“When you put everyone around a table you realise people have much more in common than they imagine. Food can be such a great icebreaker and common denominator.”
That idea is central both to Seni Glaister’s innovative communal dining business Wefifo (We Find Food), and her second novel Mr Doubler Begins Again, which is published later this month. There are parallels between Seni, 51, and her literary creation Mr Doubler. Both live in beautiful old farm houses found at the end of a rutted country lane. Both are farmers – Doubler specialising in potatoes, Seni in raising Dexter cattle and Mangalitza pigs. And both are driven by their passions – in Doubler’s case by his spuds. But whereas Doubler has shut himself off from society, when Sussex Life visits Seni and her husband Jon Stefani, 40, are eagerly awaiting the return of their family for a Thanksgiving meal. The pair are also behind a business setting up dinner parties across the country.
It was a passion for a project which led Seni, then a 28-year-old single mother with a young son Eoin, now 30, to move into Hayes Grange Farm, near Slindon. “The house was a museum,” says Seni today, who bought it after one viewing. “I had to make up my mind and go for it. I wasn’t looking for potential, opportunity or investment – I just completely fell head-over-heels in love with it. I couldn’t imagine not saying ‘ yes’.”
Her surveyor may have described buying the house as a brave investment, but Seni has never regretted it. She is particularly proud that the house has played such a major part in the memories of her children Eoin, Poppy, 20, Millie, 17, and 13-yearold Sonny, as well as their friends. The converted barn on the property recently hosted the wedding of one of Eoin’s friends. “It’s lovely to share the house,” she says.
Sharing is at the heart of Wefifo. Seni launched the business on the day she left the board of The Book People – the independent discount book store she co-founded with Ted Smart and just one van around Guildford businesses in 1988.
The bathroom in the converted barn is tiled using a deliberate mix of contrasting colourful tiles which must be wonderful to examine during a long soak.
Seni and Jon’s previous life in publishing and bookselling is represented in their purposebuilt library in a separate outbuilding. It is a booklover’s dream. Paperbacks and hardbacks stretch in strict alphabetical order from ceiling to floor in a long corridor attached to a seating area packed with sofas. The whole room is designed for anyone to pick out a selection, slump down and read. Seni admits she would have loved to have arranged the books autobiographically – in the order she read them – and is encouraging her children to do it before they forget. She is still an avid reader, but not as much as when she was working with The Book People. “I spent 25 or 26 years reading a lot of debut fiction – I never read more than the first in a series as there wasn’t enough time!” she says.
“I involved myself in a world that allowed me to play with books for a living – it was a treat and a privilege. Access to books should be a basic human right for children. Children and adults should read whatever they feel comfortable with and however they want to read as long as they