Flying the Coop: downsizing and starting a new life

Garden writer and columnist Francine Raymond describes her journey from a much-loved family home of thirty years to a new house by the sea, charting her progress as she starts life again from scratch.

Photo © Francine Raymond

Photo © Francine Raymond

In the general scheme of things, one person’s move from their family house of thirty years to a new life is small beer. But I’m a nester, someone who sets great store by my surroundings, and manage them almost as a means of artistic expression. I opened my house, garden and small flock of scruffy hens to the public, started a shop and a café, and led a country life in public.

Nonetheless, my home was my sanctuary, and although my family has flown, I still need a base, a workplace and somewhere for my dispersed offspring to congregate.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have the choice to live where they want.

Bereavement, divorce, strife, job-seeking can all force people to move, and sooner or later, even the most perfect home can seem too big, too demanding or too wasteful for single occupancy.

So, the solution is to downsize, and the diary of my progress from a much loved home of thirty years in Suffolk to the seaside at Whitstable has ended up as a new book, Flying the Coop.

I chart my first year in words and pictures, as I convert a bungalow, plan a low-ish maintenance garden, plant an orchard, and start again with chickens from scratch. Through family milestones, I welcome new arrivals, mourn losses and meet kindred spirits. I suggest recipes for seasonal ingredients – interspersed like songs in a musical – and offer glimpses into a new life by the sea, and hope for others in the same boat.

Photo © Francine Raymond

Photo © Francine Raymond

Taking time from my day job – writing a weekly gardening column for the Sunday Telegraph and articles for lifestyle magazines, running a small publishing business and a free online information service for poultry keepers – I’ve struggled to cope with the building process, making new friends, and the general loss of confidence that comes when you lose the backbone of a community that has been your support for what felt like a lifetime.

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Three years, on I’m starting to feel at home here. Who knows what the future will bring? But somehow, whatever the difficulties, the fact I’ve moved once has proved I could do it again, if I had to.

My move has taken away the fear of change, and that’s liberating.

It has been hard work, and that leads me to recommend that others thinking of treading the same path should do it now, while they have the energy, and a little extra left over to offer their new community.