Downsizing and moving from the countryside back to London
When Julia Bromley-Derry announced to her friends that she and her husband Ian were selling their historic home in the depths of Norfolk and moving to a central London flat the response was almost unanimous. “They thought we were totally mad,” said Julia. “They all told me I was a country woman, and I was going to hate it.”
The couple’s former house was a four bedroom converted pub in the Norfolk market town of Reepham. They bought property in 2009 and spent a decade restoring the Georgian red brick building, creating a home perfect for a young family with a good sized garden and separate one bedroom annexe.
But when their sons, James, now 26, and Richard, 24, went off to university, and then began to forge careers in London, the circa 2,000 sq ft property began to feel too large. “We had renovated the house but, idyllic though it was, we were basically only living in a few rooms,” said Ian, 64, a retired chartered surveyor.
Retired nurse Julia, 59, agreed. “We had almost closed one chapter of our lives, we were free to do what we wanted, and we wanted an adventure,” she said.
With James and Richard living in the capital a move to London seems an obvious choice for Julia and Ian - although they are keen to stress that family ties were not the only reason. “I was born in London and lived here for the first years of my life,” said Ian. “For me the countryside, although wonderful, was not my lifestyle anymore – I was not going for walks on the beach or long cycle rides. I am comfortable in a city.”
Although they began their property hunt with an open mind on location their buying criteria were for somewhere central, with good transport links, and plenty of local facilities. Woolwich ticked all the boxes, and they researched property for sale using the main online property portals, with a wish list of a modern, low maintenance home which would be inexpensive to run.
Once they had decided to make a move the couple took their time preparing themselves. Aware that they had accumulated a huge array of possessions and furnishings they began decluttering well in advance. “We committed to do a little bit every day from January 1 until the move,” said Julia.
They whittled down their belongings by selling some pieces at auctions, others at car boot sales. Gifts were made to friends and to local charities, and Julia also got into the habit of leaving armfuls of unwanted items outside the house for passers by to pick up.
The began their house hunt during the pandemic, and in the summer of 2022 the couple sold their house and bought a two-bedroom flat at Royal Arsenal Riverside, in Woolwich, south east London.
This 5,000-home development is a reboot of the historic Royal Arsenal, which provided the British army with ammunition and equipment from the 17th century until 1994.
The couple liked the site’s mix of historic and modern buildings, and its good range of on-site shops, cafes, pubs, and restaurants.
Ian admits to feeling a little sad about saying farewell to the family home. “But I also knew that it was not providing us with the lifestyle that we wanted,” he said.
A potential benefit of downsizing can be that it frees up capital. According to recent research by Quickmove Properties, a park home selling specialist, UK downsizers release an average of £127,738.
But moving to a more expensive location may wipe out the potential for capital release.
Two bedroom flats Julia and Richard’s section of the development, Compass Wharf (www.berkeleygroup.co.uk) are currently priced from £700,000 and the sale of their house almost exactly covered the purchase of their flat.
On the plus side Ian estimates that their household running costs have been halved thanks to the move. “It also doesn’t take long to do the household chores, and looking to the future it has got a lift,” he said.
The couple have also been able to give up their car and are happy zipping around London by bus and on the new Elizabeth Line. Services from Woolwich Arsenal station to the West End take just over 23 minutes. Journeys to see their sons, who live in Stepney Green, east London, and Wembley Park, north London, take 25 minutes and an hour respectively.
From Norfolk, a visit to the boys involved a three hour each way car journey.
“It is wonderful,” said Julia. “In the country you might get one bus in the morning and one in the evening, and no trains at all. Now we can go everywhere, whenever we want.”
The couple are still finding their feet in their new neighbourhood but are working hard to embed themselves into the local community and find a new group of friends. They have taken part time jobs as exam invigilators at a local school, Julia has joined a choir and volunteered at a local community centre, and Ian uses the on-site gym.
“I think you get out what you put in,” he said. “We have made acquaintances, but it does take time to make real friends.”
Technology, of course, also makes it easy for the couple to stay connected to their old friends.
The first thing those who visit remark upon about Julia and Ian’s new home is its balcony, with far reaching views along the River Thames.
This outside space, said Julia, more than makes up for the loss of a traditional back garden.
“We weren’t fanatical gardeners, and on a windy night I no longer have to worry about a tree or the fence coming down or the shed roof blowing off,” she said.
“When people come in, they are blown away that we can see the river and mesmerised by watching it. The River Thames is now my back garden.”
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