Their new home was a lottery winner Their new home was a lottery winner

Oliver Oakes is one half of a couple, both just 24, who bought and moved into their first home a little over a year ago in Harlow, Essex. So thrilled was he to “own” his postcode for the first time, he bought a postcode lottery ticket… and won £5,000.  It was a welcome reward for Oliver, who is in data analysis, and his art teacher partner Celia Henson, after they’d worked and saved hard to amass the deposit on their smart new one-bedroom apartment at Edinburgh Way, a Weston Homes development.

And it seems Lady Luck has definitely moved into their new home with them. Chuffed with his lottery win, Oliver promptly entered a Weston Homes competition and won a John Lewis voucher for £500, which paid for the couple’s much-loved air fryer and a host of other homeware accessories for their second-floor flat.

The place is looking great. Easygoing and likeable, Oliver readily admits all the plaudits for the soft textures and cool greys of their living room must go to Celia, but adds with a grin: “I chose the TV.

He left uni in Leeds with a maths and science degree, and had rented in the northern city as an undergraduate for £700 a month. But the couple’s mortgage rate at Edinburgh Way came in, with two sharing, at £600 a month; in another stroke of good fortune, they had it all arranged before rates shot up. “A flat like this in Leeds would have been £900 a month – and that is without the well-kept grounds around us here, and the nice entrance lobby,” he says.

A great location near to family and friends with a fast track train to London

A development of one and two-bedroom luxurious apartments, the majority with either private balcony or terrace, Edinburgh Way overlooks the River Stort on one side and lovely Harlow Town Park – one of the UK’s biggest urban parks at 164 acres – on the other. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from Harlow Town station, with 80-plus trains a day and half-hour links to London Liverpool Street. With an eye to the future, the couple recognised what a good investment a new home here would be, while the location is also just right for Celia’s job at a secondary school nearby.

Oliver adds: “It is a great location for anyone. When we move on we will rent it out. But for now, with friends in Clapham and Streatham, it is perfect for us. It is minutes from the London line train station, for which I have a rail card.”

Everything they need, including the shops and amenities of Harlow town centre, is on their doorstep – a maximum of 20 minutes away, says Oliver. And as well as being super-convenient for family and friends, Edinburgh Way is handy for his golf club, for a round and a pint with pals on the way home on a Friday.

The couple’s first-home search also took them to other new-build developers. ‘And I would say we’ve definitely got better value with this home than anything else we saw in the area,” says Oliver. “Nothing compared. When someone who was buying this flat pulled out, we got the offer and we jumped at it.

“And using the Weston Homes sales team was a massive advantage. They made the buying process so straightforward. Their plot booklet was very accurate, we knew exactly what we were getting. We felt reassured that we were in safe hands.

“A lot of costs were subsidised or absorbed into the mortgage. We didn’t feel intimidated by it all and I felt no stress. We have not had a single issue.”

‘Low bills… and no DIY’

In common with a lot of would-be buyers, they also looked at older houses in their chosen area but didn’t feel fully comfortable with that option. Oliver reflects: “I remember thinking when we moved in here, thank God we did not buy something we had to do up. We didn’t have to do anything. Apartment living was for us. My dad does a lot of DIY but he had nothing to do here. And Celia says she feels safe and secure coming home here.”

Like many UK homeowners these days, they were concerned about rising utility bills. “But after a year it has been surprising,” adds Oliver. “In the summer it never gets too warm and in the winter gas and electricity bills have been really low.”

He works from home on some days of the week and says the internet speeds are “fantastic”, while other “wonderful” features about the flat include hi-tech temperature controls in the bathroom and an instant boiling water tap in the kitchen. “There is so much included, and we have never felt short of space.”

The couple keep the place organised and tidy – even their pet hamster has a “luxury” cage. “When you move into something smart, you want to keep it smart. We buy something for our home every month… well, Celia does. I just nod my head!”

‘We have saved for this since we were 21.’

Oliver’s clear sense of homeownership seems to add to his confidence, while the couple already know plenty of their neighbours and relish being part of this new community. “More and more, when we get in the lift, I feel I am with people I have seen before.”

The Covid-19 pandemic was a lifestyle-changing time for many households and with working from home now routine for a lot of people, it can be argued that local communities are re-establishing and strengthening.

Oliver has two brothers and a sister, and family come to visit him and Celia often. “I like being near my family but to be honest we have wanted to move out since we were 21,” he says. “That is what we headed for, that is what we saved for, we wanted our own place.”

And at 24, that is exactly what they have got.

Photography by Juliet Murphy