Leaving London: we swapped Penge for a total renovation project in Gloucestershire

·3-min read
Ali, Rob, Willow and Marley Harper swapped south-east London for south Gloucestershire   (Handout)
Ali, Rob, Willow and Marley Harper swapped south-east London for south Gloucestershire (Handout)

Leaving the capital was one of the most nerve-wracking and daunting experiences of Ali Harper’s life.

Today, two years after she and her family quit south-east London for south Gloucestershire, she only has one regret: “The fear and stress we felt were terrible – you just don’t want to be making a mistake,” said Ali. “Now I only wish I had done it sooner.”

Ali, 38, and her husband Rob, 40, had been living in a three-bedroom 1930s semi in Penge with their young family – Marley, now five, and Willow, two.

Both had busy careers, Ali, as a talent producer for television shows, and Rob as a project director in advertising, and had relished London’s excitement and opportunity.

When Willow was born things started to change – with two young children to wrangle and no family close by they were feeling the strain of combining parenthood and careers, and although they still loved London they struggled to actually go out and do anything. “We felt trapped – the only thing we did was go to the park opposite,” said Ali. “And although I did really love our house it had its downsides. It was right on an A-road and you couldn’t open the windows at night.”

Her family are based in Buckinghamshire, but they rejected the idea of joining them because of the county’s high property prices. Rob’s family are dotted around Bristol, a more affordable option for the family.

In the summer of 2019 they nervously put their house on the market and began searching for a new family home. They rapidly found, and fell in love with, a rambling early-Victorian five bedroomed house in the village of Alveston, which is 11 miles from the centre of Bristol. “It is 1837 on the outside and 1987 on the inside,” said Ali. “It needs all the work in the world, and it hasn’t had any love for years and years, but it is amazing.”

They sold their house in Penge for £650,000 and paid £610,000 for their new house – a disparity which Ali still marvels at, despite the work it needs. They moved at the end of December 2019 and have been planning an extension which is due to start in the next few weeks.

“When we first moved down it was hard,” said Ali. “It was lockdown, we didn’t know anyone, and it was tough. But when Marley started school we met loads of people, and now we are constantly doing things.

“We are only 20 minutes from the beach, 15 minutes from the Forest of Dean, we walk everywhere, and I am outside all the time – I just can’t believe how fresh the air is.”

Ali still travels to London for work, around once a month. “It takes just over an hour from Parkway station, and often coming in in the morning from Penge would take that time anyway,” said Ali.

The only downside about the move is that she is concerned by the lack of diversity in her new community, but other than that she is delighted to have taken the plunge. “If we had not had kids we would probably have never left London,” she said. “But with kids it was impossible to stay.”

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