I moved to London in 2011 when I was 23, to try and make my dreams of becoming a photographer come true. I felt instantly at home in the bustling city environment and fell completely in love with London within weeks. After a couple of years, my dream of making it as a photographer did come true and I started shooting for the likes of Refinery29. That said, I knew I wouldn’t stay in London forever and would eventually move further out so that I could have a home of my own, but I didn’t think it would happen before my 30th birthday.
However, love changes things. I met my other half, Tom – a Midlands man who had no interest in London – five years ago, and eventually convinced him to move to this incredible city for a few years, always with the goal of buying a house and moving closer to our families down the line. I think I’d been living in London for five years when we started entertaining the idea of buying our own home. We agreed on Cheltenham – two hours from London, right by my family and his brother, and an easy drive from the rest of his family. And so began the evenings spent on Rightmove. I was obsessed with period properties. I had it in my head that we’d buy a two-bedroom flat with amazing wooden floors and big sash windows; we even viewed quite a few places like this. But then our careers made us pause our search for a while. My job as a photographer in London was getting better and better, and I promised my agency I wouldn’t move anywhere for at least another year.
Fast-forward to January 2017, just after a Christmas spent at my nan’s in Cheltenham. We decided to have a little look on Rightmove again and somehow ended up putting an offer on a house. It was a really cute two-bed place, and it had the beautiful wooden floors. We had pretty much our whole family come and see it and ask their opinion. But when the time came to make an offer, it wasn't as exciting as we'd thought it would be; we went to the estate agent and said we’d like to make an offer and they said…"Okay". There was no confetti, hugs or claps, or any of what you imagine it to be. It was just a normal, everyday transaction. With no champagne. In the end, though, our offer was rejected; but it turns out it wasn't meant to be…
Around the same time, my childhood best friend moved back to Cheltenham and bought a beautiful new build. I’d never even considered a new build but as soon as I walked into her place, I saw the appeal. We started looking into the first-time buyers scheme, which applies to new builds, and in May 2017 I mentioned to my nan that IF we bought, we MIGHT be interested in a new build. She was so excited that she booked us in to see two new-build estates in Cheltenham the next day. It was a shock to us all when we fell in love with a house on that very viewing. We made an offer on the Sunday, they accepted the following Friday and five weeks later, we were homeowners – the world's quickest house purchase!
It was a whirlwind but they say when you know, you know, and it's so true. We literally walked through the front door and I said: "It would have to be a place as special as this for me to move out of London." A right place, right time situation that we made work.
I commute to London every week as all my work is there, so I still have the city element to my life, which definitely makes it easier to adjust to our new pace of life. I wouldn’t call Cheltenham a small town by any means but the mindset and way of living is very different from a big city. I’m definitely still finding my feet but one of the reasons we chose to live here is that it’s such a developing place, with so much going on. There’s a literature festival, music, science and jazz festivals, loads of really good places to eat (The Tavern, Golden Mountain and Koj are some of our favourites) and generally a lot to see and do. I’m not going to lie, though; I still feel a bit out of place, out of my comfort zone. But it's still early days and I know I’ll settle in over the years.
Obviously being so close to my family again makes it all worthwhile – I haven’t lived in the same place as them since I was 9 years old. And our beautiful home, of course. My new favourite hobby is trawling secondhand websites and eBay for amazing (and insanely cheap!) furniture. I’ve always been a bargain hunter – going to a car boot sale on a Sunday is probably one of my all-time favourite weekend activities – but now I have my very own house to fill, I’m in my element. We actually only have two or three new pieces of furniture in the whole house; the rest is secondhand or from family. We’ve got a beautiful dining table that my grandparents bought in Singapore in the '80s, a big antique desk from Tom’s granddad, a chest of drawers that was his nan's mum's, an amazing Syrian rug from the '80s, street finds from London that I’ve painted and done up, furniture Tom’s made out of pallet wood from the building site. Pretty much every item in our house has a story, and coming home to that is so special. Packing up in London broke my heart – even saying goodbye to my neighbour had me in floods of tears – but walking through the front door of this house really makes up for it. It is my home, our home, and we love it.