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London leavers: ‘Swapping Walthamstow for a Suffolk village was a culture shock but we’re learning to love it’

The Fullers new home in Suffolk  (On The Market / Sworders)
The Fullers new home in Suffolk (On The Market / Sworders)

When Jen and Chris Fuller were living in arty, creative, and up-and-coming Walthamstow they never would have imagined they would have ended up trading it in for a run down Victorian villa in a sleepy Suffolk market town.

But circumstances change and the couple have found themselves living in Sudbury. And, slightly to their surprise, things are working out perfectly. “It has been a culture shock, I must admit, but I am really learning to love it,” said Jen, 42.

She and Chris, 41, were relatively early adopters of Walthamstow village, buying a three bedroom Victorian terrace there the year they got married – 2014.

By 2015 Jen, who at the time was working for a media agency, was expecting her first child, and suddenly London didn’t seem like such a great idea. “I started to feel very unsafe as soon as it got dark,” she said. “We lived on a busy road and we were very aware of the pollution, and thinking ahead to things like schools it didn’t seem like maybe the best place to bring up a child. I am quite impulsive, and I just thought: ‘No’”.

Jen and Chris made their move out of London in two stages.

Their first destination was the well-trodden path to arty, trendy Leigh-on-Sea, close to Jen’s parents, and with a comfortingly good range of boutiques and cafes as well as the seaside itself.

They sold their home in Walthamstow for £770,000 and bought a four-bedroom semi in Leigh for £700,000. With the sea at the bottom of the road it seemed like the perfect place to raise a family; by the time they moved in 2018 Etta, now six, was walking and Jen was expecting Una, who is now four.

And that might have been that had not family circumstances changed. Jen’s father died at the start of the pandemic, and she was very worried about her mother, Annie Nicholson, partially sighted and living alone in the family home in Chelmsford. “Even though we were only half an hour away I felt quite helpless,” she said.

Plan A was to buy a bigger house in Leigh and have her mother move in with the family. But, by then, the great race for space was underway as London families fled the city. “The prices were insane, and we couldn’t afford anywhere bigger unless we really compromised on location which I didn’t want to do,” says Jen.

The family extended their search area and settled on Sudbury, on the basis that it is close enough to both London and Chelmsford for regular visits to friends and family, and walkable enough for Annie to have her independence. Chris is self-employed and can do his e-commerce job from anywhere, while Jen runs her own business, Etta Loves, a sensory baby brand, making her equally flexible.

“The market there was utter madness too, until we came across one house that nobody seemed very interested in because it was so dilapidated,” says Jen. “The garden was so overgrown you couldn’t really see where it ended and there was a tiny, narrow kitchen.”

However Annie had been an architect and could easily see past the weeds and peeling wallpaper to the potential that lay beyond.

In September 2021 the frenzied market meant the family were able to sell their Leigh on Sea home for £837,000, which allowed them to pay £950,000 for their six-bedroom 1870s villa.

They then pooled their resources and embarked on a massive, £250,000 renovation programme, extending the kitchen, replacing the ageing bathrooms, tackling the ancient plumbing and wiring in the house. “We have still got a way to go but the house functions now,” said Jen.

And while Sudbury would not be Jen and Chris’s first choice they are impressed by how friendly it is – “Much more so than Leigh-on-Sea,” says Jen – the community feel, and the peace and quiet.

“It is a whole different pace of life, and one that I’m growing to love,” says Jen.”