Hannah Freeman’s life could not be more different now than it was a little over a year ago. Back then, she was settled in a small flat in a buzzing part of east London and working and playing hard in her dream career in fashion.
Fast-forward 12 months and she and her fiancé are living in their very own rural dream in a riverside cottage in Somerset. The social feed that ‘was usually about clothes and shoes’ is now ‘all foraging and trying to grow pumpkins’. Her life, she says, with no small understatement ‘has been through a big transition’.
She now realises, she says, ‘how much running around I did that was superfluous – that [urban] addiction to being busy and saying yes to everything and social pleasing.’ Now picnics in the park have been replaced by ‘fire pits in the garden’ and her most recent purchase of statement footwear was, she laughs, a pair of waders.
She is a convert to composting (‘having the waste from my kitchen go into my garden and then growing something out of that that I can eat and being able to see the full eco-cycle in action is amazing’) and notes that whereas in the city ‘winter and even autumn felt like an inconvenience, here you have time to appreciate the beauty of seasons and what they offer.’
Work commitments meant Hannah spent the first few months of her new life splitting her week between London and Somerset. Since March, the widespread shift to remote working means she’s been Somerset-based fulltime, which has only deepened her love of their new(ish) home.
Country living has shown her that she is, she realises, an introvert by nature. ‘Lots of people would be surprised to hear me say that as I’m quite a vivacious personality,’ she explains, ‘but I need time away to recharge and living in the country has been really good for that. I realise that I really need that quiet time and opportunity to reflect.'
Which is not to say that one of the highlights of her new circumstances has been the opportunity to play host to friends and family – Christmas 2019 was the first time she and her partner had the space to be able to do that (their London flats were too small).
‘I’ve missed some of my creature comforts and the cultural side of London,’ Hannah admits, but she wouldn’t trade it back. The past year, she says, ‘has given everyone a very great appreciation of what we have,’ something that her new life in the country has magnified for her tenfold.
‘I think we’ve always longed to live in the countryside,’ says Charlotte Day-Lewin on her family’s recent decision to move to the New Forest. She and her husband had both grown up surrounded by nature.
While weekends had increasingly tended to involve spending time visiting friends and family outside the city, work commitments (Charlotte launched Twin London – a boutique media consultancy for premium brands – at the beginning of 2020) meant that she took it for granted that the proximity to the city centre meant urban living was just part and parcel of the deal.
But then she, like so many this past year, discovered what had long been fantasy was in fact perfectly achievable reality when, in March, she let go of the central London office space she’d only recently rented, and started WFH instead.
‘Spending more time with the kids because they were around has been great,’ she says. Far from the overstretched juggling she had thought it might be, Charlotte’s discovered a flexibility in the arrangement (helped, she admits, by running her own business) that she simply hadn’t realised was possible when she was stuck in the commuting cycle. ‘It just felt,’ she says, ‘like this is how life could be.’
Within weeks of her new set-up, she and her husband sold their house in London and had an offer accepted on what will soon be their new home. By the time you read this the family will be settling into a very different lifestyle.
Charlotte’s already made plans for a pottery shed-cum-art studio in a currently disused outbuilding (‘I’m not very good at it, but I like it,’ she says of her skills on that front). There will be a vegetable patch (of course) and, in time she hopes, a horse in a nearby paddock.
More than anything, she’s looking forward to the kids having all that freedom to explore and play away from ‘that whole over-scheduled thing’ that tends to happen to urban children who are endlessly shuttled between activities and classes. ‘They say boredom is good for you,’ she laughs. ‘They’ll be able to go out the back door and feed the chickens or whatever.’
And most important of all, they’ll be closer to family – both sets of grandparents will be within easy reach, while Charlotte’s twin sister (‘my hero,’ she says), will now be roughly a 15-minute drive away.
The fact that she’ll have more time to dedicate to projects that are particularly close to her heart – namely a programme dedicated to help women get back into the workplace following maternity breaks and a series of paid internships designed to help young people find their way into the creative industries – is the icing on a particularly pleasing cake. ‘It’s almost,’ she says with a smile, ‘as if it’s meant to be.’
The temporary move to the country
When events manager Heather Morton left her Glasgow flatshare to go back to her family home in the small peninsula town on the west coast of Scotland in March 2020, she thought she would probably be gone ‘for about three weeks’ she says. Nine months later, she’s not just still there, she has entirely reconsidered the idea of returning to her ‘old’ life.
The summer, she says, ‘was lovely’, a reminder of how much she enjoyed the space and quiet and beauty of the remote landscapes in which she grew up, with lots of time spent at the beach and walking in the nearby glen.
Perhaps even more crucial, however, was the fact that all that literal space around her, gave her the mental space – usually so caught up in the push and pull of busy city life – to really begin to work out what Heather really wanted in the longer term.
‘The experience has made me want to live somewhere where I can have a garden and some outdoor space, just make it a lot more homely,’ she says. ‘It’s definitely broadened my horizons as to where I’d live.’
That included briefly considering making the move back to her home town permanent (not least ‘because you get so much more for your money’). On reflection, however, she’s decided the decision is unlikely to be as ‘all or nothing’ as that. ‘I’m not sure that I’ll be in that headspace in 12 months’ time,’ the 26-year-old admits. The move has, however, reset her expectations in unexpected ways.
Whereas this time last year she wouldn’t have imagined living anywhere other than the city centre, that no longer holds the same appeal. Her focus is now on areas closer to the outskirts of Glasgow that will offer what she believes is the best of both worlds – the garden that’s now so precious to her along with easy access to both country and city.
‘I’m really glad I had that freedom,’ Heather says of her break from city living. Not just for the location itself, but because it showed her that, even in a job such as hers, remote working – and indeed remote socialising – isn’t just possible but will potentially become a permanent lifestyle choice for many.
So much so, in fact, that she recently helped a colleague to launch a new 'virtual venue’ – SocialEyes – which offers everything from online cookalongs to singing masterclasses by West End stars. It’s all part of a trend she believes is here to stay. ‘I know a lot of people who are nesting at the moment,’ she says, with a nod to the recent switch to ‘homeware and interiors’ on Instagram feeds.
Now in the process of looking to buy a place of her own, Heather might not quite be ready for a new life in the country, but nine months sabbatical in a small coastal town has been what’s needed to show this once diehard urbanite a whole new way of life.
Feeling inspired to switch out city living for the slower pace and bigger skies of country life? Find more ideas about how to embrace the spirit in our ‘In The Driving Seat’ video series, find out more at driven-uk.com