Property Secrets: St Albans Living Advent organiser Claire Toms

Claire Toms

Claire Toms - Credit: Archant

Claire Toms is an early years teacher at St Saviour’s Pre-School and Nursery, and one of the founders of the St Albans Living Advent. She shares her property secrets…

The first of this year's St Albans Living Advent windows

The first of this year's St Albans Living Advent windows - Credit: Archant

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Luton and lived in Dunstable, then Studham.

What was it like growing up there?

Dunstable was a great place as there were open fields and a small wood behind our estate and I would disappear all day with the neighborhood kids. Where we lived is more developed now. I loved Studham for its fields and walks – my favourite place is still the bluebell wood on a farm near where our house was. But for a social life in your teens – not so good!

These peg dolls, made by Claire's five-year-old daughter a year ago, are a favourite ornament

These peg dolls, made by Claire's five-year-old daughter a year ago, are a favourite ornament - Credit: Archant

When did you buy your first property?

Just after I got married in 1999. It was an ex-local authority in Buntingford, East Herts. We had been living in London and wanted to be near the M25 for my husband’s work – we basically worked our way up the A10 looking for something we could afford, so ended up a long way from the M25.

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It needed lots of work and we really enjoyed decorating it together. We had watched far too many episodes of Changing Rooms and spent months stripping wood chip to then paint the walls deep aubergine in the lounge and bright terracotta in the hall!

What did you like and dislike about it?

I liked that we had a garden for the first time. We put in a pond and had frogs and fish, and slow worms moved into the compost area – it was lovely until the cat found them (who knew frogs screamed?). We found another pond friend who was cat-free and they rescued all our wildlife.

I disliked the downstairs bathroom and how late my husband got back from work.

St Albans Christmas Market is one of Claire's local highlights

St Albans Christmas Market is one of Claire's local highlights - Credit: Archant

How long did you live there?

Six years. I got a job in Hatfield so we decided to move to St Albans to improve both our journeys.

Where do you live now?

Still St Albans, with my husband, daughter, the same frog-loving cat, a hamster, six tropical fish and three water snails

Claire likes to visit St Albans market, whatever the weather

Claire likes to visit St Albans market, whatever the weather - Credit: Archant

How long have you lived there?

11 years.

How would you describe your home in three words?

Happy, messy, creative

What do you like about the area?

Claire admiring the view from St Albans Clock Tower

Claire admiring the view from St Albans Clock Tower - Credit: Archant

The community – we have some amazing neighbours. Last year my friend Bronwen asked me to get involved with an idea she had for a living advent calendar in Ladysmith Road, Kimberley Road, Folly Avenue and Cannon Street. The idea is that a new ‘living advent’ window is lit up each day up to Christmas. Last year we raised over £650 for Great Ormond Street Hospital. We’re back for 2016 and hoping to raise even more money for this amazing cause. Our theme is books and everyone has been very imaginative so far.


Another of our neighbours, Abby (who’s also helping organise), has a daughter, Bessie, who has spent a lot of time there over the last two-and-a-half years. She is constantly amazed by the dedication, care and love shown by all the staff. While we are enjoying Christmas in our homes with our loved ones around us, many families will be spending their Christmas at GOSH and other partnered hospitals. It would be amazing if we could reach our target of £1000 this year.

What’s your favourite local shop, park, pub or restaurant?

There are so many I could write a list a mile long. We are very lucky to be spoilt for choice here. But really I love the market more than anything and the Christmas Market this year is brilliant as it has some great individual designer-makers and local companies.

Have you changed much about your house since you’ve lived there?

Lots. As it’s a Victorian house it does feel a bit like the Forth Bridge as something always needs doing, but it’s mainly been cosmetic changes so far. I would add that all our walls are white now – we have moved on from Changing Rooms! We are hoping to add a dormer and second toilet – can’t wait for a second loo! (Why we didn’t get this done for when we were potty training I don’t know, especially as I was child-minding at the time and potty training two at once.) Just waiting for planning permission at the moment so that’s our job for 2017 sorted.

What have been your best and worst interiors buys?

My best buy was a bedside table from eBay; the gentlemen I bought it from sent a letter explaining his research about the item, and it turned out it had been made by recovering war veterans as a way of rehabilitating. We love that little unit more for the story than anything else.

My worst buy was a sputnik ceiling light for the lounge – my husband and I are quite short, but everyone else whacked their heads for about four years till we decided it was time to sell it on to save our friends’ scalps!

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

It would be here but I would have my mum and dad live closer to us (and have a slightly bigger house, off-road parking and a lower mortgage).

Where would you like to live next?

If it wasn’t so awful for my husband’s work then I would love to live in Hastings, but I would have to move all my family and lovely friends and neighbours there with me so it wouldn’t be very practical!

What would your dream home be like?

A period property that had a space like a village hall attached to it so I could throw lots of parties and events. Our little house gets a bit too crazy when full of our friends. Not too ambitious or anything!

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