What does Devon’s post-lockdown future look like?

Devon has never been more on the radar of dreamers, writes hotelier Deborah Clark. Photo: Getty Imag

Devon has never been more on the radar of dreamers, writes hotelier Deborah Clark. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Columnist Deborah Clark wonders how the county will change after Covid-19

As I emerge, peering from under my home-cut fringe into the sunlight of a beautiful summer, I’m taking a check of how I feel about life. I want it to be more special; I want my interior monologue to be active and stimulated. Heaven knows, conversation chez nous pretty much withered and keeled over at the end of May for lack of the fertiliser of my friends.

What are your keepers, bleepers and twists on life for your future selves? I’ve already written a hymn to the magic of elastic waistbands. While I will put up with a short term twinge for the sake of a special pair of gold kitten heeled ankle boots that have been winking at me through lockdown, I won’t last a whole day in discomfort any more.

More profoundly, I’ve been thinking a lot about the alchemy of society and wondering what others are taking out – and forward – from this. I know a lot of you have been taking this pause to reflect and refine. Will you stick with your lockdown exercise, your sourdough and your athleisure wardrobe?

Take my fringe; nail scissors weren’t the best tool in the drawer but they made the first cut. There’s no going back now. I’m coming out of lockdown thinking full-on Stevie Nicks, Marianne Faithful, Nico. It goes with the oversized tops. Or will you flip your life as soon as you can?

We’ve spent a lot of time dreaming about the future. And I think, nationwide, that a lot of people are dreaming about a future in a quiet, prosperous city or town with a garden and outbuildings. And decent weather to make up for those lost holidays to France and Italy. Yep: that means Devon has never been more on the radar of dreams.

To back up this theory, I ruffled my Rolodex and spoke to Phil and Don at Blue Geranium Florist in Totnes. Because I like to drill down to micro-signs, I asked Phil what trends they had seen during lockdown. Demand on-line and by phone surged by 600% in the first week to an extent that they couldn’t cope with it because of lack of supply. It’s slowed down now but the jump out factor for me is that 95% of their orders, nationwide, have been for “English cottage garden” flowers.

Read more: How meditation helped Exeter Chiefs player Olly Woodburn during lockdown.

Nigel Bishop, of Recoco Property Search , a fellow columnist of mine on Devon Life, confirms the metaphysical quest for rural romance that’s fuelling everyone at the moment. If you’ve got a large house to sell with land and preferably some outbuildings for the semi-adult kids and grandparents, you’re on a winner. That is, until your buyers realise that there are no handy Tesla charging points on the way down from West London (a true story…).

Nigel tells of a manic bubble of bidding wars at the top end of the market – but cautions as to what happens when reality kicks in in September and the buyers come to grips with the big picture. Are they ready for our idyll full-time just yet? Maybe it’s safer to buy a massive second home in Salcombe or Dartmouth and forget the chateau in France or restoration project in Italy.

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Then there’s your personal life. The Silver Fox and I have had remarkably few clashes but, even so, we’ve felt some strain – and we live and work together 24/7 even outside lockdown. For goodness’ (or badness’) sake, Exeter has more subscribers to Ashley Madison than almost anywhere else in the UK!

I turned to my friend, Ben ‘The Bodyguard’ Tisdall, who has birthed his own family law business during lockdown. China and Italy have reportedly seen a 30% increase in applications for divorce and no doubt we’ll be “world-beating” in this area, too.

Ben is trying to make this as painless and amicable as he can for his clients. While Zoom unlocks access to good lawyers, secret-squirrel subterfuge is needed at times. Ben has had clients call him from anywhere they can lock a door without enquiry and turn up the radio to cover the conversation: car, bath or garden shed. There are a lot of people choosing to turn their cards over here, too – and sooner, rather than later.

Big changes are afoot. And how can Devon (and our businesses) benefit or at least roll with them? I want to welcome those second homeowners, the burnt-out visitors, the romantics looking for their dream life. I’m not selfish. As The Bodyguard says; as soon as we can, we’ll have a massive party IRL and come dressed to Zoom (no further instructions needed). u

Deborah is owner and designer of Southernhay House Hotel and Number Nine Exe .

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