he past year has been extraordinary for many of us – but Sam Newell and Dr Thom Petty’s past 12 months is hard to top.
The couple had been together for about a year and began 2020 living – separately – in London. Then, just before lockdown, Sam, 36, director of communications for the Invictus Games Foundation, found himself between rentals and went to stay with Thom, 39, at his two-bedroom period flat in Herne Hill.
“It was meant to be temporary, but then lockdown started, and I stayed,” said Sam. “We started to discuss our plans for the future. Thom is from near Macclesfield and I am from Devon and we had always dreamed of returning to the countryside.
“The things that had held us in London before – our friendship groups and work – didn’t apply so much anymore. Friends will come to stay, and work can be done remotely.
“Our first lockdown decision was to get a puppy, and we also spent a lot of time looking for properties online.”
It is, crucially, within walking distance of a local pub, and a 15-minute drive to the nearest town, Leek.
At the end of March, Thom sold his flat for £730,000, while Sam sold his flat back in Devon for £230,000.
The farm cost £900,000, meaning their monthly mortgage bill will be a little less than usual, which is fortunate because the farmhouse needs renovating, and they have a longer term plan to convert its outbuildings into bed and breakfast accommodation.
Sam will continue to work remotely – London is a two-hour train ride away when he needs to get back into town. Thom, an anaesthetist, will continue to take on shifts at hospitals in London as well as in nearby cities. But in the long term he is plotting a radical career change and is studying drama with a view to becoming an actor.
The couple also have a long term plan for their land. “I am a passionate believer in rewilding and we want to let the land go a bit wild and revert to its original state,” said Sam.
“We want to have pigs, ponies, and cattle, and hopefully people will come to stay so they can enjoy that environment.”
The couple left London on March 19 and, although their new life is in its earliest days, Sam and Thom are incredibly excited about the challenge ahead.
“All the emotions are there,” said Sam. “We left London very quietly, we couldn’t have a leaving party and say goodbye to people, although as soon as we can we will have a massive house warming.
“It is a bit terrifying but one of our friends told us a quote which I really like: ‘Sentiment without action is the ruination of the soul’. We have spent years talking about this, and we just felt like now was the time.”
While waiting for their purchase to go through, Sam and Thom have been staying with Thom’s family, which has helped their puppy, Merlin, acclimatise to his new world.
“It’s a big change for all of us,” said Sam. “His mind has been blown a bit by all the new smells, the sheep and the horses, so it has been a bit eventful, but he is going to love it.”