Living the dream in Surrey: escaping the rat race

Standing on a crowded commuter train up to the Big Smoke, with the summer sun streaming through the carriage windows and temperatures reaching terminal, have you ever thought: there must be more to life than this?

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2010

Standing on a crowded commuter train up to the Big Smoke, with the summer sun streaming through the carriage windows and temperatures reaching terminal, have you ever thought: there must be more to life than this? MATTHEW WILLIAMS hunts down a number of Surrey residents who have packed in high-flying corporate lives to pursue their dreams as deli-owners, mothers and even, er, llama walkers

Law firms to llamas...

Probably the last place you’d expect to find an IT trainer for one of the world’s biggest law firms and the former MD of a USA-based electronics company is walking around the Surrey Hills, followed by a herd of llamas. Yet, that’s exactly where you’ll see Julie and Colin Stoneley these days. Oh, and they’ve also got a pub, too. 

Before: “I was an IT trainer on the international desk at Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer, one of the world’s biggest law firms, and Colin was European managing director of WTI, a Connecticut based electronics company. Both jobs involved extensive travelling and we didn’t see as much of each other as we would have liked.”

After: “We gave up our jobs and six weeks later had six llamas, an old horsebox, lots of leaflets and a host of friends who thought we’d gone crazy. But the llama business was a success from day one and we won Guildford Visitor Attraction of the Year in 2006. We had a really rough patch during the foot-and-mouth epidemic and Colin had to go back to doing some overseas consultancy but it just made us more determined to keep at it.

Most Read

“So we did, and when the rundown Merry Harriers at Hambledon came on the market, it had so many synergies with the llama business that we snapped it up.

“In our first year, the pub was one of six finalists in the UK best newcomer category in the Morning Advertiser awards and received highly commended status (find out more about what makes the place so special on page 68). The pub means that we probably work harder than ever now but we do it together and love it.”

Surrey Hills Llamas

, The Merry Harriers, Hambledon Road, Hambledon GU8 4DR: 01428 682883

Multinational pet food to multitasking farm life...

Having enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Leigh, Esther Winstone’s career as a high-flying business manager meant endless travel and it’s only been in recent years that she has been able to truly rediscover her love of the country.

Before:“As business manager for Nestle Purina Petcare UK, living in Leigh was probably the best remedy to reduce the stress of presentations, targets and endless travel – knowing I would return to the lovely countryside (and, of course, my husband). It was in 2003 that I sat back in the office one evening and thought: there must be more to life than this! I’d achieved the career but had no life with my husband, no children and didn’t even really know what he did as a farmer.”

After:“In 2003, I left on maternity leave with our first child and the dream to create my own business. In 2004, Ashurst Farm Feeds was born – an equestrian and country shop catering for the many horse and animal owners in the area. What started in a small stable quickly grew and, by word of mouth, blossomed into the shop it is today. In 2009, we also started Ashurst Porkers, selling freshly reared pork from the farm in our shop.

“I still work long hours but the difference is that it’s my choice. The dream is now a reality: I have the family – a loving husband and two children – plus two dogs, four chickens, two sheep, 12 pigs and many cows. Perfect!”

Ashurst Farm, Smallshill Road, Leigh RH2 8RH: 01293 862440

Marketing to working mum...

With over 20 years experience in sales, marketing and recruitment, it was after having her second child that Cobham resident Naz Lewis observed how difficult it was for mothers to get back into work in Surrey. Seeing the gap in the market proved to be the realisation of her own dream, Back2workmum.

Before:“I had been a senior charity fundraiser for around five years and, before that, a recruitment consultant, working for the likes of Phee Farrer Jones, Working Families and Comic Relief. I wanted to improve my family’s quality of life, to spend more time with them and less time in London and commuting.”

After:“I gave up working in London when I had my second child (now aged two) and became actively involved with local mother groups, which gave me the idea for Back2workmum.

“Most felt that they didn’t want to return to commuting and would prefer local flexible part-time roles. I also learnt that many women who had been out of the work environment not only lacked confidence but found they had to re-evaluate their skills.

“This led me to organise informal back to work training workshops – from CV writing to interview techniques – which then evolved into helping them with the recruitment process and Back2workmum was born!”

For details, see or call 01932 588 969

Promotion to perfect preparation...

Moving from North London, and careers in the advertising industry, Marc and Joelle Cullender’s mini-empire has expanded from their first deli in Redhill to juggling an accompanying store in neighbouring Reigate. They’ve also managed to have a baby along the way, too.

Before: “I worked as an accountant in the advertising industry, and my wife Joelle as a PA, also in advertising. We both worked in the industry for around ten years but we’ve always enjoyed good food, cooking and entertaining for our friends.

“On numerous occasions, people told us we should start a business involving food. As much as we both loved the advertising industry, we really wanted to do our own thing and get away from the nine-to-five office life and the commute.”

After:“My dream was always to earn a living doing what I love, which is cooking. I went as far as appearing on the first series of MasterChef, crashing out in the first round, but it gave me the incentive to start my own business. We moved out of London, as we knew the market was saturated with delis, and started a nationwide search for suitable premises. 

“Reigate was the original dream but, at the time, commercial property was hard to come by. Fortunately for us, the perfect shop came on the market, literally at the end of the road we’d just moved to in Redhill. Our first shop was such a success that the natural progression was to pursue the Reigate deli dream as well. 

“I can’t imagine ever having to sit on that packed commuter train again and be stuck behind a desk all day. However, I know now what hard work really is! I am on my feet for 13 hours a day, six days a week, baking home-made cakes, making fresh salads and soups for our busy lunchtime trade and juggling the two shops and a new baby. We wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Cullenders Delicatessen & Food Store, 53 Linkfield Street, Redhill RH1 6BY: 01737 826567 and 6A Bell Street, Reigate RH2 7BG: 01737 240800

Computers to canines...

Previously an IT consultant, Karl Beales’ days may still be filled with tangles of leads, but he’s swapped the office headaches for a far fluffier challenge. Having set up Wag ‘n’ Walks with wife Louise, this Guildford couple aim to provide the personal pet care that they themselves were unable to find. Before: “I was an IT consultant for almost 20 years but I’d had enough. Although reasonably well paid, I found that I dreaded getting up every morning in the knowledge that by 9.30am someone would be screaming at me: ‘I can’t log in!’

“Unsurprisingly, it no longer inspired me. I became gradually more bored and frustrated with being stuck in an office all day and, in the end, I’d bring my frustrations home.”  After:“The trigger for us to start Wag ‘n’ Walks was when my wife and I were looking for someone to look after our springer spaniel, Jo. We discovered that the options were amazingly limited.

“During the winter, things can be a little testing; dogs need to be walked and loved, even in the snow and rain. Four or five months of wet, muddy dogs can dampen your sense of smell somewhat. That said, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“I no longer spend my time at work wishing away the hours or Sundays dreading waking the following morning. My wife can again ask me how my day was, knowing that her head won’t ache from my bleating, and I get to see the seasons change in the Surrey Hills.

“I spend my days with my furry friends, the owners that love them and, as yet, not one of them has screamed at me to fix their computer!”

Wag ‘n’ Walks, 7 Curlew Gardens, Merrow, Guildford GU4 7DY: 01483 563898

Franchiser to flourishing franchisee...

Career focused and ambitious, priorities changed for Fiona Humberstone when a baby came along. From being a regional director for national printing company,, the West Horsley resident took a step back and became a franchisee

Before:“Working as a regional director for, I was running five company-owned stores and working with over 30 franchisees. I was also responsible for training, so I was away a lot, too. I decided to leave that life after getting pregnant with my daughter, Ellie. I’d always been incredibly career focused but as soon as I discovered I was pregnant my aspirations changed.”

After:“I wanted to create a business that I could fit around my family, and buying a franchise seemed the logical solution. I love being my own boss and I’ve built the team up to seven. We’ve also moved out of serviced offices into a gorgeous building by the river.

“Over the past year, things have really moved forwards, as I’ve also started my own design and marketing company, Flourish, which launched in February.  

“On a personal note, I’m still striving for the elusive work-life balance, but I’m only in the office three days and fit my work around school runs, catching up while my toddler sleeps. I’ve even managed to squeeze in time to bake, garden and do craft, although, mysteriously, never to clean.”

Flourish Design & Marketing, 5 Millmead, Guildford GU2 4BE: 01483 401 818

Figures to fresh produce...

Born in Guildford, opportunity knocked for James Dampier when the local farm shop closed. Spotting his chance to move away from the accountancy world, he opened the Village Greens Farm Shop in Ockley with wife Catherine. Now in their third year, the venture has already picked up national awards.  Before: “I qualified as a chartered accountant with Price Waterhouse in Redhill and worked in accountancy for some 17 years, ending up as financial controller of one of the multinational IT company Capgemini’s UK divisions.

“I enjoyed the accountancy work; however, I missed being in contact with local people, as I was always commuting out of Ockley and not spending as much time in the area and with my family as I would have liked.”

After: “Catherine and I wrote a business plan, talked to lots of people, gave in our notice and got started. The dream is still to provide a place where people can find all the fantastic food that comes from this area, which is usually only available at farmers’ markets, and thereby create an additional outlet to help local farmers and producers survive.

“There have been ups and downs – growing your own crops isn’t easy! A definite high, though, was being asked up to the House of Lords by the Countryside Alliance after winning Best Local Food Retailer in the South East.

“Overall, I do not regret it for a minute – it has been an incredible experience that has taught me lots and enabled me to get to know a whole range of people I would never have met otherwise and, I believe, provide a much-needed local service.”

Village Greens Farm Shop

, Coles Lane, Ockley, Dorking RH5 5LS: 01306 713474


Do you have your own tale to tell? Why not get in touch by commenting below.

Comments powered by Disqus