Get a rural retreat without the hassle of owning it

There’s a new way to enjoy a weekend retreat without parting with a fortune or signing up to the trials of running a second home.

Retreat East, an eco-friendly project that has been 11 years in the making, offers debentures starting from £10,000 for a studio barn amid the Suffolk countryside.

There are 400 of them up for grabs. The first 100 are discounted and the following 300 will be priced from £12,500.

Time to escape: Retreat East in Suffolk could be yours to enjoy

That one-off payment gives you access for ten overnight stays a year, for ever, plus a stake in the 35-acre property which you can pass on to loved ones.

You could use all your days at once for a big family party or buy more nights from £150 to £375. It’s what you might call a lifestyle investment.

As with a members’ club, you can pop in for a workout in the gym and use the spa as often as you like. It has a touch of the Cotswolds’ trendy Soho Farmhouse about it, but without all the celebs and smart prices.

There’s a huge main barn, known as the Great Barn, with a bar, fireplace and snooker table. 

The kitchen garden is overseen by Peter Wrapson, who used to grow vegetables for Jamie Oliver. Order a dish in advance of arriving and it will be delivered to your kitchen to heat up.

The idea, according to the man behind Retreat East, architect Dominic Richards, is to make a country home affordable for all sorts of people without creating second-home ghost villages that play havoc with the local economy.

Charm: Copper pans hanging in the kitchen at Retreat East in Suffolk

Charm: Copper pans hanging in the kitchen at Retreat East in Suffolk

Richards, formerly vice-chairman and executive director of the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, has a philanthropic approach.

Of course, £10,000 is still a substantial sum, but it is achievable. The next rung up, a barn debenture, costs £20,000 (£25,000 after the first 100 have sold), which gives you more living space and two bedrooms.

You also pay an annual fee, which is held in trust by a firm of solicitors, of either £882 for the £10,000 debenture or £949 for the £20,000 one. This covers utility costs, waste collection, cleaning, maintenance and repairs.

The fee will go up in line with RPI (Retail Price Index) and the company is allowed to increase it up to 5 per cent, but only every five years.

By way of comparison, fractional apartments (where you buy a share of the property and work out which weeks to visit between the other owners) are being sold at Atlantic House Hotel, which is being built in Polzeath, Cornwall, from £115,000 to £145,000 for five weeks’ use a year.

The £115,000 buys you a three-bedroom apartment that you can visit for one week in high season, two in mid and two in low. July and August is high season. 

Ten weeks either side is mid-season and ten weeks either side of that is low. The annual service charge is about £1,650. 

It’s pricey, but you do get a sea view from your balcony. The project is set to be completed early next year.


Q: We live on an unadopted road which, according to the council, is a ‘private road with public access’. Our deeds state that we have right of way over the highway, but are not responsible for its maintenance.

For the past 30 years, the council has repaired the potholes. We now have a six-inch deep pothole by our driveway. The council has refused to repair the road this year due to lack of funds, but won’t let us repair it ourselves.

A: In the absence of any other evidence of ownership, the convention with private roads is that adjoining landowners own up to the centre line of the road. It is likely, therefore, that you own the section of road alongside your garden, where the pothole lies.

You should go back to the council and demand evidence of what statute prevents you from filling in this pothole, because you should have every right to do so.

How do they avoid holiday clashes at Retreat East? ‘The point of a debenture’, says Richards, ‘is that it applies across the whole site, so you have access to any of the 20 barns or studios, depending on which debenture you have bought. Owners don’t need to book weeks in advance and could even decide on a Thursday to head down that weekend.’

Though that doesn’t mean you can roll up for Christmas year after year, of course. Bookings will be managed to ensure everyone has use of the property over popular weekends.

The decor in each barn is different, but the theme is farm chic with cow paintings by artist Jelly Green.

Can you bring your dog? Of course. This is the place for long, muddy walks. There’s even a doggy spa where you can wash your pet down. There are also plans for a fresh water pool and chickens will be moving in this autumn.

Retreat East: Atlantic House Hotel: