We chatted to Sylvia and Andrew about life and lockdown in ‘Alpine-esque’ Totnes. With views like theirs, staying in isn’t so bad.
Hi Sylvia and Andrew. How long have you been living in Baltic Wharf?
Sylvia: We moved here three years ago. I’m in the house and Andrew’s been living in one of the flat’s for about a year and a half.
Andrew: We originally bought the flat as an investment and somewhere for our daughter to live. When she got a boyfriend and moved out, Sylvia and I decided we’d live separately.
So what initially attracted you to Baltic Wharf?
Sylvia: We downsized from a bigger house in Newton Abbot. We just felt there was no sense of community there. When we saw Baltic Wharf advertised, it seemed like a good time to start afresh.
Andrew: Our house in Newton Abbot was a great place to bring up kids, tucked away and pretty safe. But there was nothing to do. If you wanted to go anywhere it was always a drive away. Whereas there’s so much going on here.
Sylvia: The location is great. It’s situated adjacent to the river so it’s a level walk to town and you’re surrounded by countryside. There are pubs, restaurants and shops within easy walking distance – everything you need day-to-day. And of course the design is very attractive and I really liked the scheme’s sustainable ethics.
Can you tell me a bit more about the sustainable ethics?
Sylvia: Well, we’re all limited to a single car. Not every house has solar panels, but we’ve all got the wiring and the clips in place so they can be easily installed. And I think the roofs tend to be south facing. So that whole ethos of having a small carbon footprint is built into the development. For me, growing your own food is the natural next step.
Is food production possible here?
Sylvia: The houses are surrounded on two sides by 11 acres of land divided into a community orchard, an area we call ‘the meadow’ and beyond that natural, un-managed land. So our gardens here are tiny, just courtyards. But you’ve got all of this additional space to make use of. The idea is that we get involved in communal gardening activities. I like that because I can’t manage the heavy gardening but I am very keen to grow food, you know, apples and fruits.
It sounds like the best of both worlds.
Sylvia: Yeah, you can team up and cultivate in a way that’s beneficial for everybody. Gardening is a very sociable activity and it’s slowly taking off here. I did a four month Permaculture course earlier this year and I got really excited about the ethos of working alongside nature to grow what people need. It’s all about people care, nature care, and fair share. At the moment we’ve got this lovely orchard which we get apples from in September, but we could grow a lot more if we apply Permaculture principles. So I’m trying to promote that and hope the community will get involved.
What’s the community like here?
Sylvia: We’ve got real diversity. There are older people, like me, nearing retirement. But then there are quite a few families, young couples, single parents and housing association properties. I really like the mix here, there’s something for everybody.
Do you think starting afresh has been easier than trying to become part of pre-existing community?
Sylvia: One of the beauties of moving into a new development is that you’re all coming with the same mindset. The disadvantage with Baltic Wharf is that it took nearly three years to complete. So the early residents were well established before the later residents joined. But I liked the idea of starting with a clean slate and trying to build on good community foundations.
Has the layout or design of Baltic Wharf helped to establish a community?
Andrew: Yes and no. There’s one main entrance to the housing area, so you always bump into people. But the two separate roads have created a bit of a divide. It’s noticeable that Sawmill Close has one little community and Baltic Way has another. It’s quite hard to bridge that gap sometimes, but we still do things together, like Sylvia’s barbecues.
Sylvia: Yeah, I do a newsletter and we’re trying to get the Residents Association a little bit more active. So last year we organised quite a few social events and barbecues. But it isn’t just me, lots of other people get involved too. We recently appointed resident directors to the management company too, which should bring us together and enable us to have a greater say in the maintenance of the place. That was just getting established before we went into lockdown, so it’s still early days.
Let’s talk about lockdown. How are you finding it?
Andrew: I’m an IT Consultant and, prior to the lockdown, I would work from home maybe two or three days a week so I’m used to that side of things. But I’m missing personal interactions. I run a group called ‘Friday Wine Down’ aimed at Totnes residents. Every Friday we go to a different pub and just chew the fat for five or six hours. In an ideal world I’d be in the pub in half an hour! But now we just meet up on Zoom.
And how about you Sylvia?
Sylvia: Not much has changed really. I used to be really active socially, going out meeting people, but that’s all moved online now. Two of our daughters are back home living with me at the moment.
How is your home adapting to having your kids back?
Sylvia: Amazingly well. One daughter is currently working from home. We barely see her until the evening. Then another daughter is back from university, studying. I moved out of my bedroom into one of smaller rooms because it’s more important for them to have enough space for their workstations.
Are any rooms taking on a dual purpose?
Sylvia: The kitchen seems have become more like a canteen with people snacking at all hours! And I’ve grown quite a lot of seeds so it’s currently taken over with pots of one sort or another.
You’ve got great views here. Is that making lockdown any easier?
Sylvia: It is really nice to be able to sit and just look out, especially if you’re working.
Andrew: I have a little balcony that I sit on a lot. I like to look out and romanticise that I’m in a little Alpine ski village.
Are you able to get out much for exercise?
Andrew: Living in a relatively small flat, I get a bit claustrophobic. And not having the option to pop down the pub for a nice glass of wine frustrates me! But we’re very lucky here. We’ve got dogs so we can go out for walks, there are some glorious places to take them.
Sylvia: And we’ve got the community spaces. We’ve done quite a lot of work up in the community orchard planting various things. One of my neighbours is growing sunflowers. And I’ve planted lots of fruits and currant bushes. By the time lockdown is finished they’ll hopefully be fruiting so people can help harvest.
Is there much community activity at the moment?
Sylvia: Nine times out of ten, if you walk out the door, there’ll be somebody wandering around. Most people walk to the shops, because they’re so close, so there are hardly any cars around. And there are people out trying to keep their kids amused, so there are lots of little bikes running up and down.
Sometimes there’ll be a congregation of people chatting, socially distancing. Or people will open windows and have a little chat. The place lends itself to that because the houses aren’t that far apart. And we all knew each other well before, so now that we’re in lockdown it’s easy for us to chat. We do miss the closer connections though, going into each other’s houses, obviously that’s not happening now.
What is helping you feel connected?
Sylvia: My house helps actually. I’ve got an open plan lounge and kitchen on split levels, so I can see out of my kitchen windows from the lounge, but I’m not overlooked. I can choose to sit and see my neighbours out of the kitchen window. Or I can just choose to be in a more private space. I’ve got flexibility, I just love it.
Guys, I realise I’ve taken up lots of your time…
Andrew: I have to start another Zoom meeting in three minutes – it’s time for my Virtual Wine Down!