Life in the round

A joys of liv­ing in a con­verted mill at Sax­mund­ham

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

PEO­PLE who have quirky or un­usual homes of­ten seem to lead in­ter­est­ing lives, like Mary and Pa­trick Skin­ner, who live in a con­verted mill at Sax­mund­ham, but once shared their Cyprus home with about 150 res­cued don­keys. Let’s rewind . . .

Pa­trick hails from Es­sex. Born in West­clif­fon-Sea, he moved with his fam­ily sev­eral times in the war years, set­tling in Paign­ton, Devon, where he went to art school in the evenings. After Na­tional Ser­vice, his first job was in pub­lic re­la­tions at Im­pe­rial Tobacco in Bris­tol, where he re­calls they ac­tively pro­moted the du­bi­ous ‘ben­e­fits’ of smok­ing. He worked for the Rank Or­gan­i­sa­tion for 11 years, be­fore start­ing his own PR com­pany in Lon­don, PAR Skin­ner & Co Ltd, with clients such as the Econ­o­mist news­pa­per, Beecham Foods, and Reckitt & Colman.

In 1990, aged 58, he and Mary sold the com­pany, then called Euro­pean Pub­lic Re­la­tions, to semi-re­tire to Cyprus. “We had al­ways en­joyed hol­i­days there,” he says, “and there was an added at­trac­tion, that I had sev­eral Mid­dle Eastern clients, such as Royal Jor­da­nian Air­lines, the Jor­da­nian Royal Fam­ily and oth­ers in the Ara­bian Gulf. How­ever, just as we moved there, the first Gulf War broke out and put a stop to those projects. But we loved Cyprus and had a rea­son for stay­ing there for 20 years.”

Mary, was born and brought up in Hurst suf­folk­

Green, Sus­sex. After sec­re­tar­ial train­ing at East­bourne, her first job was on the staff of Lord Woolton at the war time Min­istry of Food, be­fore mov­ing on to an Amer­i­can buy­ing agency, in­volved in women’s cloth­ing. In 1968, she went to work for Pa­trick’s com­pany, and the rest, as they say, is his­tory, in­clud­ing the move to Cyprus.

“We found a lovely house, in­land from Li­mas­sol, called Vouni in the Troo­dos moun­tains,” she ex­plains. “In 1992 Pa­trick and I started The Cyprus Don­key Sanc­tu­ary, to­tally by ac­ci­dent, after a kind per­son tied a don­key to our gate. In the next 17 years, about 400 more, all un­wanted and of­ten old, were taken in. We had to use all our pub­lic re­la­tions skills to raise the funds needed to run the sanc­tu­ary. At any one time, we had an av­er­age of about 150 res­i­dent. Luck­ily we built up over 70 vol­un­teers, mainly ex-pats, that we could rely on to­tally for the day to day groom­ing, feed­ing and walk­ing them.” It was a visit to The UK Don­key Sanc­tu­ary, at Sid­mouth in Devon, that pro­vided Pa­trick and Mary with an op­por­tu­nity to move back to Eng­land. The

sanc­tu­ary was will­ing to help them with their en­deav­our, and even­tu­ally took it over.

“Most years, liv­ing in Cyprus, Pa­trick and I re­turned to see his sis­ter, who lived in Wood­bridge. We would rent var­i­ous holiday cot­tages and, that year, had in­tended to go to one on a horse stud near New­mar­ket. But things changed and we booked this mill.

“I re­mem­ber our ar­rival so well. It was late in the evening and we were tired, hav­ing done the flight to Stansted, then the car jour­ney, plus hav­ing trou­ble finding the lo­ca­tion. To make mat­ters worse, we had trou­ble with the key code box and had to call the rep­re­sen­ta­tive out. So, by the time we put the lug­gage in, we were shat­tered. But I re­mem­ber com­ing into the hall, and go­ing left into the kitchen-dining

‘We would rent var­i­ous holiday cot­tages and, that year, had in­tended to go to one on a horse stud near New­mar­ket. But things changed and we booked this mill’

area, which oc­cu­pies the ground floor of the mill, and think­ing this is some­thing spe­cial. Dur­ing our stay, Pa­trick said, ‘Could you see your­self liv­ing here?’ and we both agreed we could. Be­fore leav­ing we spoke to the owner ask­ing if she would be pre­pared to sell. She was but wanted a year, be­cause of ex­ist­ing book­ings, which suited us well as the buyer of our Cyprus home also wanted a year to ar­range his af­fairs. So as you can see it’s all worked out well.”

Al­bion Mill was built in 1824, at a time when there were more than 500 work­ing wind­mills in Suf­folk. It was a post mill, the ear­li­est type – a very sim­i­lar mill is still in place at nearby Fris­ton – and the miller lived in a cot­tage at the bot­tom of the hill. Light­en­ing struck the mill in 1907, dam­ag­ing the buck – the part that en­abled the mill to turn – so badly that it never ground corn again. It was used for stor­age and, after the Sec­ond World War, be­came Wind­mill Garage. By the mid 1990s it was derelict, but English Her­itage came to the res­cue with a stout new roof. In 2003, it was sold and the new own­ers sub­mit­ted plans for res­i­den­tial use – a mod­ern sim­ple eco new build at the side, with two bed­rooms, a bath­room and shower room, and a glazed hall over­look­ing the gar­den. Now it be­longs to Pa­trick and Mary.

Do they miss life in Cyprus? Only the good weather, they say.

“Plus the good lo­cal wine, ex­cel­lent lo­cal food and the easy life style,” says Pa­trick. “The vil­lage was very in­ter­est­ing. It was very con­ser­va­tive, Greek Ortho­dox. For ex­am­ple, when we wanted to build a swim­ming pool, there was to­tal shock about all the bare flesh. But when it was built ev­ery­one wanted to use it! I also en­joyed writ­ing for over 21 years in Cyprus, Amer­ica, Bri­tain and the Mid­dle East – fea­tures on food and wine. It was won­der­ful as so many tav­erna own­ers would wel­come us hop­ing for pub­lic­ity.” But, says Mary, the cou­ple have re­ally set­tled into Suf­folk life.

“We find peo­ple so friendly and wel­com­ing. Pa­trick, who is an ex­cel­lent cook, mainly of Eastern Mediter­ranean food, loves hav­ing a Waitrose so close. In fact he is in there most days, buy­ing items for his next dish, a spe­cial­ity be­ing lamb with toma­toes, red wine, gar­lic, and peas added at the end. We spend a lot of time in this kitchen, at the dining ta­ble, as the room has an amaz­ing at­mos­phere and pres­ence. I en­joy do­ing the Tele­graph crossword ev­ery day and send­ing it in. How­ever, I am yet to win. We love play­ing cro­quet with friends at Thor­pe­ness, trips to Mins­mere, as we’re keen bird watch­ers, con­certs at Snape Malt­ings and walks from there to Iken. How­ever, as we’re now in our eight­ies, bun­ga­low land is beck­on­ing and we may put the mill on the mar­ket. But we love this part of Suf­folk and in­tend to stay around.”

The liv­ing area in the tower

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