Celine Leterme on running Counter-Print from Surrey, Norfolk and now West Sussex

Miriam Rayman’s piece From Shoreditch to the Shires, which examined the consequences of creatives abandoning London and other major cities to relocate in the country or smaller towns, has sparked a huge amount of debate here on CR. We’re following up with a series of interviews with creatives who have made similar moves. Here we speak to Celine Leterme, one of the founders of Counter Print

Rising house prices, desktop businesses and improved connectivity has prompted many young creatives to move away from big cities and into the countryside, as we discussed here. In this series, we talk to a few such ‘rurbanites’ about why they moved, the challenges they’ve faced and the perks of living outside major conurbations. Here we speak to Counter Print’s Celine Leterme

Celine in the studio

Creative Review: What prompted Counter Print to move away from London? How did you manage staff? Did everyone move?

Counter-Print has always been run by my husband Jon and I, so we are a very small team and have always worked from a home studio. As such, the main reason for leaving London was, understandably, house prices. At the time of moving, Counter-Print was just a side-project and we were still working as graphic designers full time.

We made the move by first taking on freelance work a couple of days a week in London, before working full time from home. Over time, we’ve transitioned also from being graphic designers, in a traditional sense – serving clients, to working on Counter-Print full time.

The view from Counter Print’s workspace

CR: Has it been harder to employ people or collaborate with other creatives since you moved?

CL: We’ve lived and worked in three separate counties since leaving London and it has not made it harder to collaborate with people. We have Skype, email and phone. The first piece we published was a newspaper which was illustrated by someone living in Berlin. We organise books with hundreds of contributors, from around the world and are currently working on a book, due to come out shortly, with one of our favourite Spanish designers based in Madrid.

Although it’s still just the two of us here, the popularity of the site has really taken off over the last year and we are approaching a stage were we will need to employ someone and this is a real concern. We worry that they will need to come to our home to work and whether the remoteness of where we are located will be unattractive to potential talent.

However, if this trend of a migrating workforce is a reality, it may mean this worry is unfounded and finding someone might prove easier than we have thought.

CR: How has the move impacted your work-life balance, your ability to invest time in family and social engagements?

CL: I think the assumption is that you might feel less connected, moving to the countryside. However, most of the creatives I met while working in London grew up in the suburbs of towns other than London, or more rural communities. They moved to the city to find work. If it is no longer strictly necessary to run your business from a major city, why not move back? I feel better connected now than I did in London, with closer access to friends and family than before.

Your wellbeing won’t necessarily be improved purely by moving out of the city. It can help you live a more active, outdoor lifestyle, reconnect with old friends and have more time to cook/eat healthier and pursue hobbies, but only if you let it. Our work/life balance has been improve by our recent move to Sussex, but on a cautionary note, we previously lived in Norfolk.

When we moved to Norfolk, we didn’t know anyone there, we just thought it would be fun to experience living in a totally different place. We’ve always seen it as a huge positive that the online nature of Counter-print has given us the opportunity to live wherever we want.

Norfolk was a beautiful county and our home studio was in the middle of unspoilt countryside, however, we felt cut off, especially after the birth of our first child. A year ago, we moved back to Jon’s home county of West Sussex to have better access to Belgium, where I am from, Jon’s family and to feel more connected with centres of culture such as London and Brighton.

I think it’s one thing to feel you can still be connected with customers and collaborators via social media, Skype, the phone and email from the ‘middle of nowhere’ but for the real relationships in your life there is no substituted for sitting down with them and a slice of cake.

We try to maintain more of a link to London now than when we were in Norfolk. It is important for us to visit trade shows to find new products, visit our printers, exhibitions and private views. This keeps us inspired and is a welcome break from home-working.

CR: We are curious about how smaller towns/the countryside is affected by the influx of ex city dwellers. Where do you live now, and have you noticed any changes in your parts since you moved?

CL: We’ve only been here a year, so I couldn’t really comment on any change here but I would say in both Norfolk and in West Sussex I have quickly found communities of like-minded ex-city-dwellers, who have all made the same decision to up-sticks and move to the same area. I suppose this is most visually noticeable in retail outlets and restaurants, where young people with an artistic bent are opening up small businesses. A gentrification, if you would like to call it that, but on a much smaller scale to that of London. After all, as anyone who has ever flown over the UK can attest, it’s a pretty big place and it’s gonna take a while for these Millennials to make their mark.

CR: Do you think you would have been able to start off your career or launch your business from out in the sticks? Or do you think your move was possible because you were already well established in the city and already has contacts/working relationships in place?

CL: I don’t think I would have been able to start Counter-print without the experience Jon and I had working in studio environments but if the studios we had worked in had been provincial, it wouldn’t have made a difference. We run an online store, so really it could have been set up anywhere in the UK.

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