Swapping city for coast: why one couple left London for West Sussex after the first national lockdown

·5 min read
Karl Willes and husband Mark Smith of Kalm Horizons   (Daniel Lynch)
Karl Willes and husband Mark Smith of Kalm Horizons (Daniel Lynch)

Londoners have accounted for 20 per cent of all house purchases this year in Worthing, West Sussex, up from 16.7 per cent last year, research by Hamptons shows.

It’s one of the highest figures on record, with the large volume of moves likely due to changing post-pandemic employment patterns giving buyers greater flexibility to work from home.

That flexibility was one of the reasons Mark Smith and his husband Karl Willes decided to sell their house in Norbury, London and move to East Worthing in October last year.

With Mark, 50, already working from home and 56-year-old Karl only required to work one day a week in the office, they felt the time was right.

They’d looked at Hove, 26 miles along the coast in East Sussex, two years before. “But when we realised we couldn’t afford what we wanted, we parked the idea and stayed in London,” says Mark.

However, when the pandemic hit, the couple’s priorities changed. “We felt disconnected from London. All the things we love about the city, such as the theatre, music, art galleries and restaurants, were all shut,” adds Mark. “We realised we didn’t need them on a daily basis any more.”

He spotted an Instagram post showcasing Worthing. Having never considered the area before, the couple decided to check it out. “We came down for a weekend in late August 2020 and fell in love with it,” says Mark. “Worthing is nothing like its reputation as a retirement town.”

The pair put their house on the market and accepted an offer within six weeks. Next, they registered with all the estate agents in Worthing and trawled property websites daily before finding the perfect home early last November.

“As soon as we walked into the hallway we looked at each other and knew it was the one,” says Mark.

“Worthing is nothing like its reputation as a retirement town.
“Worthing is nothing like its reputation as a retirement town.

They immediately put in an offer of £550,000, which was accepted the same day. Thankfully, being only a chain of three, the sale and purchase ran smoothly and, by early March this year they had sold up and moved into their three-bedroom semi with a large garden and off-street parking.

The house was in liveable condition, the previous owners having given it a fresh lick of white paint throughout. Mark and Karl have since replaced all the windows, created an office in one of the bedrooms and decorated the guest bedroom.

They plan to remodel the family bathroom, moving a wall and the door to make the room bigger, and refurbish the downstairs loo. They’re also planning a ground-floor extension for a large open-plan kitchen/dining/living space next year.

Being only a 12-minute walk from East Worthing station and an 18-minute walk from Worthing station, with direct London trains, they’re content with the hour-and-a-half commute. For his weekly trip to the capital, Karl has cut out the walk by investing in a fold-up bike.

Plain sailing (Daniel Lynch)
Plain sailing (Daniel Lynch)

Mark travels back into London on a more ad hoc basis but always adds an experience on to his business trips, such as a visit to a new restaurant or exhibition.

But the couple love what Worthing has to offer. “It was really important to us that we moved to somewhere with good coffee, nice restaurants, as well as a music and theatre scene,” says Mark.

And Worthing has it all. MasterChef champion Kenny Tutt runs Pitch, a popular town centre restaurant, and is also behind Bayside Social, an all-day beachside casual eatery.

There’s the listed, beautifully restored Dome cinema, Worthing Museum & Art Gallery, and the town is close to Brighton for live music and entertainment.

Mark and Karl often take a dip in the sea before work (Daniel Lynch)
Mark and Karl often take a dip in the sea before work (Daniel Lynch)

Mark and Karl also take advantage of the most obvious benefit – the sea. Living only a five-minute walk away from the front, they have started a local swimming group, often going for a daily dip before work and again at the end of the day to watch the sunset.

“We try to connect with nature every day, whether that’s a swim in the sea or a walk at lunch,” says Mark. Since moving, he has also embarked on a career change which is bringing him back into the city.

“I hit my head on a cupboard door back in June 2020, which sparked a host of neurological problems,” he says. “I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome which causes recurring headaches, slurred speech and lack of concentration.”

He took time off work to recover and reconnected with mindfulness before becoming an instructor in the practice early this year.

“While meditating on the beach I came up with the idea of Kalm Horizons (kalmhorizons.com), offering mindfulness on the seafront while meditating to the sounds of the waves, incorporating aromatherapy, visualisations, affirmations and simple breathwork techniques,” says Mark.

“It helps reduce stress, anxiety and improve sleep, all while calming the mind, body and soul.”

With the corporate world now recognising the importance of employee wellbeing in the workplace, he has found a niche in the market and plans to bring Kalm Horizons to the office space.

“I use all the same concepts from home using a recorded track of the ocean to help staff meditate to the sounds of waves using visualisations of their favourite beach and, inevitably, bringing a sense of calm to the city.”

With one in seven people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace according to mentalhealth.org.uk, it is a very shrewd move.

The couple have no regrets about leaving London and, with the capital less than two hours away by train, they can easily get their city fix when the mood arises – or work beckons.

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