When Paul Bennett of Red Sky Shepherd's Huts answered the phone one day this January, it led to a conversation he would never forget. The caller was David Cameron, recently stepped down from political life and calling from his Cotswold home. He wanted to buy a shepherd's hut.
Little did they know that both men were already connected through one of life’s charming twists of fate. The hut that Mr Cameron was about to buy was only made possible by his decision, some years earlier and while in power, to change the rules on pensions. He allowed people to cash their pension in at age 55 and use the money to do things like Paul did – start a shepherd's hut business!
Sitting in the Cameron family garden on a sunny Spring day, just one week after delivery of his hand-crafted shepherd hut, I asked the ex-Prime Minister and his hut maker Paul about their chance meeting.
Paul explained that, three years ago, he had been grappling with how to leave a stressful job and follow his dream of becoming an artisan cabinet maker. He was also keen to start a business which could involve his family. “I had my eye on shepherd's huts and just needed the resources to help me set up.” He said “The new rules allowing people my age to release the money tied up in their pensions was like a gift from heaven for me. I used my pension money to set up Red Sky Shepherd's Huts in Oxfordshire – and have never looked back.” Some years on from the start of Paul’s new business venture and settling into a life beyond politics, David Cameron was discussing shepherd huts with his wife Samantha. They had both seen and liked one owned by Mr Cameron’s Mother-in-law in Scotland, and decided it was something they too would like to have.
“When Samantha said we should look for one - I said I’d sort it out" said Mr Cameron " I basically Googled shepherd huts, found Paul’s company and I liked the look of the website. They were also local, which was very good – and then Paul came along and told me how he set up the business. I was delighted by the story.”
Father and son team Paul and Adam Bennett set to making a bespoke hut for the Cameron family. It was to be a 16ft x 7ft classic shepherd hut shape with arched roof, metal wheels and painted hardwood stable doors to the side and front.
Like many of Red Sky’s huts, it is a timber frame construction with tongue and groove interior pine walls. Each wall and floor are five layers deep: an interior timber wall, a cavity filled with quality sheep’s wool insulation, an exterior ply layer for rigidity and strength, a breathable, high tech membrane and finally an exterior painted wood cladding which the Camerons chose over the corrugated metal alternative.
The floor and arched roof are also insulated with sheep’s wool and all windows are double glazed. It is fully wired with a 240-volt electric hook up pack which provides plug sockets, LED lights, dimmers and outside lights.
The Camerons chose a corner-set wood-burning stove from Salamander, a pull-out double sofa bed and paints from Farrow and Ball including ‘Clunch’ and ‘Old White’ inside with all external woodwork in ‘Mouse’s Back’. The wheels, steps and roof are all painted black.
Noted for their craftsmanship and attention to detail, Red Sky worked on some new features for the Cameron hut. These included an internal wooden frame, giving the interior space more nooks and crannies, Kirkpatrick hinges on all the doors and retro Bakelite-style dimmer-light switches.
“I should say here’ said Mr Cameron, ‘that Samantha makes all the design decisions in this family. As ever she has made a very good choice."
One of the great benefits of adding a shepherd hut to a home is that, unlike most house extensions, they do not normally require planning permission. “Yes, that’s right" said Mr Cameron “and you can see why - because they’re jolly nice looking. Actually, the interesting thing as you see ours against the wall here – is it looks as if it’s been here forever.”
Asked about who was going to be using their lovely new garden room, he said “Well, there’s been a bit of a fight already - my children want to use it as a Wendy house. I want to use it as a book writing room and my son wants it as an alternative bedroom. So, quite a lot of competition. When it first arrived, there was great excitement – who was going to spend the first night in it?" When asked about who won, he answered "That was my son… I wasn’t going to take him on!”
Commenting on the increasing popularity of shepherd huts, he continued: “Yes - they are sprouting up everywhere – but I think this one is particularly lovely – it’s a very nice colour which goes with the Cotswold stone and we really love it.”
Mr Cameron said that he hadn’t listened to BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Archers’ for many years so was unaware that character Lynda Snell also had a shepherd hut. Paul commented that “Lynda’s wasn’t very well made – so we don't think we've got too much competition from her hut maker Eddie Grundy!"
Further details can be found at www.redshyshepherdshuts.co.uk and Paul is happy to discuss requirements on 07870 223114.
Words by Joy Le Fevre
Pictures by Graham Flack