Fiona Ellis spent her childhood on the Isle of Wight and, like so many people brought up off the beaten track, as soon as she was done with school she packed her bags and headed straight to London to build a career and a new life.
But what suited her perfectly as an 18-year-old had started to lose its shine by the time she was a thirtysomething mother. Two years ago, just before the pandemic hit, Fiona, her partner Robin Murray, and their two young children, bade farewell to their two-bedroom house in Plumstead and left the mainland for good.
The unaffordability of larger houses was one of the forces driving Fiona, 38, and Robin, 39, out of London. The other was the fact that Robin was wasting three hours a day commuting to his job as a cabinet maker in west London.
They had paid £250,000 for their house when they bought it back in 2014 but after a full renovation, which they did themselves, it sold, in 2019, for £340,000.
Because house hunting on the island while still in London had proved impossible the couple’s first stop was six months in a holiday cottage, which was vacant because it was winter time. “That was three years ago, now there is absolutely nothing to rent on the island because so many people are coming over,” said Fiona.
From there they started looking for a family home big enough for the two of them plus Oskar, aged five, and Iris, two. Initially they were looking for something remote but then fell in love with a three-bedroom semi-detached house close to the centre of Ryde.
“It has got sea views and is about four times the size of our old house and the garden is about 20 times the size,” said Fiona. “It is amazing.”
Its price was also amazing — £307,000.
In London Fiona had built a career working in teacher recruitment and was able to negotiate to continue working for her company three days a week. Robin, meanwhile, has got a job on the island. His commute is now a ten-minute walk.
When not working the family spend their downtime on the beach or exploring the island. “I can literally leave the house and be on the beach or the countryside in a few minutes,” said Fiona. “In summer in particular it is like being on holiday.”
The Isle of Wight has changed considerably since Fiona last lived there. A place once renowned for its time-stood-still vibe is modernising rapidly, in part thanks to the influx of new arrivals escaping pandemic-hit cities.
“There are lots of new ventures opening up, lots of new restaurants, and lots of new people,” said Fiona. “It is an exciting time. I have set up my own business, a what’s on guide for families, and there is a lot going on.”