Jude and Anna’s story: A new life in the country

When Jude and Anna received a phone call from a close friend asking if they would be interested in buying a run-down workers’ cottage in the beautiful High Weald in West Sussex, the timing was less than ideal.

Anna was pregnant with their daughter and they’d just had their attic converted in their home in Brighton. Despite this, they took the plunge. Their connections in the area, through their friends and the local Rudolf Steiner community, made the transition easier, but the task they had taken on was huge.

“We were both ready for a challenge, and I’d always dreamt of building my own house,” says Jude. “But it’s so difficult to find land around here; this was the next best thing. We completely refurbished and renovated so it almost feels like a new build.”

The original turn-of-the-century building was called Windmill Cottage, the remains of an old windmill still visible on the hill above the house. With three small bedrooms upstairs, the property’s size didn’t meet Jude and Anna’s needs. In around five months they had doubled the size of the house, a much welcome improvement given the pressures of a growing family.

“We bought the cottage without planning permission and started doing it up without a mortgage, living in a caravan together,” says Jude.

It was a tough time, agrees Anna. “We had all our furniture in the caravan – we had the cats and a fish tank and a six-month-old baby who was learning to eat!”

But today, the dilapidated, draughty cottage stands transformed into a warm, energy-efficient family home – thanks in large part to the help they received from Ecology.

“We’d tried to port our mortgage with our existing building society down in Brighton, but they wouldn’t do it,” says Jude. “So, I called Ecology and they were the only people who not only understood what we wanted to do in terms of improving the EPC values, but supported it as well.”

The renovation works delivered a truly remarkable improvement in the building’s energy performance, with the EPC rating going from G to B. The C-Change discount they received from Ecology as a result of this improvement has made a welcome difference to their monthly mortgage repayments.

Commenting on their approach to the energy improvement works, Jude explains, “We wanted to keep it feeling original, not just write over its history. The interior is a single layer of brick in a wooden frame which has now been wrapped in a thick layer of insulation. We also installed solar photovoltaic on the roof, solar thermal for our hot water, and an air-source heat pump that powers our entire hot water and heating system.”

The newly extended part of their home has been built using modern methods as well as locally sourced materials – breeze blocks inside and i-beam construction packed with Rocksilk, and insulation clad with local chestnut planks on the outside.

“The vision was to build a comfortable family house with high insulation values,” says Jude. “I think we’ve achieved that, with all the space now in the right places.”

“My favourite part of the house is the kitchen,” says Anna. “It’s always warm underfoot and it’s so spacious. We spend a lot of time in here, looking out at the view.”

This is a warm house in more ways than one – a beautifully designed, colourful home, that is now the perfect size for a family to flourish.

Find out more about Ecology’s mortgages for renovations and C-Change mortgage discounts.