Giving up London: commuter homes in Epsom, Surrey

It's never easy giving up city life, so when you decide to leave London make sure it suits you as well as your children.
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Nicki and Mark Hinton-Jones
Nicki and Mark Hinton-Jones decided to move to help their daughters, Ruby, two, and Jasmine, four months, find better schools
Giving up the bright lights and late nights isn't so difficult if a babysitter is racking up the cost of your social life, which is why the decision to move out of London comes relatively easily to many couples with young children. The hard part is choosing a new area to live.

We met couples who plumped for Epsom in Surrey…

Three little words

Nicki Hinton-Jones is embarking on a new life as a commuter. She and her husband, Mark, both 38, are still surrounded by packing crates having left Earlsfield earlier this month with their two daughters — Ruby, two, and Jasmine, four months — for Epsom.

According to the Office of National Statistics almost 85,000 people left London to live in a commuter destination in the year up to March 2011.

In their more recent move, the Hinton-Joneses were motivated by three little words: education, education, education. "Given the poor quality of the local schools in Earlsfield we felt, if we stayed, we were going to have to look at the private sector for the girls and the cost of that was going to be huge," says Nicki. So the couple sold their five-bedroom Victorian terrace for £740,000 and bought, with the help of Hamptons International, a bright and modern five-bedroom detached house in Epsom.

It cost £815,000, is only marginally larger but has a bigger garden, plus Horton Country Park on the doorstep. More importantly for the family, it was in the catchment area of sought-after Southfield Park Primary School. "We paid a premium for that," says Nicki. "But before we moved we did a spread sheet looking at school fees, and that made our minds up."

Epsom is in the catchment area of two grammars - Nonsuch High School for Girls (3 miles away in Cheam) and Sutton Grammar (5 miles away). There is a well-regarded girls' secondary school, Rosebery School, so as Ruby and Jasmine grow up, there are good state-sector choices.

Nicki is currently on maternity leave but will soon be going back to work in the City where she is a fund manager. The journey will take just over an hour — about twice as long as from Earlsfield — and the annual season ticket is £1,764. Another deciding factor was Mark's job — he is a chief financial officer for an Epsom-based company, so he can now cycle to work.

"Epsom is a big town, and there is a theatre, a cinema and restaurants — From Field to Fork is lovely — but of course it's not London," said Nicki. "In fact the people we bought the house from were moving because they missed the city. I am sure that I will, too, though with two kids it's not like I go out that much.

"We are happy to do it for the girls and couldn't imagine them growing up in London. I'd see gangs hanging about in Wandsworth and think, 'The girls are going to hate me, because I'm never going to let them go out on their own and do anything.'"

Jon and Natalie Dark family portrait
Jon and Natalie Dark, with children Georgia and James

'I have loads of new mum friends here'

Natalie Dark, 31, is a freelance fashion copywriter with clients who include Gok Wan and Nicole Farhi. She and her husband, Jon, 36, a creative director, moved to Worcester Park, a couple of miles from Epsom town centre, two years ago. They had just had their first child, Georgia, now three, and really felt cooped up in their two-bedroom north London flat in Islington, especially as it had no outside space.

"There wasn't much there for Georgia," says Natalie, who has now had a son, James, aged 11 months. "If I wanted to visit friends in south London we'd end up travelling for three hours, and that wasn't fair on any of us." In Epsom they chose an area they knew, because both had local links — Jon was brought up nearby and Natalie did her degree there before moving to London.

They traded in their flat for a three-bedroom Thirties house, which they have since enlarged with a loft extension. The property cost £330,000 — and even including moving and building costs they still spent less than they got for their Islington apartment.

But perhaps a bigger incentive was the easy commute. "Financially it has been great, which really takes the pressure off with me being freelance. But Jon works at Old Street, so the commute is manageable at about an hour and 20 minutes. He doesn't mind it because he likes our new house so much and we don't have the financial pressures of trading up in London," says Natalie.

"We have more to do here in Epsom. If I need more shopping choice then I go to Kingston. For exercise I go to the Epsom Swimming Centre and meet up with loads of new 'mum' friends, and old friends I have known here since I was at uni. People are more friendly — I know the guys who run the café and also I bump into people, as it is just so much smaller-scale here." As a family, a favourite weekend thing is a pub lunch at the Spring Tavern in neighbouring Ewell.

Says Natalie: "London was fine when I was working full time and going out every night, but as soon as we had children that didn't really work — this is what works for us now."

Portraits by Graham Hussey

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