Claire and Alan

I lived in the area so we watched the houses being built. We used to have a little sneak round while they were under construction.

23rd November 2023
Hello, let’s start with how you first heard about the scheme?

Claire: Well, I lived in the area so we watched the houses being built. We used to have a little sneak round while they were under construction.

Did you know what they were going to look like?

Alan: We’d seen artist’s drawings and there was an open day too. Kevin McCloud came. I remember he told Claire’s son, ‘If you want to know whether your bed will fit a space, the best thing to do is lie down on the floor.’

Great advice. And do you remember the day you picked up the keys?

Claire: It was very exciting. We just hired a couple of vans and went backwards and forwards with friends. We were sat down round the table, absolutely exhausted, and I saw a removal van going over the bridge. And we couldn’t hear the traffic on the road because the house was so well-insulated. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s amazing.’ I remember that really well.

How did you find the move initially? You mentioned earlier that there had been some tension with the wider town.

Claire: Yeah, I did feel there was some animosity at first. I think there was a little bit of a ‘holier than thou’ aspect because the development was quite innovative back then. For us, it was a bit of a leap of faith because the houses were quite different and people would say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t buy one of those. They won’t last 20 years.’

Alan: And because they are eco-homes, people were always picking holes, ‘Oh, you’ve left your lights on’ and so on. But we don’t get that anymore.

You raised three children here? What was their childhood like?

Claire: We did. They were teenagers when we moved in. They loved it and I think they’ve all been inspired by the house. My youngest daughter built her own hut herself and lives off-grid half the time. And my son is an engineer, he works in eco housing.

In his old bedroom, you can still see his teenage doodles on the wall. There’s a little self-portrait and a couple more of his little doodles that I couldn’t quite bring myself to paint over. He’s progressed a little bit since but you can see the journey!

That’s really lovely. And what about your grandkids now?

Claire: Oh, it’s a dream. I mean, Dylan always says, ‘I love this garden, Mopsy. It’s beautiful.’ It just feels very safe. Everybody knows him. It’s the same with everyone’s family when they’re around. Everyone knows who they are. It’s lovely having this communal garden and that safety and trust.

So, do you have family over a lot? Do you host Christmas here?

Claire: Yeah. We get an extra table and we have the whole family over. We’ve got five grandchildren and five kids between us, so there’s between 16 and 20 of us, you know.

Alan: We got divorced – separately – and then got together. So, Christmas could be a little bit awkward for the family. But we’re quite happy having what we call ‘a second Christmas’, usually the day after Boxing Day.

Claire and Alan’s own photo

Claire: It’s a proper party and the house lends itself to that sort of thing. The great thing about having an open plan living space is having a lot of places for lots of people to sit. And we love the wood-burning fire down here as well. One birthday, I bought Al a grappling hook so he could get all the wood out of the river as it floats by. After it’s rained, he comes in with a hoard. We haven’t bought a single log since we’ve been here.

I love that the river provides. So, you installed the log burner yourselves. Have you made any other adaptations to the house?

Claire: Yeah, the other thing that we did was put in an extra window in the bedroom.

Alan: The window manufacturer initially sent the wrong one didn’t they? Aluminium frame rather than a wood framed one. So it wouldn’t have looked right.

Claire: My daughter who built the hut has got the one that they sent by mistake. She’s got this really high spec window on a little hut! But just imagine this room without this window. It’s such a lovely view of the river. It’s the light and everything else. The sunsets are just fantastic. We’re so lucky. It really sets your day off when you open up the window first thing in the morning and see Kingfishers flying around.

You’ve got beautiful views all round. Is your bedroom your favourite spot in the house?

Claire: Well, if I have time, I love just sitting on my little sofa and reading in the sun space. But I also love this window here [in the bedroom]. It’s such a lovely window and it’s child height too so you can spend hours just looking at all of this.

That is so nice isn’t it.

I just don’t know why they didn’t put any electric points in the sun space. Because it’s a lovely place to sit in the early evening and somewhere you’d want to sit and read once it starts getting a little darker. Perhaps they were trying to deter too many appliances? But that’s just a little thing. On the whole, it feels such a privilege to live here.

Do you think living here has changed how you live? Or did your values exist prior?

Claire: It’s chicken and egg isn’t it? My values were definitely there. I would have really embraced it being even more sustainable. I’d have been up for compost loos and everything. You know, going the whole hog. But this is a bit of both really.

It’s things like, I used to love fizzy water and I thought, ‘Right, I’m never going to buy another bottle of fizzy water once I move into this house.’ But then I still love fizzy water, so now I’ve got a Soda Stream as my compromise. It’s daft things like that. You sort of think, ‘No, I can’t be buying plastic bottles of water now that I’m living in an eco-home.’

I think what’s lovely is that this place has seemed to attract people with similar views rather than change people.

Claire: Yeah, definitely. Al’s the same, won’t buy anything new. Well, you can tell by the tomato frame, can’t you? Always look at what you’ve got first. He even takes old nails out and straightens them. And so there’s always jokes about how Al’s filing his nails today! I mean this sofa was a friend’s parents’. They couldn’t fit it in anywhere, so we just got it re-covered and isn’t it a gorgeous sofa?

I love it. Do you feel there’s some degree of skill sharing between people?

Claire: Definitely. If something breaks down, then there’s always somebody else who has experienced something similar. We’ll say, ‘Look this has happened to us. This is what we’re doing.’ It’s like one person gets a good plumber and they’ll end up doing everyone’s plumbing. Same with window cleaners. Chrissie organises it next door and then you just say if you want your windows cleaned. There’s a lot of communal things like that which make absolute sense.

It makes total sense. I love the communal canoes too.

Alan: It’s really nice. The family love coming to use them. The canoe store was designed and built by Claire’s son from bits of old wood. It’s got a living roof and there’s a badger’s sett very close by. You get quite a few visits from them. Eat all the tulip bulbs, don’t they?

Have you lived in places before with a strong sense of community or communal facilities? Do you think this would suit everyone?

Claire: No, I never have. And I’m not particularly outgoing. I’m not someone you’d find socialising at parties. You’d definitely find me in the kitchen. I’m that sort of a person. So is Al. So before moving here, I was thinking, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to be very good at that side of things.’ But actually, as soon as we moved in, I really enjoyed it.

And I think the right people have bought the houses. You know, someone like Nina’s son-in-law wouldn’t live here because it’s just not for him and that’s fine. So, it’s sort of self-selecting to a degree.

Do you think the shared garden has been a focal point for everyone coming together?

Claire: I love the garden and it’s matured so much in the time we’ve been here. It’s a lovely space. Jill and Duncan have just been fabulous since they came in. They’re really good at getting stuff done and getting people together and they’re really sociable.

I think it works really well. I mean, we – in our wisdom – opened a café across the road. We created a bit of a monster. It’s really busy so I don’t really get involved in the gardening at the moment. But I do mow the lawns so I feel at least I’m doing something. People do more when they’ve got a bit more time. But everyone’s very understanding. You don’t get that feeling, ‘Oh, she hasn’t done very much this week.’ I don’t think that’s the way people roll here at all.

Finally, Do you see yourself living here forever?

Claire: I won’t move unless I can’t go up the stairs. You know, there’s nothing that’s going to drag me out of this place.

Brilliant. Well, thank you very much. It’s been such a pleasure to come and see your home and to hear how you’ve been living in it all this time.