Discover how one green-fingered family swapped London for the Fens and transformed 16th century cottage
TEN years ago, on the doorstep of a modern end of terrace in Forest Hill, South East London, Kevin Holland looked out of his small children’s bedroom window and caught a glimpse of what turned out to be knife wielding-robbers committing a violent assault on a neighbour.
The serving Metropolitan Police officer ran downstairs and straight out of the door and gave chase to the two young thugs that were ‘mugging’ his neighbour.
He said: “Thankfully, they were fast runners as who knows what would have happened.”
Back at home in the comfort and safety of his sitting room, he had a conversation with his wife Harriet, a chef who had worked at establishments such as the Savoy Hotel, and they agreed that they would give their two small children every opportunity to grow up in an environment free from such horrors.
Within days, the house was on the market and house-hunting out of London began in earnest.
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Harriet’s mum Elisabeth had recently retired and had outgrown her small garden in Annerly and with dreams of the good life they moved to Norfolk and found the house of their dreams in Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen, on the banks of the River Great Ouse.
It was a massive move as all three were heavily involved in their communities.
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Kevin had been a finalist in the community constable of the year for London six years running and after policing Europe’s largest and most densely populated housing estate, he moved onto problem solving and policy advising in Westminster.
He was also well known in the boxing world as he was the co-owner of the Henry Cooper Boxing Gym in Old Kent Road and vice-chairman of the world’s longest continuous running amateur boxing club, The Lynn AC.
He was also on the board of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club as well as various committees where greening the inner cities was focal to the groups and associations he was involved in.
Brighton House in Magdalen became home for three generations and with the enthusiasm of school children, they set about tidying the old place up and started making plans for the new life. The dream was sufficiency and security for the family.
Ten years later, Brighton House has been transformed and is well known to their neighbours. Kevin, Harriet and Elisabeth are keen gardeners and hold regular garden parties for charities and organise wave watching events as the house is adjacent to the Tidal River Great Ouse.
Not content with the change of environment, Kevin left the police force after 17 years and retrained in sales and surveying with the next part of the dream to open his own business in the old sheds at the bottom of the garden.
Home improvements and renewable energy were the fields in which he trained and after six years of designing, surveying and selling small-scale domestic solar energy systems, Kevin has now retro fitted the 16th century cottage to a point where the bills are next to nothing and they actually earn money from the Feed In Tariff scheme that was introduced a few years ago.
The Renewable energy industry has blossomed in recent years and Kevin finally put all his efforts into converting the old sheds into a renewable energy workshop and advice centre.
The house has a solar hot water system that provides the family of five with the vast majority of their hot water which saves on the amount of oil they use.
The sheds have a medium sized solar electricity system in place and can be viewed by potential customers and interested parties. He holds regular sessions on fuel making and energy saving and has a wealth of knowledge on energy making and water harvesting.
Kevin works four days a week as the regional manager for Skyline Solar, which has more than 4,000 solar systems fitted in East Anglia.
Kevin said: “I have more than 400 customers in and around West Norfolk who are doing more than their fare share for the environment and saving a small fortune as well.
“Many also earn money from the solar electricity systems they have employed on their houses.”
Plans are now in place to convert the garages into an arts and craft centre where Harriet will display her home craft and gift making skills. Harriet has also started cookery classes for people looking to expand their kitchen skills and repertoire.
Kevin said: “We believe that with the way the world is, with rising fuel prices, food prices and the environmental effects from our thirst for fossil fuels, that we are moving in the right direction.
“Working from home gives us more time for the growing children and allows us to indulge in the garden and other environmental projects.”
Brighton House Gardens and the Solar Shed Renewable Energy Workshop are open to the public on Mondays and Saturdays for people who are in transition towards a low carbon future.
Advice can be gained on all matters regarding energy saving and production as well as water harvesting and insulation.
Kevin is licensed to design, survey and sell solar systems and designs and manufactures bespoke garden structures for people who would rather not have panels on their house roofs. Parking is limited so please call in advance.
CONTACT: 07737 457208 or follow @TheSolarShed on Twitter.