Getting physically stuck in with the build started as a cost-saving measure, but soon became an important aspect of the process. Not only did it give them a tangible connection to the place, but it also had practical benefits. They now have an intimate knowledge of the building inside and out, so if a problem occurs, as they often can in most building projects, they are very well placed to find a solution.
The build and design stage also gave them a whole new set of skills, from plastering and tiling, to upholstery and interior design – they sourced and placed all the furniture and peppered the place with beautiful objects that work to soften the potentially austere feel of the architecture.
Learning and applying new skills is a process which Bruce and David clearly get a lot of satisfaction from, and it is hard not to be affected by their enthusiasm. They certainly aren’t short of projects, which they have thrown themselves into with gusto. They are always busy, either gardening, cooking, sourcing local produce or discovering activities to recommend to guests. As advocates of life-long learning, they are keen to facilitate educational experiences for their guests, from arranging cookery courses to visits to local (lesbian-owned) beehives to see how the honey they serve you for breakfast is harvested. They are also talking to some retreat organisers who are interested in using Five Acre Barn as a base for longer stays, something that the couple are keen to move into. As much as they love their new lives, running a guest house is very demanding on their time. So the natural break that having self-contained, week-long bookings gives seems like a rather attractive prospect.
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It wasn’t long after moving to the area that they discovered they were not the ‘only gays in the village’. Through the process of getting to know the place, they very naturally began to meet other gay people and already have a network of like-minded, ex-London gay and lesbian friends who chose to make their lives here. This is nothing new. In fact, Aldeburgh’s long-standing gay and cultural heritages are inseparable. In the 1940s, the acclaimed composer Benjamin Britten moved with his opera singer partner, Peter Pears. In 1948 they held the first Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts which by the late 1960s had grown so popular that a large local brewery, Snape Maltings, was converted into a concert hall and continues to flourish to this day under the auspices of the Aldeburgh Festival. In addition, the High Tide Theatre holds a very well respected annual festival, pulling in yet more visitors with a bent for culture. Over the years a number of high profile movers and shakers from the british Arts have bought houses in the area. Famous British artists like ‘YBA’ Sarah Lucas and outspoken Maggie Hamblin have homes here. An impressive and apparently controversial ‘Scallop’ sculpture by Hamblin – a tribute to Britten – sits on the shingle beach just yards from the picturesque wooden boats that nod to Suffolk’s fishing industry heritage.
The area, like Five Acre itself, is very dog-friendly. David and Bruce’s gorgeous Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla, Ruby, welcomes visitors. I joined David as he walked her from the beach at Aldeburgh to the neighbouring Thorpeness, a somewhat eccentric village with a windmill boating lake and the famous ‘House in the Sky’. From there it was a few, very pleasant, minutes’ walk down a hidden country path, passing cute cottages and a sleepy churchyard back to the barn for a welcome cuppa. Feeling thoroughly decompressed, we spent the evening over a few drinks chatting about each other’s lives. It is clear that David and Bruce have found much more than they had ever imagined by moving to this gorgeous little corner of the country. They seem genuinely content and it won’t be long before all their hard work will soon bear well-deserved fruit as the business matures and they set down their roots.
Photography by Martin Perry