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Good reasons young NHS couple chose Kent

Being cooped up in a small London flat wasn't for them; they wanted to break free

It must have been a tough selection (not!) – a two-bedroom flat in London or a four-bedroom detached home in the Garden of England. That was the choice that faced first-time buyers Georgina Goodwin (26) and Ryan Harris (25) recently.

The two work in London, but their experiences during the first lockdown helped to convince them that they needed space – and a garden – for them to avoid going stir crazy.

The couple had been busily looking for a London apartment when coronavirus hit and they found themselves under lockdown in their tiny, one-bedroom rented flat in Ealing (London zone three).

“It was utterly miserable,” recalls Georgina. “We really struggled to cope with such small living spaces, especially as we didn’t even have a balcony, let alone a garden. We are both NHS administration workers, so we were trying to work effectively from home as well, and it was very stressful being under each other’s feet all the time and with nowhere to escape to.”

Once they were free to start househunting again, Georgina and Ryan realised that the experience had totally transformed their ideas about their future home. The intention had always been to get on the property ladder, but, instead of looking for a two-bedroom apartment in London as planned, the couple decided to head for the open spaces of Kent and leave the city behind them.

They found what they were looking for at Dickens Gate by David Wilson Homes in the attractive village of Staplehurst; where they were delighted to discover that with the aid of Help to Buy,  they could purchase a spacious, four-bedroom family home with a garden. Thanks to Help to Buy and the access it provides to lower lending rates, they now also pay less on their mortgage every month than they were spending in London on rent.

The kitchen in a Layton house

The developers of the Staplehurst project, David Wilson Homes, together with research partner GoodMore Global, have recently investigated the changing buying behaviours in London and the South East following the initial UK-lockdown period. The research has found that those in London’s inner zones (one and two) are 20% more likely to move compared with the rest of London and the South East – and those in zones three and four are 30% more likely to move now.

“Before the pandemic we had always thought we needed to stay close to our jobs,” explains Ryan, “but the past few months have changed everything. Georgina is still working full-time from home, and I’m only going in to the workplace two days a week, so I don’t mind having a slightly longer commute if it means we can have a garden and plenty of space at home – as well as the countryside on the doorstep.”

The home office area in the Layton-style property

Ryan was pleased to discover that Staplehurst station is only a 15-minute walk from their new home, with direct trains to London Bridge in less than an hour, so the commute is quite comfortable even if they do eventually go back into London every day for work.

“We really hadn’t considered moving out of London before coronavirus,” says Georgina, “but the experience of being under lockdown in a tiny flat with no outdoor space was not something I ever want to have to go through again. At least, if the worst comes to the worst and we do have to go back into lockdown, we are in a much better place.” Obviously, Georgina was speaking before lockdown No 2 came along.

“Moving to Dickens Gate has been a life-changer,” adds Ryan. “We have four bedrooms, a nice garden, countryside on the doorstep and space to work.”

Given they are both NHS workers, Ryan and Georgina were able to take advantage of David Wilson Homes’ NHS Thank You scheme. As a sign of gratitude to the hard work of NHS staff during the pandemic, the company offered them a 5% contribution towards their deposit (up to £15,000).

“We had been saving up for years towards a deposit and this really helped us to be able to make the move when we did,” says Georgina.

A typical street in Dickens Gate

Natalie Perry, sales and marketing director for David Wilson Homes Kent, says: “We have definitely noticed a change of priorities among buyers as a result of the pandemic and lockdown; with more people opting to move out of London in search of freedom and room to move. Dickens Gate is set among open spaces and wildlife areas, and we are planning allotments and playgrounds so everyone can enjoy the fresh air in their own way. Staplehurst is a lovely village with a sense of community, set in beautiful countryside close to Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, but with easy travel connections by road and rail for those who need to commute.”

Three and four-bedroom homes are available at Dickens Gate, starting from £344,995. For more information or to arrange a viewing, visit www.dwh.co.uk or call 0333 3558 503.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past local weekly publications he has worked for include: the South-East London Mercury* covering the Borough of Greenwich as a junior reporter; Orpington-based News Shopper as a sub-editor; and the Kent Messenger when based in Larkfield, Maidstone, as deputy chief sub-editor. He has also worked for the following dailies/nationals: Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor on a car fleet magazine. His first foray into property ownership saw him move from London to Rainham (the Gillingham, Kent, variety). He has subsequently lived in Chislehurst, Petts Wood and Orpington in the Borough of Bromley (which he still regards as being in Kent). In more recent years he owned three different properties on the Kings Hill (West Malling) development.

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