Ray Ferguson on his race to lose weight
- Credit: Ray Ferguson
Builder Ray Ferguson may enjoy motor racing as a hobby, but his biggest race was the one to lose weight; Emma Caulton met him at the home where he changed his life.
A discreet sign points to Palestine down a tree-edged lane heading Roman-road-straight through the undisturbed countryside of an early autumn afternoon.
“It’s very quiet, if you see a car it’s unusual,” agrees Ray Ferguson as I arrive at his home, Charnwood House, with its peaceful views over farmland and woodland.
Ray runs his own local building business and I am here to talk barleytwist chimneys and light wells and all those other clever ideas Ray has picked from other properties he has worked on over the years, recreating them in his own six-bedroom family home.
Charnwood is also the home that has seen Ray transform his life, losing half his body weight (more than 13 stone) and make a return to motor racing. But first, the house. Ray hadn’t intended to buy the plot. He explains: “I came to an auction here six or seven years ago with a customer. There was an old bungalow on the plot that didn’t reach its reserve. It was a lovely day in June and the way the sun shone over the place, well, you couldn’t have picked a better day to show it, so when my client pulled out, I put an offer in.”
Over the years Ray has built some 90 odd homes, including some impressively big houses and hundreds of extensions. In building Charnwood Ray has “cribbed” those things he has liked in other properties - such as the barleytwist chimneys. “We did them on a house years ago and I always thought it would be brilliant to do that.”
Ray continues: “This is as perfect as you will ever get. I’ve used Charnwood traditional handmade bricks, hence the name of the house, and Flemish bond, not just ordinary brickwork, pointed properly with cut and struck pointing. My bricklayer is really fussy and laid every brick himself. He wouldn’t let anyone else do it.”
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Outside the house features attractive detailing such as herringbone and dental dogtooth brickwork, while inside the house has been designed to accommodate both family needs and personal passions. The ground floor is dominated by a spacious kitchen/breakfast room that is open to the dining room and drawing room.
Ray says: “When everyone is here and Gill, my wife, is cooking, she is part of it all; the old-fashioned separate dining room and kitchen has gone.”
The handmade kitchen is painted duck egg blue with dark granite worktop, a comfortingly warm four-oven Aga, two dishwashers in deep drawers either side of the sink and porcelain tiled floor with underfloor heating. The drawing room features a manorial-proportioned stone fireplace with woodburner-style gas fire, as Ray comments: “An open fire is unnecessary with the heat from the Aga and underfloor heating, but it is nice to have a flame in winter.”
Other features include decorative plasterwork across the ceiling, mood lighting and an integrated hi-fi system that plays through a television as large as a small cinema screen. Ray smiles: “I’m keen on motor racing and it’s like being at the circuit when I have the sound turned right up.
“I’m a Ferrari nut; I say I have a passion for Ferraris, Gill says it’s a disease. I have always wanted a room where I could display all my Ferrari stuff, so I’ve built a room in the basement, and it is so big I could put a snooker table in there – so I did!”
Charnwood is deceptive, from the outside you don’t realise it has been built over three floors with a basement, or lower ground floor, that cleverly incorporates light wells so these basement rooms have windows for natural light (“something else we did on another job and cribbed”). Here is Ray’s ‘games’ room displaying his collection of Ferrari-related books, dvds and memorabilia such as the last jacket Nigel Mansell was issued by Ferrari, his prized possession. At the flick of a switch a cinema screen drops down from the ceiling. This is a seriously fun room.
The basement also includes a flat, while on the ground floor rooms could be adapted into an annexe. Ray explains: “At the time we built the house we had four elderly parents between us so the house was designed so that, if necessary, we could accommodate them here.”
At present Ray uses one of the rooms in the lower ground floor flat as an office while the kitchen is used as the utility and laundry room. On the ground floor the ‘annexe’ has been commandeered by the grandchildren as a family room.
An oak staircase rises up through the floors to a spacious galleried landing. Further features include an integrated vacuum system (another idea taken from elsewhere) so a vacuum cleaner doesn’t need to be dragged up and down flights of stairs, underfloor heating on all three floors and the ceilings are a good height with the ceiling in the master bedroom rising into the eaves, allowing enough room for a four-poster bed. Every bedroom is a double and has an attached bathroom or shower room with the main bathroom featuring a Jacuzzi. Ray laughs: “My wife insisted on the Jacuzzi, that and the Aga.”
She is probably entitled to an indulgence, considering Ray’s own hobbies.
“I discovered Ferraris in 1989. My wife, who does the company paperwork, knew I was desperate for one and she said I could borrow from the company, with her permission, on the understanding that ‘If I tell you you have to sell that car and put the money back into the business you do it without grizzling’. Once I got the car, I was absolutely smitten and I worked evenings and weekends to pay it off and keep it.”
His passion for motors doesn’t stop there, he was on the motor-racing circuit for a decade before giving up in 2002, fed up by the damage and cost of repairs: “There was a lot of shoving and pushing - you don’t have to be at the front to get battered.”
But when he stopped racing he started putting on weight. He puts it down mostly to drinking: “If I had a good day I’d relax with a glass of wine and if I had a bad day I’d commiserate with a glass of wine! I woke Gill up at 6am one morning and said even if I grizzle don’t let me buy another bottle of red wine. That was November 2007 and I haven’t had a sip since.”
However it was the embarrassment of being too big to get through a football turnstile that made him approach Slimming World. “Gill said to me, ‘You’ll never cope with it, it’s all women’. When I went there must have been 50 women in the hall and no blokes. I was going to make a bolt for the door, but then I thought we’re all here for the same reason.”
He weighed in at just over 26 and a half stone. “I couldn’t have lost that weight without Tracy, who runs the club, and my missus. I knew I had 13 stone to lose, but I just thought about losing 2lb each week.
“I reached my target two years ago, but I still go to Slimming World every week. Nothing stops me from going.” In 2010 he came fourth in Slimming World’s Man of the Year competition as one of their winning losers.
“I went to the doctor after I had lost a couple of stone, but he didn’t know I had started losing weight. He put all my statistics into the computer and said ‘You’ve got a 75 per cent chance of having a heart attack in the next two years. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, you name it.”
Tests have shown that since Ray lost weight he no longer has diabetes. “My doctor was amazed, he said ‘I don’t know anyone who has got rid of it’.”
He also promised himself that if he lost the weight he would take up racing again.
“I never got rid of the racing bug so as I got closer to my target weight I thought that will be my prize, and I’ve been racing for four years now.
“The other target that has pleased me so much is my grandchildren – I can now go swimming with them and I sponsor their football team.”
Overall life at Charnwood House seems to have been charmed, however it is time for Ray and Gill to move on. “We didn’t ever think we would be leaving here but now we need something smaller.” So here’s a winning house for someone - what could be better than a house built by a builder?
Charnwood House is on the market for £895,000 with Evans & Partridge, Stockbridge, tel: 01264 810702, www.evansandpartridge.co.uk