Niki Perry: Achieving a lifetime's ambition in her Sussex family home
PUBLISHED: 16:41 19 July 2016 | UPDATED: 16:41 19 July 2016
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157
Yoga teacher Niki Perry has achieved a lifetime’s ambition in the grounds of her family home, as she tells Duncan Hall
From the outside, the corrugated iron former cowshed which adjoins the courtyard of Niki Perry’s 18th century manor house looks pretty industrial and utilitarian.
But when Niki opens the doors to her new yoga studio space it is like entering another world. Two floor-to-ceiling glass doors look out over green fields. The iron walls are replaced by warm wood. And in the corner is a wood-burning stove to ensure the space can be used all year round. When Niki first used it on a Friday evening 23 friends turned up – meaning she is already running two sessions in the space during term time.
“Yoga has always been a part of my life,” she says from the corner sofa of the airy orangery – a modern addition to the south west wing of the manor house based in Sidlesham Common. “My mum was doing yoga when she was pregnant with me, so I have been doing it since before I was born.”
What has changed Niki’s approach and made her become a teacher full-time was the discovery of Baron Baptiste’s power yoga. “There are lots of different types of yoga,” she says. “Power yoga has more of a cardio element. When you finish doing it everybody feels completely worked out – it works with every part of the body. At the end you are able to completely relax. The process pushes you to the edge of your limits.”
Manchester-born Niki, 38, began Sidlesham classes in nearby Southend Barns four years ago. Among her pupils is Oscar-winning Hollywood star Kate Winslet – now a close friend and godmother to Niki’s two-year-old daughter Roxy. The pair regularly walk their golden retriever puppies around the Chichester peninsula, while Roxy and Kate’s son Bear attend nursery together. Kate even invited Niki and her lawyer husband Tim to the premiere of her latest film Steve Jobs, and to accompany her to the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony earlier this year. “It was extraordinary,” says Niki. “I never thought I would ever get to go, let alone walk along the red carpet. It was a surreal experience to see Kate in action, doing what she does so well.”
Niki’s home is a world away from the glitz and bling of Hollywood. The overall feeling is one of calm, with family at the centre. The walls are covered in photos of Niki, 48-year-old Tim, and their daughters Roxy, Isabella, six, and Phoebe, nine. The courtyard has a well-used netball hoop. By the kitchen entrance is an oversized ruler with heights marked along it in pencil. A glimpse into Niki’s three girls’ playroom reveals an explosion of toys and pink.
For Niki there are two rooms which are central to the family. The kitchen is dominated by the gas-fired Aga, which Niki uses to create nutritious snacks both for her family and her classes – including on the day Sussex Life visits a deliciously moist Banana Bounty Bar. But the orangery is the family’s main space – and on a bright April afternoon it is clear why. The windows overlook the courtyard, garden and swimming pool, giving a view of everything outside – including the antics of the family’s latest addition, five-month-old golden retriever Jester. “We live in the orangery,” says Niki. “It’s a really special room – we can see the girls all around the house, there’s a big table where they can play and sew. And the fridge isn’t too far away!”
The reading room in the older part of the house is similarly light and airy, but is designed for music practice, board games and reading – with no space for a television. And there is a large inglenook fireplace in the front room which must be perfect to snuggle around in winter. Niki admits it is the outdoors which holds the biggest attraction though. “We built a barbecue and eat outside at least four nights a week in the summer.” Another element is the 60-year-old swimming pool, which the family has converted from oil heating to an air source heat pump. The pool had previously been used to teach generations of youngsters at Sidlesham Primary School. “We do feel it’s there for everyone to use,” says Niki. “When I finish teaching on a Friday anyone who wants to stay on and swim is welcome. The people I teach are friends, or soon become friends.”
It was the outdoor space which first attracted Tim and Niki to move from London five years ago. “Tim grew up in Sussex,” says Niki, who had lived in the capital for 15 years. “His parents live in Dell Quay. When I met him 20 years ago he said we would have to live down here. Tim is a massive windsurfer – he loves the beach and being by the sea.”
The pair found the house after a packed weekend of 18 viewings. “This was the last place we saw. It was over our budget, and the owner said to us it wasn’t for everyone. When you buy an old house, which is also Grade II listed, it can be costly. It is such a responsibility. The maintenance has taken us by surprise. We have done a loft conversion and built a pool house as well as making the yoga studio, but we have had to do a lot of other boring stuff that you would never tell.”
She hasn’t regretted the move to Sussex though. “Being from Manchester I lived under a cloud,” she laughs. “Moving to Sussex was a complete joy – it’s amazing to see blue sky. Chichester and the sea aren’t far away, it’s 10 minutes to school.” For Tim the house is also a bolthole from the stress of being founding partner at London firm Spring Law. “The moment he goes through the gate he takes a deep breath and says how lovely it is to be home.”
It was being in Sidlesham which inspired Niki to become a full-time yoga teacher. She discovered power yoga while working as a marketing director for Tag Heuer, after attending a one-off class in Hammersmith. She went to a residential class with founder Baron Baptiste in Hawaii just after she had taken on a new role as managing director for professional golfer Ian Poulter’s IJP Design clothing range. Baron encouraged her to start teaching. She launched her first London classes as a hobby after work. She continued to teach in London even after moving to Sidlesham – but one day decided with the pressure of work and family pulling her in different directions something had to change. “I had all these friends saying: ‘Please teach a yoga class down here’,” she says. “I started a yoga class on a Monday morning as a bit of fun and 25 people turned up. It gave me confidence to do more. I handed in my notice at IJP and concentrated on yoga.”
Niki is still a board director with the company, and caring for young Roxy takes up much of her time. But with the two-year-old at nursery, and her own studio up and running, Niki is focusing on her teaching once more. She wants to set up her own British Yoga Project offering free classes to those who need them, inspired by the Africa Yoga Project she supports. Founded in Kenya by New Yorker Paige Elenson, the Africa Yoga Project funds 300 teachers who teach free classes to 6,000 people from across tribal divides. “There has never been such a powerful case study of how yoga changes your life for the better,” she says. “Crime has gone down, because yoga almost instantly makes you feel calmer. You open up, and when you are fully open to everything you can then be your true self. I couldn’t have done my previous two jobs without yoga. I believe I’m a far better mother for doing yoga.”
For now she teaches yoga during term time at home and in Southend Barns in Wophams Lane, Donnington, augmenting the full-time yoga studios LONA in Market Avenue, Chichester and The Boxgrove in The Street, Boxgrove.
Her approach is holistic – her website blog offers tips on recipes to help boost the exercise’s effects. “The obesity crisis is real,” says Niki, who is also working with natural supplement company Wild Nutrition. “We need to go to the real root of the problem and prevent it from happening in the first place. I want to inspire as many people as possible and create new teachers to set up more classes. Obesity is the biggest issue in our society – taking care of what you are eating is so crucial. Little changes can make a difference.”
For more information about Niki and her classes visit nikiperryyoga.com