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London leavers: ‘The countryside was a culture shock but people are very open minded’

Isabella and Martin with their daughters Siena and Mei  (Handout)
Isabella and Martin with their daughters Siena and Mei (Handout)

Some people carefully plan life’s major decisions, others simply allow them to evolve naturally, and grab opportunities whenever they see them.

Isabella Strambio’s journey to a new life out of London began when she returned to work after the birth of her children. Frustrated that she was not able to spend as much time as she would like with her girls, Siena, 11, and Mei, eight, and bored with her job as an interior designer, Isabella, 42, decided to shake things up — just a little.

“I started a blog, learning 12 crafts in 12 months, and I started off with macrame,” said Isabella. “I just got hooked. I loved working with the natural materials, it is very versatile, and it is actually quite a quick craft. You can make something in a couple of hours which makes it very rewarding.”

Soon Isabella had a thriving side hustle teaching macrame workshops alongside her full-time job. This helped give her a creative outlet but did nothing for her work/life balance problem.

Isabella’s husband Martin Butler, 50, is also an interior designer and in 2017 he was offered a new job in the New Forest. “The main reasons we wanted to leave London were for the better schools and a different lifestyle — we have always liked the outdoors life,” said Isabella. “I decided to quit interior design, and concentrate on the business.”

Isabella’s macrame teaching business has thrived since moving to Hampshire and she is able to work from the family’s new garden studio (Handout)
Isabella’s macrame teaching business has thrived since moving to Hampshire and she is able to work from the family’s new garden studio (Handout)

The couple were living in their two-bedroom Victorian terrace in Woolwich, which is now rented out. In the summer of 2017 they spent circa £350,000 on another small period terrace, this time in the market town of Alresford, Hampshire, right on the northern fringe of the South Downs National Park.

“We had travelled before — before London we had lived in Dubai, in Italy, in Australia — but always in big cities,” said Isabella. “I am Italian and I had always been able to find a big expat community. The countryside is not so cosmopolitan and it was a culture shock, yes, but actually a lot of the people in Alresford seem to have lived in London or abroad, and they are very open minded. We got to know lots of parents at the school, and we settled in very easily.”

The family enjoyed their new routine of weekend walks, bike rides, and trips to the south coast. “It does feel very peaceful,” said Isabella. “In London everything is an effort, you have to plan and organise, you have to get on the tube, here we can just go outside and go for a walk in the middle of nature.”

Isabella’s business also thrived (www.isabellastrambio.com). With more time to devote to it she branched out into online courses, team building workshops for major companies, and private commissions. She has also written two books on macrame. “Opportunities came up and I grabbed them,” she said.

The family were living their best lives until Covid-19 came along and shook things up a little. A combination of home working and home schooling left Isabella and Martin feeling overcrowded and decided they had to upsize. In 2021 they sold their terrace for £425,000 and invested £560,000 in a modern four-bedroom house with a large garden, and a garden studio for Isabella’s work.

“The most important thing for me is that I am now able to work from home, and work around my kids,” said Isabella. “When we were in London I felt that I hardly saw them, and I just didn’t want that life.”