Monday, 27 October 2008

Callington School of Art

This is in this month's Cornwall Today - an aspirational couple I thought who deserve all the best


Lower House in Callington has the most welcoming feeling, like walking into an old family home. There’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, big sash windows that keep the rooms light, bookcases and paintings galore, and four sympathetically decorated en suite bedrooms that have been rated four star by Visit Britain.

The kitchen has a long table where everyone eats together, and adjoining this is a coach house where Peter Sulston, 58, and his wife Tessa, 57 run Callington School of Art. A well established art teacher, Tessa is able to provide a wide range of courses including 3 or 6 day residential courses, one day workshops, and courses for teachers. “We never have more than six in a class so I can give individual tuition,” she says. “This way, we can be professional and versatile.”

Located in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, the school is open all year round, offers comfortable accommodation, delicious home made cooking, trips to local outdoor locations and an extensive art library. “We cater for all ages and abilities and we’re getting a lot of interest from people who haven’t painted since school,” Peter says. “We provide the time for them to do that.”

Since opening in September 2007, the art school has already proved a success. “We worried whether people would like our style, but people have commented on how relaxed they feel in our company and how friendly it is,” Tessa says. “And they love Peter’s food!”

“People are already booking to come back which is very heartening,” says Peter. “We advertise a lot but word of mouth is the best way. It’s a personal endorsement.”

Peter and Tessa met as students in London in 1970 and have been married for 33 years. Their first son was born in Australia; their second son in Ethiopia where Peter was working for Oxfam. They returned to Oxford 20 years ago where he took up loss adjusting and Tessa taught at Magdalen College School, one of the country’s leading independent schools.

Two years ago, Peter and Tessa decided it was time for a change. “I said ‘do you fancy an adventure?’ ” Peter says. “We’d talked about running our own school and now we had the opportunity to do it.”

They explored the possibility of buying in France, but decided that negotiating a strange legal system with their limited French would be unwise. “We browsed the net and found Lower House, with an attached two storey dilapidated coach house which was the right price with some left over to finance the renovations,” Tessa says. That was the start of a steep learning curve. “We had to be aware of everything. Like fire precautions, Health & Safety, disabled access and filling in incredibly complex grant application forms.”

With help from an Objective One grant they finished the renovations last year and ran their first residential course in September. “Just as the builders left!” says Tessa. “The first people arrived when it still smelt of fresh paint and the varnish on the staircase wasn’t quite dry. They declared at once that this would be their sixteenth art holiday so we replied, 'Well, this is our first!'”

They needn’t have worried about their reception in the town, as the art school has been welcomed by locals and visitors. “The mayor said it’s just what the town needs,” says Peter. “There’s a little theatre here and I think perhaps we’re seen alongside that. It helps the status of the town.”

“We were surprised by the level of local interest,” Tessa says. “Most of our customers have come from Penzance to Bristol.” But already the word has spread and people are coming from further afield. “We’ve just had someone from Dublin, two from Scotland and an Australian.”

The couple have quickly become involved in community life in Callington, a small market town with a population of just over 5000. “I worked for Oxfam when it launched the Fairtrade movement so when I found out there was a committee here, I volunteered,” says Peter, who has found everyone very friendly and helpful. “One of our neighbours offered us a parking space for visitors which is very generous.”

Tessa wasted no time in using her artistic skills. “The town is internationally famous for its murals – there used to be 17 of them,” she says. “The surrounding schools ran a competition for children to design a mural and I was on the committee so I judged it.”

Learning to work together was another huge challenge. “We started out rather irrationally with both of us doing everything,” says Tessa. “Now I liaise with prospective students, run the courses and clean and make the beds. Peter does the accounts, maintenance, administration and cooking and entertaining. When we can, we’ll take on help with cleaning and laundry and outsource some of the tutoring.”

“We’ve been together more in the past 2 years than in the last 20,” says Peter, and this has brought its rewards and frustrations. “Like any couple we have our differences but nothing serious. Tessa gets on with things and I adapt!”

Tessa agrees. “We talk things through mainly. If we have any spare time, Peter plays badminton and I paint. Although we’re together most of the time we have space.”

Despite being incredibly busy, they have found time to explore the area and have quickly fallen in love with Cornwall. “The pace of life seems different,” says Peter. “You get to know people and I’ve got a local pub again – it’s lovely to go in there and be welcomed.”

For Tessa, the landscape has inspired her painting. “I get completely different inspiration from Bodmin and the coasts. Both have different atmospheres, different views, contrasts, shapes and colours. When you’ve got shadow coming off rocks and water you get wonderful changes in colour.”

Having given up well paid jobs, security and pensions, Peter and Tessa realise they have taken a huge gamble, but have great faith in their business. “We don’t in any way regret our move,” says Tessa. “As with any new business we’d be lying if we said we weren’t nervous about our future. But we’re going to give it everything we have, physically, financially and emotionally.”

Callington School of Art, Lower House, Church Street, Callington PL17 7AN
01579 383491

Lower House Guest House


JJ said...

Oooh, I'd love to go there for an art holiday. It sounds great.

Akelamalu said...

That sounds like an absolutely perfect place!

Flowerpot said...

jj - it doesnt just sound great - it's an amazing place. You'd be well catered for in every sense of the word. It does have a really lovely feel to it.

Flowerpot said...

Ak - it is really special. I was privileged to meet them and see what they've done.

Pat Posner said...

Sounds wonderful, Flowerpot. A lovely write-up as usual.

Flowerpot said...

Thanks Pat - it's a very special place that deserves to be enjoyed.

Ellee Seymour said...

That's a great recommendation and if I was an artist, I head be there like a shot.

Debs said...

It sounds wonderful, good for them for making it a success too.

Flowerpot said...

ellee - it makes me wish I could paint, too!

Flowerpot said...

Debs - it's their first anniversary so I hope they make it work.

ChrisH said...

Sounds a lovely place to stay, and congratulations to you on another journalistic success.

Sally said...

Good article!

Flowerpot said...

thanks Chris. And congrats to you too - that marathon is an amazing achievement.

Flowerpot said...

Thanks, Sally!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

It sounds as if they've really worked out what quality of life is, for them. I'm not an artist myself but if I was I'd be longing to go.

MarmiteToasty said...

Oh wow, this all sounds so fantastic.... I only wish I was arty so I could go there and experience it....


Flowerpot said...

I think you're right Zinnia - a good thing to do!

Flowerpot said...

Marmie - anyone would love this place I think!