Come dine

With me

Sussex Life - - Front Page -

“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

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