How downsizing helped Jessie and Hugh Constable step up their entertaining game

Fearful that downsizing their home could signal an end to their entertaining days, the couple were thrilled when they discovered Oakhill Place with its spacious rooms that could comfortably fit their existing dining room table and furniture. Jessie still thrives on organising many a lunch at their apartment, where she enjoys popping across to her local Italian shop for a selection of fresh meats, olives and other sweet delights to spoil her guests.

“We have always been big entertainers”, says Jessie. There is nothing we like more than getting everyone round the table and enjoying some home-cooked food and that certainly hasn’t stopped since we moved here.”

Jessie likes to cook everything from scratch and reads a lot of cookery books which inspire her dishes. She explains: “I tend to batch cook, so it was important to me the apartment had enough room for two freezers, which it does. We like to be as healthy as possible, so we get all our food delivered fresh. We have a Morrisons delivery once a week with our fruit, vegetables and general groceries, and then the local fish man comes about every third week once we’ve emptied the freezer out again. It’s a great little system as it’s so convenient. We only order when we need and the quality - you can’t beat it!”

Jessie stood at the dining table, which is set for dinner

Jessie and Hugh often use their penchant for entertaining for good causes too, raising money hosting various dinners for charities close to their hearts.

The couple have two sons both of which were born with disabilities. They have continued to care for their eldest son for many years, supporting him to lead an independent life with them close by, while their younger son is cared for by a residential team not far from where they live, so they are able to pop and see him whenever they choose. Over 30 years the couple has raised more than £50,000 for the local school their eldest son once attended, along with Bromham Hospital, a dedicated centre for people with learning difficulties.

"We don’t dwell on the negatives”, says Hugh. “Through our parties and the support of friends and family we have been able to give back for some of the support we have received for our two boys and ensure this money goes directly to the causes that have been at the heart of all of our lives.

“Our fundraising also helps to show people not to be frightened of disability, to understand more about it and to educate. If there’s one thing it’s taught us, it’s that life is too short. And that’s why Jessie and I never shy away from having a good time.”

Hugh playing the bagpipes

It was this positive attitude that first got the couple thinking about embarking on a new chapter in their lives.

Jessie explains: “We wanted enough living space to accommodate our furniture, and our desire to continue our entertaining, but we couldn’t find a property that had enough floor space. One day, a leaflet for Oakhill Place dropped through the door. When we went along to view the apartments we were immediately impressed. The rooms were a great size and the layout worked for us. At last, we had found the ideal home where we could still have a full-size dining table and have friends over, and not have to compromise on space.

“We have a two bedroom apartment so we use our second bedroom as our dining room and we’ve also created an area for Hugh’s computer - it’s a well-used room.”

The couple put down a deposit on their apartment in March 2020 and immediately put their house, a four-bedroom detached property where they had lived for 41 years on the market. “It was a momentous decision,” Jessie added. “It was always going to be difficult to leave our house and our beautiful garden - we had enjoyed a lot of alfresco dining over the years!

“Nevertheless, we knew it was the right time to move. Our situation means we aren’t able to ask our children to help us, so we knew we needed to put plans in place for our future.

"The equity from the sale of our old house means that if the children every need anything there is money there for them. The peace of mind that has given us is of great comfort.”

Jessie and Hugh decided to take advantage of McCarthy Stone’s removal service. “We did a lot of clearing out as you would expect,” Jessie explains. “The McCarthy Stone team were very good, and our move couldn’t have gone better. The removal professionals even took our unwanted items away to charity and went above and beyond to help us.”

Originally from Paisley, on the outskirts of Glasgow, Jessie and Hugh married in 1961.  Hugh was in the Scots Guards regiment and just a few months after tying the knot, Hugh was stationed in Nairobi and the newly-weds were to be separated for three months.  Jessie recalls, “I wrote to Hugh saying I wanted to go out to Nairobi; little did I know that my husband had also written to me saying he wanted me to join him. The remarkable thing is that we each received our letters on the same day!”

Jessie and Hugh laughing on the couch

For a short while Jessie lived in Nairobi with Hugh before returning to the UK and living in Surrey with their son. Wanting to be with his family, Hugh shortly followed and rekindled his pre-armed forces career as a compositor. The couple moved to Bedford and following the birth of their second son they started fundraising.

“Raising thousands of pounds at a time for vital local causes is something we will always be proud of, and we’ve experienced a lot of joy from seeing the difference the funds have made to the lives of individuals”, says Hugh.

Making the most of his retirement years after a committed career, Hugh is relishing his love of music.  He helps to teach the bagpipes as an honorary member of the Bedford Pipe Band and also enjoys having the time to compose. He has even been known to walk through the corridors at Oakhill Place for certain big events like Remembrance Sunday, playing his bagpipes. Hugh also recently took great delight in composing his own special tune for her Majesty the Queen on her Platinum Jubilee.

Jessie concludes: “Our social lives are just as full and busy as ever. And I like to think we still throw a good party!!”

Do you feel safe and secure at Oakhill Place, and why so?

“We’re definitely more relaxed about things since we moved here. We can live independently and not have to rely on others, however if we need anything at all the team here are always happy to oblige."

“From a security point of view, when you live in a house you don’t know who’s coming to the front door next. We used to worry about who we opened the door to but with the secure entry-system we don’t have that here – it’s so much more relaxed. When we go out for the day or as often the case, to a friend’s home for lunch, we know our apartment is secure and the Estates Manager has our number to call us if there are any problems. The comfort and security you get is something you just can’t put a price on.”

Are you satisfied with the services you receive, like gardens and building maintenance, communal areas and window cleaning?

“Our service charge is around £825 per month which includes maintenance to the surrounding areas and communal areas. These are kept very tidy and clean by the staff which is important to us especially when our guests come to visit - we want them to have a good impression. The garden is trimmed and tidied regularly, and the lawn is always mowed – a good job as our apartment looks out over it."

“A window cleaner comes to do the outside and inside of our windows – he’s very nice, and we use our 1 hour of domestic assistance per week which is included within the service charge to have our kitchen and bathrooms cleaned. This makes such a difference! When you have a house, you’ve got to maintain it all the time and the work can feel like it’s never done – we don’t have those worries anymore. We are able to enjoy our time together without the little stresses of life."

“There are staff available 24 hours per day so the great thing is that we can always pay for extra help if we need it in the future.  This was another important deciding factor for us about moving here."

“The service charge gets broken down and itemised which is sent to us once a year. It’s really transparent what costs go towards what, you can query things easily at any time and we feel happy in the knowledge that we are getting good value for money.”

“There is a subsidised bistro on-site which is handy but as I enjoy cooking, we don’t really use it much."

“However, it is a source of great peace of mind for me personally, because I know that should anything happen to me Hugh would be looked after and have a place to go for a good meal."

“Right now, I love cooking in our apartment and enjoy nothing better than having six or so family and friends round at various times, waiting on them and just ensuring everyone has a good time.”

How are your heating and electricity bills compare to your previous home?

“We like to have the heating on all the time in the cooler months and added to this I have always cooked a lot, so we never really expected to save on our utility bills. However, we have been pleasantly surprised so far. It’s really shown us just how much a big property like our old house used to take to heat when we weren’t using all of the rooms."

“Our apartment is always so warm and cosy. I would go as far to say it is the most comfortable property we’ve ever owned."

“One of the perks we enjoy now that we did not have in our previous property is the air conditioning unit. It ensures we have a healthy flow of air circulating through the apartment at all times which I like because I like it to smell fresh. It wouldn’t have been something we had thought of before we moved here, but it’s made such a difference. We have it on all the time and it gets serviced regularly by the McCarthy Stone staff.”

As for the other bills like council tax and insurance, how do they compare to your previous home?"

“One of the biggest differences to our monthly expenditure has been the saving we’ve made on our council tax. We save £45 every month. Added to this our house insurance is around £25 less per month.”

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