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Broadcaster Rebecca Wilcox uprooted her family from the city, but it has led to boredom

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Like clockwork he arrived every morning and evening. The small deer would amble across the neighbouring field before slipping his head under the fence to feed on the windfall apples in the orchard at the end of my new garden.

So often did he pop in that he became a regular companion while I drank my morning coffee, then again on my evening walk.

Having left London after lockdown to pursue a new life in the country, this was exactly the rural experience I’d dreamt of — deer strolling about and my two boys laughing on rope swings we had tied to the trees. 

But then my blissful bubble of smugness burst.

It’s probably no coincidence that it happened at about the same time I found my once magical deer, glassy-eyed and eviscerated, lying in pieces across the lawn, killed by forces unknown.

In fact, that felt like a rather gruesome metaphor of my hopes for our new life here.

Having left London after lockdown to live the country, it was the rural experience I'd dreamt of, but then my blissful bubble burst, says Rebecca Wilcox (pictured with her horse Camperito)

Having left London after lockdown to live the country, it was the rural experience I’d dreamt of, but then my blissful bubble burst, says Rebecca Wilcox (pictured with her horse Camperito)

While I wanted to find a new community to rival — or even better — what I’d had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating and less pleasurable than I’d expected.

I remember the first time I saw a photo of our new house online. It was like finding Prince Charming on Tinder after kissing all the other frogs. 

Here was the country idyll I’d been searching for, meeting all the requirements on our extensive list.

We wanted an old house with a garden, near a village with a fast train direct into London. After days spent glued to the internet flicking through photos and calling estate agents, we finally found ‘The One’ in Surrey.

It took my breath away with its rose-framed cottage windows, Aga-warmed kitchen, flagstone floors and open fireplaces. 

It seemed to promise a wholesome, happy place to raise my family, which seemed opposite to the lockdown London life we were then living.

Because, like many people who lived through the pandemic, we had fallen out of love with the big city.

Of course, with our house and garden in a nice area close to local parks, we were luckier than most.

While I wanted to find a new community to rival what I'd had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating. Pictured: Rebecca's sons Benjamin, nine, and Alexander, six

While I wanted to find a new community to rival what I’d had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating. Pictured: Rebecca’s sons Benjamin, nine, and Alexander, six 

But still, life was proving challenging. Our four-bed was our only space for living, working, exercising, schooling and endless eating.

My husband set up his office in the spare room and worked 12-hour days from behind a firmly closed door. 

My children, Benjamin, now nine; and Alexander, now six, struggled to sit still at the kitchen table as I tried to teach them something about fractions or Vikings while attempting to keep up with work, housework and the rest.

The house quickly started to fray around the edges as we rattled from room to room like caged animals. And our small garden was now obviously too tiny for two energetic boys.

Even our lovely north London suburb, Muswell Hill, which is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe, had become like a hamster cage. The vibrant High Street and wooded parks became boringly familiar, our enthusiasm having been eroded by daily walks.

We felt trapped and, like everyone else it seemed, we started to research areas filled with greenery and space, a place to let children run on paths that weren’t tarmacked.

By early 2021, the number of Londoners who had relocated from the capital as a result of the pandemic was estimated by the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence at 700,000. 

Covid now meant that living in close proximity to other people was increasingly unappealing.

In response, property prices in rural locations soared. A Hamptons survey showed that prices in rural England and Wales increased three times as fast as those in cities.

Our dream of moving away started to become more of a possibility when we saw others do it. By the end of summer 2020, several close friends had uprooted. One or two stole away without mentioning their plans until they were fully ensconced in their new areas.

In London, we started to research areas filled with greenery, a place to let children run on paths that weren't tarmacked. Pictured: Rebecca with her sons Benjamin and Alexander

In London, we started to research areas filled with greenery, a place to let children run on paths that weren’t tarmacked. Pictured: Rebecca with her sons Benjamin and Alexander

Other friends debated their move options with me on endless FaceTime calls. Even my mother, the broadcaster Esther Rantzen, a stalwart city girl, quietly sold her London flat and relocated permanently to the New Forest.

As spring 2021 started to breathe a fresh light into London, I realised that half of my friends and all my family had left. What’s more, they all seemed happier.

Which is when I started to look more determinedly for our new life in the country.

Once I’d found our dream house in Surrey, it was as if the decision had been made for us — and after living in the city all my life, we finally moved out in July.

Before I left, my friends assured me that meeting people wouldn’t be an issue. I was an outgoing person. I would find other mums at the school gates, fellow runners and like-minded families. It would be fine.

Emboldened by their encouragement, the day after we arrived I put out messages on local Facebook sites to connect with other mums, hoping to make the first day at school a little less scary for us all.

Only two responded but they were both very friendly. Unfortunately, they were also extremely busy and couldn’t meet up, and I didn’t see them again until the term started.

Still, it was a positive start and, undeterred, I placed more messages on the village groups, asking to join running clubs, a book club, the PTA, volunteering at local groups, anything!

In London, I’d had a lifetime to meet people. I wasn’t naive enough to expect to walk into a fully established friendship circle on the first day, or even month. But I did hope to find friendly people who were open to meeting new families.

As spring 2021 started to breathe a fresh light into London, I realised half of my friends and all my family had left and they all seemed happier. Pictured: Rebecca, Benjamin and Alexander

As spring 2021 started to breathe a fresh light into London, I realised half of my friends and all my family had left and they all seemed happier. Pictured: Rebecca, Benjamin and Alexander

Sadly, this was not the case. Most of the groups I tried were full or met at impossible times of the day; can you believe they go running at 5.30am round here?

I hoped to meet people at school socials, but they weren’t happening due to Covid. The ones that did go ahead proved to be nerve-jangling evenings which I spent standing solo and trying to smile at everyone, possibly looking a little crackers.

As my lack of success caused me to feel more isolated, my attempts to reach out grew a bit desperate and consequently less appealing. It was clear that making friends was going to be a lot harder than I’d thought.

I now feel slightly adrift, so if I am invited to things, I’m so unsure of myself that I spend ages worrying about whether I laughed too loud or talked too much, social anxiety I never had in the past.

Those people I do speak to seem to move on quickly. It’s clear I’m a nuisance, and loneliness is a sadly unattractive quality.

Eventually, even the running group I joined disbanded and re-formed without me. Apparently, you can talk too much on a 5km run. Who knew?

I used to be much better at this, at the epicentre rather than standing awkwardly on the periphery.

In London, our area was young family central and the result was a brilliantly busy social life. At every school drop-off there were dozens of people to chat with, go out to dinner with or just moan to and laugh with.

But whereas before we would walk to school, in the country most parents drive. Us included, as a three-mile trek down single-track country lanes is not safe for a six-year-old. 

So instead of gathering round the gates, parents sit in their cars until the doors open, then rush their children inside.

There were no welcoming drinks for new parents either, unless your children were in the first year, so our family’s arrival went unnoticed in the playground.

During Covid, our London suburb, Muswell Hill, which is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe, had become like a hamster cage. Pictured: Her sons at their London home

During Covid, our London suburb, Muswell Hill, which is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe, had become like a hamster cage. Pictured: Her sons at their London home

The class Whatsapp groups, filled with parents who have known one another for years, feel cliquey and hard to navigate.

I’ve tried volunteering at a few events, but it seems everyone is at their limit with time and energy, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, and very few have the head space to let a new person in.

My husband seems to have suffered less from the change. Whereas I work from home as a broadcaster and writer, his daily commute to London means he is still connected to his previous life. 

But I don’t think men crave social contact in the same way as women: when we lived in London he never went out as much as me. 

He was content to see his friends once or twice a month, while I like far more frequent contact and made plans to see people weekly, if not daily.

My loneliness is compounded by the fact that for months now, I have also spent my days trying to distract myself from the silence in every corner of the echoey house.

There’s a lot to do when the kids are here and the chaos is everywhere. But when the children have gone to school and my husband has left for the office — he works for a property company in Central London — the house is silent and I am utterly alone.

The countryside is so quiet, with birdsong replacing the city hubbub. For most people this is one of the big draws but it has made me feel disconnected from the world.

In London, I tried to shut myself off from the rush of traffic, builders and shoppers who scuttled up and down my road every day. I had never realised before how much that hustle and bustle made me feel connected to people.

My only regular company these days is the plumbers, roofers, electricians and handymen our new home requires.

What at first seemed a quaint old place turns out to have many foibles and problems — a new leak or crack appears daily, something Aviva Home Insurance has said is a common problem. 

About 92 per cent of people who bought houses during the pandemic have found faults they hadn’t noticed during the viewing. I still adore our house, it’s just a little more expensive than we predicted.

I’ve even got a horse — Camperito — as part of my strategy to connect with other people. There is a field attached to our garden and the children had always wanted to learn to ride. I thought perhaps it might even entice people to come and visit us.

Turns out, however, that it’s not uncommon to have a horse in rural Surrey and if you’re interested in horses, you already have one. So now the horse and I take quiet walks up and down the local bridle paths alone.

I suppose it should be some comfort that of the friends who made the big move, 75 per cent have admitted they feel isolated and unsupported.

The countryside is so quiet, with birdsong replacing the city hubbub. For most people this is one of the draws but it has made me feel disconnected. Pictured: Her son riding a horse

The countryside is so quiet, with birdsong replacing the city hubbub. For most people this is one of the draws but it has made me feel disconnected. Pictured: Her son riding a horse

‘Becca, you know I don’t have any friends, right,’ one of them told me, when I asked how she was after admitting my own misgivings.

‘Moving in March, just after coming out of lockdown, means it’s been impossible to meet anyone new.’

Another friend said: ‘I don’t regret moving out of London but it’s difficult to make friends at this age, especially when you’re moving to a smaller community where people have their own friends.’

Others have told me it will take at least a year to feel settled. ‘In a year’s time you’ll look back on this as just a blip,’ a friend insists.

But loneliness is poisonous and confidence-eroding and it’s not just me who feels it.

Every day the children ask me when we can move back to London. They miss their old friends and home hugely.

‘Why are you surprised by any of this?’ my mother-in-law asked me. ‘What else did you expect? You and the boys had years to create a friendship group in London. It won’t just slot into place the moment you arrive.’

‘But they’re children,’ she added, with a knowing smile. ‘They’re resilient, they will move on.’

Which is what I must do, too. I need to face up to these lonely feelings and accept the present is not how it will always be.

There are and will be future friends out there who are just waiting to be met. But in the meantime, I will accept any and all tips on how to find them.

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Home REIT acquires €101m UK resi portfolio

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Home REIT plc has acquired 199 additional properties located across England for an aggregate purchase price of €101m (£85.1m). The properties have added a further 869 beds for those in need to the portfolio, bringing the portfolio total to 10,421 and further enhancing the company’s geographic diversification. The acquisitions adhered to the company’s strict investment criteria, providing much-needed accommodation for vulnerable homeless people across England. They are let on an average lease length of 25 years at low and sustainable rents, on new, unbroken, long-term, full repairing and insuring leases to specialist registered homeless charities and community interest companies (CICs), providing them with the sought-after long-term security of tenure. The leases are subject to annual upward-only rent reviews, index-linked to the Consumer Prices Index, with an annual collar and cap of 1% and 4% respectively. Each of the properties is immediately income producing and, following these transactions, the blended net initial yield of the company’s portfolio is ahead of expectations.

 

Charlotte Fletcher, Partner at Alvarium Home REIT Advisors Limited, said: “This latest tranche of acquisitions represents a significant expansion of our portfolio and allows us to scale up our support for homeless people across the UK. The expeditious deployment of the proceeds of our significantly oversubscribed Subsequent Placing in May demonstrates the Company’s impressive capacity to source attractive investment opportunities and the strength of our relationships with local stakeholders. We are excited to welcome Alex to the management team and are confident that his appointment will further bolster our ability to deliver strong returns to investors whilst also fulfilling a pressing social need.”

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Grade II listed East Sussex family home with a clock tower can be yours for £2.5million

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A striking property on the south coast with its own clock tower is currently up for grabs for £2.5million.

The Clock House is a Grade II listed building in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.

It has an impressive clock tower that boasts has four clocks made by B L Vulliamy, the clockmaker to King George III.

The property has been in the same family for more than 30 years and is now being sold by M&W Sales and Lettings.

This unusual property is called the Clock House and it is a Grade II listed building in the East Sussex coastal town of St Leonards-on-Sea

This unusual property is called the Clock House and it is a Grade II listed building in the East Sussex coastal town of St Leonards-on-Sea

The Clock House has an opulent interior with arched doorways and windows framing the views of the surrounding garden

The Clock House has an opulent interior with arched doorways and windows framing the views of the surrounding garden

This living area has a large Tv sitting above a feature fireplace, colourful drape curtains and dark decorative wallpaper

This living area has a large Tv sitting above a feature fireplace, colourful drape curtains and dark decorative wallpaper 

The impressive property was constructed by the architect James Burton and his son Decimus Burton in 1827, who were behind many of the Georgian buildings in London

The impressive property was constructed by the architect James Burton and his son Decimus Burton in 1827, who were behind many of the Georgian buildings in London

The property was one of the first buildings constructed by the architect James Burton and his son Decimus Burton in 1827.

The pair were responsible for many of the historic homes along the South Coast, Tunbridge Wells and London. They were behind much of the building of Georgian London, including being responsible for large areas of Bloomsbury, as well as St John’s Wood and Clapham Common. James also collaborated with John Nash at Regent’s Park.

In 1828, he started building a new season town at St Leonards, based closely on his experiences at Regents Park.

There is a clock tower with four clocks, which were made by B L Vulliamy, the clockmaker to King George III

There is a clock tower with four clocks, which were made by B L Vulliamy, the clockmaker to King George III

There is a multi-coloured tiled floor in the entrance hallway

There are several feature windows at the Clock House

The property has plenty of interesting features, including arched windows and multi-coloured tiled floors in the hallway

This living room has some large dark sofas, a central chandelier, wooden floors and several candle holders

This living room has some large dark sofas, a central chandelier, wooden floors and several candle holders

This hallway has a colourful gold and red wallpaper with coordinating fabric on the sofa as well as dark wooden flooring

This hallway has a colourful gold and red wallpaper with coordinating fabric on the sofa as well as dark wooden flooring

This colourful bedroom has a patterned red wallpaper, red curtains, red window frames and a matching red ceiling

This colourful bedroom has a patterned red wallpaper, red curtains, red window frames and a matching red ceiling 

The Clock House retains many impressive features, including arched gothic doorways and a tiled entrance flooring.

There is an opulent interior, and a landscaped garden outside that includes a bar and dining areas.

It is spread across three floors and is on Maze Hill, overlooking St Leonards Gardens, with views to the sea.

The property has been in the same family for more than 30 years and M&W Sales and Lettings is handling the sale

The property has been in the same family for more than 30 years and M&W Sales and Lettings is handling the sale

The property has an asking price of £2.5million and is only a short walk from the centre of the town of St Leonards-on-Sea

The property has an asking price of £2.5million and is only a short walk from the centre of the town of St Leonards-on-Sea

The property has five bedrooms, with this one including a fireplace and an arched window that includes some stained glass

The property has five bedrooms, with this one including a fireplace and an arched window that includes some stained glass

The property has some ornate features including on the walls of this double bedroom that have been decorated with candles

The property has some ornate features including on the walls of this double bedroom that have been decorated with candles

This bathroom has green and gold wallpaper, white tiles on the floor, a life size statue and an appealing roll top bath

This bathroom has green and gold wallpaper, white tiles on the floor, a life size statue and an appealing roll top bath

The property is only a short walk away is St Leonards town centre, which boasts bars, restaurants, independent galleries and shops on Norman and Kings Road.

The towns’ gardens provide a tranquil setting with a range of plants, trees and wildlife, with the star of the show being a central ornamental pond.

The area has several schools including Battle Abbey School, Claremont, Vinehall and Buckswood.

Outside, there is plenty of space to entertain family and friends, including an outdoor dining area and a large lawn

Outside, there is plenty of space to entertain family and friends, including an outdoor dining area and a large lawn

The outdoor entertaining area includes a firepit and outdoor lights so that gatherings can continue into the evening

The outdoor entertaining area includes a firepit and outdoor lights so that gatherings can continue into the evening

The kitchen has cream wall and base units along with a central island that is tiled and it contains some useful storage

The kitchen has cream wall and base units along with a central island that is tiled and it contains some useful storage

This large double bedroom has monochrome wallpaper, a dark wooden flooring and some furnishings providing a pink accent

This large double bedroom has monochrome wallpaper, a dark wooden flooring and some furnishings providing a pink accent

The average price of a price sold in St Leonards during the past year is £291,265, which is just under the £312,201 average for the country as a whole, according to Zoopla.

Helen Whiteley, of property website OnTheMarket, said: ‘Properties like this don’t come to the market too often, so when they do it’s an opportunity to own something really special.

‘As well as a magnificent history dating back almost 200 years, with its original charm and unique interior, this clock house has a level of grandeur that remains as impressive today as it would have been when first constructed.’

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Greige is the new hot colour for your home – here’s how to follow the trend

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Neither beige, nor grey — it’s ‘greige’. And you may have noticed the colour is gracing walls, floors and furnishings this year.

The combination of warmth and elegance offered by the tone can create a soothing yet dynamic space and is now a go-to neutral.

The key is to use it as an anchoring palette — a springboard for other, confident colours within your scheme.

Boldly neutral: A bathroom painted in greige tones from Little Greene. Greige can ground a space and counter potential garishness

Boldly neutral: A bathroom painted in greige tones from Little Greene. Greige can ground a space and counter potential garishness

‘Greige is often used as a safe colour, layered with other neutrals, but I like to use it to provide balance,’ says interior designer Rachel Niddrie. 

‘Try it as a backdrop or woven into a scheme to showcase bold textures, pattern and colour — on vibrant rugs, artwork and accessories.’

Combined with contrasting materials, greige can ground a space and counter potential garishness.

‘It works beautifully with dusky pinks as well as royal blues, teals, lime green and navy,’ says Rachel.

‘One of my favourite fabrics is No. 9 Thompson’s Ninfea Mania in Blush or Royal. Featuring painterly lilies on a loose weave, it can be used for curtains, sofas and chairs. The Blush has a greenish-grey in the pattern and a pearl oyster background that perfectly tones with greige.’

Add glamour

The shade is versatile, too, offering several decorative directions. ‘Monochrome accents add eye-catching detail, while metallic accessories will introduce understated glamour and bring warmth to the overall look,’ says Amanda Huber, founder of The Dining Chair Co.

‘If you are more daring, why not complement a neutral backdrop with beautiful printed linen upholstery on sofas or dining chairs? You can pick accent colours from the print and introduce them elsewhere to add energy to the scheme.’

Getting just the right shade of greige requires a considered eye.

‘As with any neutral or white, whether it is warm or cool, depends on underlying hints of warm pink or cool blue,’ says Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown. ‘Red tones elsewhere in your scheme can be complemented with a warm grey-beige, while cooler blues, deep greys and greens work with a cooler grey.’

Also, the light in the UK can seem flat, which affects our perception of colour.

‘Natural light can be limited in homes, making us crave something warmer than a straightforward grey,’ says Helen Shaw of Benjamin Moore. ‘Our Revere-Pewter (HC-172) is a classic warm grey that co-ordinates with more natural greys like steel, concrete, glass, pebbles, driftwood — even cloudy skies.’

There are many ways to make this classic tone contemporary. ‘One of my top tips is to pair greige with raw plastered walls,’ says Space Shack’s Omar Bhatti. ‘This produces a lovely combination of soft colour and contrasting texture, which adds character.’

Mix it up

‘Don’t be afraid to mix materials,’ says Collection Noir’s Samantha Wilson. ‘Timber looks beautiful when accompanied with limewashed walls, occasional metal details, soft linens and textured ceramics.’

All these elements are a softly modern way to work a classic greige. Bear in mind some of the most beautifully balanced and welcoming interiors are based on a subtle palette of beiges and greys.

Texture: Sofa.com’s Ginger armchairs in Champagne luxe boucle costs £1,045

Texture: Sofa.com’s Ginger armchairs in Champagne luxe boucle costs £1,045

‘The key is to layer and to remember that ‘neutral’ extends far beyond creams and sandy hues,’ advises King Living’s design studio. ‘It also incorporates olive, earth tones, red-based hues and deeper browns — all of which pair with a beige-grey base to create a timeless scheme.’

Avoid a flat finish, instead opt for unexpected texture. Try sofa.com’s Ginger armchairs in Champagne luxe boucle (pictured), £1,045.

Pooky’s Empire gathered lampshades in Flashman printed cotton, £56, add elegance.

Bring greige walls to life with Carpetright’s Mardi Gras 576 Estrella Vinyl. The encaustic tile-style flooring works beautifully in otherwise neutral utility rooms. 

A graphic rug such as H&M Home’s Patterned Pile rug, £149.99 peps up a greige sitting room, too.

Calming vibe

The desire for warm, zen-like spaces is growing, making greige both a lifestyle and design choice.

Omar Bhatti has painted his apartment in Little Greene’s Mushroom. ‘I used it on wall, doors, architraves and skirting and combined it with deep blue kitchen cabinetry,’ he says. ‘It is very calming.’

Combined with natural fibres, timbers and earthy colours, it creates a sense of balance and understated luxury.

‘The look is easily achieved,’ says Samantha Wilson. ‘Whether you accessorise with woven planters or linen cushions, throws, tablecloths, or jute and flatweave rugs.’

Versatility is key to this — it works just as well with earthy tones as jewel hues, but it always contributes to a timeless, cocooning interior. Just what many of us crave.

Savings of the week! Leaning mirror

Light on the wallet: Dunelm offers the Moroccan mirror for £105

Light on the wallet: Dunelm offers the Moroccan mirror for £105

A long, leaning mirror has several key benefits. It makes any room look larger, optimises the light and requires no DIY skills: you simply prop it against the wall. Do so carefully and you will look slimmer and more lissom.

Snapping up a bargain will enhance your feeling of wellbeing. At Dunelm, there are styles for every decor, reduced by 30 per cent, including the gilt-framed Midi (£42), the Moroccan (£105) and the Apartment (£91), which has a loft-living vibe.

The Range also has a wide selection, such as the Regency whose price has been cut by 20 per cent to £87.99; its ornate gilt frame is very Bridgerton.

Cotswold Company offers an arched mirror in a moody black frame, down from £179 to £149.

Rose & Grey has a large black Art Deco mirror, reduced from £595 to £505.75, which would look good in a 1930s house, and a black paned mirror that’s now £191.25, down from £225, which could be deployed in the garden.

Anne Ashworth 

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