Leaping from the London rat race to rural France

Becky, Tom and Hete currently live in the Dordogne, France. Their home is a stunning 16th century mill that needs renovation, plus they plan to adapt certain areas of the grounds for their new eco-friendly business.

You might be thinking that this is all very ‘Escape to the Chateau’ but their journey from London to France (via Spain) was extremely testing and pushed them to the limit. In her own words, Becky tells us about the process of making this huge life change. What’s the saying, no pain no gain - right?

Tom, Becky & Hete

Tom, Becky & Hete

Tell us about your UK life and what an average day was like for the both of you?

Tom was up at 6am and out by 6.30 as he had his own business in London refurbishing properties, and he normally wouldn't be back home till 8pm. Me, I was up at 6am getting our daughter, Hete, ready for nursery and a 7.30 drop off. I would then catch the train into London where I worked for 12 years at Channel 4. 

Do you remember the moment when you both decided that something had to change?

We were at home exhausted, fed up of hardly seeing our daughter, money was tight and Tom was stressed out (to the brink of a breakdown) running his own company.  We had watched something on TV about leaving everything behind and this got us thinking. That night we discussed where.

I wanted to go further afield to Canada, a little ambitious maybe. We both agreed on France and straight away looked at properties online. We very quickly figured that if we sold the house in Orpington we could buy out a house in France - no mortgage! F**k it lets do it! - they were our actual words. 

What did you hope to gain from the change in lifestyle?

Healthy living, growing our own vegetables, no mortgage, time to spend with our daughter and for her to learn a new language. Tom speaks to her in Hungarian and I speak to her in English but she is now learning French at school. We wanted a better life for her. We both had an adventurous upbringing, playing outside for hours and we felt that Hete wouldn't get that in London. It was important for us that she experienced this.

Also being in the country was something we loved. We would often spend weekends outside of London on country walks, and of course we had a huge interest in treehouses and living off grid. But we are not hippies we are normal working class people... hmm maybe a bit hipster rather than hippy ;) 

So once the decision was made, what steps did you take to devise a plan?

We put our house up for sale, Tom liquidated his company and I handed in my notice as soon as we had an offer on the house. We bought an Airstream caravan as an asset as we didn't want to just buy a standard caravan, we wanted to use something slightly different that would give us other opportunities perhaps. We also needed this caravan to travel around France to discover where we wanted to live.

When did you start telling people what you decided to do and how did they react?

More or less straight away as soon as we made the decision. Some were very excited and envious others (family) were worried and nervous for us. Then the rest thought we were MAD!

Did you ever consider changing the plan? 

Not really. We always stayed on the same path, although there were times when we couldn't find the place that we felt was right, we'd discuss other countries and opportunities. 

Did you have any fear about the decision? If you did, how did you handle it?

Of course. Big fears all the time. How did we handle it? Well Tom was much better than myself because he's done a big move before so he had adapted before. I was and still am in fear but you can't make a huge decision like this and expect it to be easy... it comes with the decision.

There were many what if's such as finding the right place, are we going to be too isolated, learning the language, how to set up a business, permissions, Hete adjusting, so on and so on. You have no choice but to deal with the fear and I have to really work hard on this, otherwise you just lose the excitement of making such a huge change. You have to enjoy it too, this is very important. 

Were there any occasions when you were ready to pack it in?

Ha yep, many times I have thought what the hell are we doing here with such an old building and so much to do. We were in the Airstream for the first 6 months living here whilst Tom and some volunteers put a new roof on the house. I remember the rain, non stop rain for 10 days, water levels so high it flooded the downstairs rooms. Thankfully the living space was on the first floor. The neighbours were so concerned they offered us a bed but we stayed and stuck it out in the caravan. I'll never forget hearing the water gush down the river thinking what the hell have we done!

What benefits have you experienced since living your new life?

We’re definitely healthier. All of us are eating fresher food, walking more, swimming in the river. Another benefit is the culture. Learning how the French live and learning a new language. Summer was glorious here with loads of outdoor activities. Hete is learning a new language and settling into a new school. And of course we have new friends both French and English.  

You’ve experienced a few challenging situations to get you to where you are today. When you look back, what have you learnt about yourselves throughout this?

If anything we have become tougher and less materialistic. We are so appreciative of family and are stronger together as husband and wife, even though at times it was very testing. You have different challenges than what you would normally have in London, some harder, some better. There will always be a part of London in my heart forever and I’m grateful for this. If things don't work out we can always go back.

If someone is reading this and wondering how to take the first step towards changing their life, what would your advice be?

Its not as easy as you think. You need to be a certain type of character to be able to cope with it. It will test you in ways that you never would expect but it gives you bountiful rewards and joys that you would ever expect. But whats the point in wondering... just f**k it and do it!!

Personally, I think that it is quite easy but you have to be very decisive. Look at your current commitments/situation and what you could gain in life. You make up your mind and go for it no hesitating, no what ifs… just take the leap, if you start questioning things or analysing situations you won’t do it!

Has it been worth it?

Ask me in 5 years (joke). Yes it was worth it. I don't want go through life asking ‘what if I did that’ or ‘should I have done this’. You only live once you have to give everything your best shot. That's what life’s about right?! 

Becky, Tom & Hete x

You can follow Becky on Instagram: Becky Allin

Making the leap from Education to Illustration

Having spent the last 20 years studying and climbing the career ladder within education, Cate was pushed into re-thinking her choices when her mental health started to suffer. She told The Alternative her career change story and how she has become more resilient…and happier!

What were you doing five years ago and how does your life differ now?

I was working as a Head of Keystage, SENCo and Early Years English Specialist Teacher (phew!) in a school and there is no way in which my life doesn’t really differ! As much as I loved my students and watching them grow, I’ve rediscovered ‘me’ and my passions.

My life before was all about facilitating and supporting others which although this is just part of my make-up, I needed to save a little bit for myself and being a teacher just doesn’t have room for that. Even on the rare occasion you’re not working, you’re constantly thinking about it and neglecting yourself. I don’t even mean thinking about it in an ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to do XYZ’ but relentlessly worrying about not doing enough. Teaching is never finished.

What initiated the change?

A breakdown to be honest. I couldn’t think, eat or function! There was simply no way I could be responsible for the future of young people when I needed to get my own life back on track. Management were less than supportive and had been told a number of times that my breaking point was approaching and although they were very kind, little actually happened to ease the load.

How did you start the process?

I had a long period away from work as my doctor had declared me unfit. There were the usual meetings in order to ease my way back to school but ultimately my trust in the establishment and very sadly, the whole system, had been lost. Eventually I handed my notice and walked away from the years of experience and training but it had to be done.

How would you describe the journey that has brought you to where you are now?

On the whole, exciting. Finance was a big concern, especially pensions and mortgages but my friends and family have been great and so supportive. Naturally they were worried about the career I was throwing away but also recognised it would be the death of me. I really had to evaluate what made me happy and begin learning about a whole new industry. I’ve also had to embrace being self-employed which took some getting used to after years of steady employment and a regular salary. You have to become a jack of all trades - but that’s what makes it exciting. I’m always learning and open to giving anything a go. What’s the worst that can happen? I think I’ve already been through that and I’m still here and smiling, so just give it a try.

What support did you have?

I was the main wage earner and now my husband has supports me financially and he and our children have had to get used to not having the luxuries but he prefers to ‘have his wife back’ than expensive holidays. My wider support network have been amazing too and helped spread the word about my new ventures and I’ve had several projects offered to me as a result. I’m lucky that I live in a buzzy, artistic city where everyone wants to see you succeed. People have been so generous with their time; for example a local very successful illustrator taught me to use Photoshop and wished for nothing in return other than for my success. Norwich is very special that way but you have to put yourself out there, it won’t come to you.

How do you feel about the life that you have created?

Still excited! Instead of lying in bed wishing I didn’t have to go to work or worrying about something I didn’t have time to do, I lie there bursting with ideas. Too many to even count! Of course I have days when I think people may not like my work but I’m working on accepting that if they don’t like my style then I probably wouldn’t enjoy working on their project. Ultimately, as I only answer to myself, I can walk away from a job I’m not enjoying - its very liberating.

If you could do anything differently, would you?

Quit sooner - I stayed way too long. I knew it wasn’t right but the eternal optimist in me hoped things would change with a new school year, new head teacher, new government. It didn’t. I also felt incredibly responsible for my students. It's hard to leave when they tell you you’re the only reason they’ve stayed in school but realistically there's a million other people out there who could do the job just as well or probably better than me. Sticking it out made me ill and I wish I’d been more courageous and made a choice before it got to that point. Had the move not been forced, I could have begun to build up a portfolio and attend courses before being thrown in the deep end. That said, I probably would have been too knackered to do them haha!

What motivates and or inspires you?

The pleasure from seeing someone else enjoy something I've made. And a little bit of education - the teacher thing will always be with me but I'm happy for this to take many guises. If children learn to love reading from my illustrations or enjoy a loving moment sharing a book with mum, dad, grandparents etc then brilliant! If my interior design advice can help a house become a home then that's great too. Home is a place of safety and a small budget shouldn't prevent us from making the most of it. Also, as a daughter of an engineer, I've grown up with a 'can do' attitude. DIY is a dying skill and there's no reason why, with a little guidance, people cannot maintain their own homes. Let's face it houses are expensive and the potential saving and the sense of achievement from fixing it yourself can only be a good thing. In short, I guess my motivation is seeing others succeed and be happy through my creativity. Kindness is perhaps the most basic act, but arguably the most important.

What is the best part of your day or week?

All of it! Although I can easily work seven days a week, it doesn’t really feel like work. It's a choice I’ve made and a lifestyle I want to continue with. My family are happier, I’ve met some amazing people along the way and I don’t dread Monday morning. I’ve become braver too, I lost a well respected career and am building myself back up. If you lose everything once, you’re not frightened of it happening again - you know you’ll survive and probably become a better person for it. At the risk of irritating everyone, it’s the best choice I’ve ever made.

Cate x

Find out more about Cate and her work at: Cate Wicks Illustration

Welcome to The Alternative

Hello and welcome to The Alternative. I thought that the first story should be mine especially as I decided to set this little thing up!

I’m Jayne. I decided to create The Alternative because I have always been fascinated by people who have the courage to go change direction.

As a previous people pleaser, I used to have the constant internal struggle of what’s expected of me versus what I actually want. I spent a lot of time being in-authentic and comparing myself to others which was massively mentally exhausting.

Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do. Never had a path all planned out. I knew that I got bored easily, liked trends, interiors and people. But that was it. So I bumbled along, studying and getting work experience in a variety of fields. I first started to work in PR (that was really brief) as my boss was a gigantic bully, then moving into textile sales, to property sales, to marketing, to account management. Can you see a pattern emerging?

Whilst all of these opportunities were fantastic, they weren’t right for me and what I truly wanted out of my work life so I decided to sabotage them - subconsciously that is . Not applying myself, comparing myself to others and blaming everyone else when I failed was my game. I also moved house quite a bit in search of feeling content so that also added to the general mayhem.

Finally, and I can’t quite put my finger on why, I decided to take responsibility for my life and do the opposite of what I’d been doing for the last few (cough), OK many, many years. Now whilst I still didn’t know for sure what career I wanted to carve out, I knew how I wanted to work and I knew what elements of work I enjoyed and what skills that I had to contribute. That helped me build a picture of the type of working life I wanted to create and then that led me to The Alternative.

I absolutely love meeting people. I love finding out about them and also helping them do life. Hearing about how people have tackled their various challenges provides inspiration and encouragement. It’s also really supportive when you hear that you’re not the only person facing that particular struggle. And that’s why I set up The Alternative. To tell the stories of people and help people figure out their own story through my coaching.

Jayne x

Things that I like: cheese, wine, gin, Campari and more cheese. Music, coffee, shopping, interiors, architecture, sunshine and warmth, Pilates, sleeping, reading, learning stuff and of course, people.