bennink – Nadine Brandt Photography

We loved our London life. During the week, our babysitter would regularly pick up our daughter from nursery and we would enjoy a meal out or go for drinks with friends and colleagues. At weekends we would enjoy a quiet family lunch and walk in Primrose Hill or Hyde Park, or visit one of the many amazing museums. I was working as a regional sales manager for a financial technology firm and my wife Katy is a lawyer. It took us each about 25 minutes to commute to work.

But our Camden flat already felt small with just one child and, when my wife became pregnant with the second, we really needed more space. Our daughter was also about to start primary school and we wanted to make sure we lived near a good school before she started. We had saved some money for a deposit and wanted to buy a bigger property in London first. But we just couldn’t find anything central enough that was significantly bigger than our 1200 sq ft rental flat. So we came to the conclusion we needed to widen our search area. 

We explored Essex, Kent, Surrey and St Albans, but found that our budget didn’t go as far as we wanted. We wanted a big step-up in terms of space and, ideally, a detached property with a bit of land. When we came across our current property in a village in Peterborough, we immediately fell in love with it. We love older properties, and this was a particularly beautiful house. It used to be a rectory, belonging to the church across the road. It has all of the space we craved and even a little orchard, and a cricket pitch behind the house. 

Joppe Coelingh Bennink - Nadine Brandt Photography
Joppe Coelingh Bennink – Nadine Brandt Photography

We both had our doubts about moving. Katy needed to commute still, which would mean spending much less time with the kids. And as I was about to set up my own stationery business, Yop & Tom, I wouldn’t have to commute but I was worried I would miss the human interaction. Some friends of ours couldn’t believe that we were moving so far away. We had no connection to the area, and were such a London couple. It all seemed a bit ridiculous. But off we went. 

When we first arrived I was really surprised that there were no coffee shops within walking distance. The nearest large supermarket was five miles away and the food options were limited. Being used to city life, I wanted champagne and sushi, but all I got was warm beer and takeaway pizza. 

Everyone talks about how great it is to have a large garden, but they never mention how much maintenance it requires. Organising (and paying for) tree works and mowing the lawn every week were not things I was accustomed to, as a city boy. 

Joppe Coelingh Bennink - Joppe Coelingh Bennink
Joppe Coelingh Bennink – Joppe Coelingh Bennink

Apart from that, for the first six months, everything was fine. Katy was on maternity leave after the birth of our second daughter, and we enjoyed being at home together and exploring our new life

It was only when she went back to work that the differences really became clear. Katy would often leave the house at 6.30am and wouldn’t be home until after 9pm. I would give the children breakfast, get them ready, take them to school and nursery, then work all day from home before picking them up and doing the dinner and the bedtime routine. By the time Katy got home from work we were both tired and grumpy, and living separate lives.

I struggled with the lack of adult conversation and the fact that I had no London facilities on my doorstep anymore. Katy struggled with the fact that she sometimes would not see the kids for several days in a row. When you move out to the country from the inner city, you need to make a significant mental adjustment. The shock to the system was much bigger than I had imagined. When I spoke to friends and family about it, most just pointed out how lucky we were and how amazing the house was. 

In some ways, lockdown came to our rescue. Katy hasn’t been commuting, so we’re spending more time together, and have particularly enjoyed the space and garden since the outbreak. The fact that I’d already set up my business from home also meant that I could seamlessly work through lockdown. Yop & Tom mostly runs online as we sell direct to consumers and via marketplaces like Amazon. We can use some of our garage space to store some inventory. Even before Covid, we already did a lot via video calls, emails and chat. 

Joppe Coelingh Bennink - Joppe Coelingh Bennink
Joppe Coelingh Bennink – Joppe Coelingh Bennink

For the many families who are considering the move to the country – a recent survey by Savills found that more than half of buyers with school-age children acknowledged a countryside location as being “more attractive” than pre-Covid – I would urge you to think about your future situation post-Covid. Can you both work from home or can only one of you do this? If you only have to commute a few days per month, a move to the country may be a really good move. I’d also suggest you think about how a move might affect your family dynamic and childcare arrangements. Will you still be able to travel into a town easily or walk out to somewhere nice? Is space really more important, or could you lead a life with less stuff, but more services on your doorstep? 

The things that eventually made it better for me were the two days per week I started working in London. I would take the off-peak train into London, meet my co-founder in a hotel lobby or co-working space, and we would work there most of the day. It gave me some respite from the daily loneliness. We also have amazing neighbours and got very friendly with them. In addition, I enjoy spinning in the local gym, and keeping fit was what I needed for my physical and mental wellbeing. 

It has been an absolute pleasure to see the garden come to life this year, and it makes the move seem worth it. That said, we may consider a move to the city in future again. Nothing is forever in our minds.

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