Posted by: Admin | July 7, 2012

The Saturday Interview 24 – Jo

Remember this? 

This image, from a previous blog post, was taken on the Cumbrian leg of my shooting tour. It was taken by today’s interviewee, Jo, after I had snapped her endlessly in the bright sunshine, and my envy finally got the better of me!

Jo’s images featured on the photo blog yesterday. Are you ready for some more inspiration on living life to the full over 50? Then read on…

From the moment I arrive at Jo and Georgina’s farmhouse in the North Cumbrian hills I am enveloped by warmth – good food, good conversation and the belief that I have found two good friends. Jo has been experimenting with different foods in the smoker (more of which below) and I am  urged to try smoked trout, smoked aubergine (both delicious) and smoked chocolate (jury still out on that one).

Jo contacted me when I sent out a request for participants on the photography blog and the candid comment she posted struck a chord with me:

“I think your project looks fantastic. Age is to be celebrated. I am sure that I am not the only person who inside still feels 18 years old and 8 stone!”

Perhaps that lightness of spirit comes from the lifestyle she has chosen, I suggest, for a little bit of preliminary research before I arrive has shown me that Jo and Georgina are the “go to” experts in the media for all things down-shifting.

Stepping Off

During the summer months the Farmhouse acts as a venue for courses for those who want to do as Jo and Georgina have done – step off the treadmill and make dreams of a more individual lifestyle become reality.

“Coming here gives people the time and head space to really think about what they want to do with their lives: to evaluate their goals and desires.”

The courses don’t always lead to people throwing in the day job and down shifting. Those who feel they hate their lives often go away feeling more in control as they’ve devised an exit strategy and see their current occupation as a means to an end. As Jo puts it:

“It makes the daily grind not just bearable, but something they actively want to do.”

Some realise they actually like the lifestyle their work brings them and decide to stick at after all. All go away happier and with a clearer idea of what they want out of life.

Walking the talk

I am intrigued about the path taken by the pair that led them to devise the course. It transpires that both of them had fast track careers in the police service. Moving swiftly through the ranks, they became cash rich and time poor. Jo’s sister, father and brother all died within a space of three years, which helped to trigger a re-evaluation of what was important to her.

“There was no time to spend the money we earned,” Jo tells me, “and I gradually began to feel this tremendous guilt at the amount I was paid.”

They went on holiday, hiring a narrowboat and cruising along the waterways. The phone never stopped ringing and the backlog of work awaiting her when she returned to her desk made Jo vow never to take another holiday. Then Georgina phoned with a proposition that was to turn their world upside down.

“We’d seen a smokehouse in Cumbria and George discovered it had been put up for sale. We made a snap decision to make the ultimate impulse buy.” Walking away from the careers they had spent years building can’t have been a simple matter, but they went on to build up the business until they were supplying Fortnum and Mason and smoking privately for the Prince of Wales. They sold that business and set up Stepping off and Smoky Jo’s.

“We aim to earn just enough now for what we need, but not to want for anything,” Jo explains. They have made a conscious decision to want what they have rather than have what they want, though it seems clear that they want for very little now that they have reassessed their priorities.

Smoky Jo’s

They run smoking courses in the summer months and as Jo shows me round her assortment of home-made smokers it is clear that she is passionate about what she does.

Home made smokers at Smoky Jo’s

Both are heavily involved in their local community, act as business mentors and Jo has for many years acted as a School Governor. “We love our work in the summer months,” she tells me, “and in the winter we aim to just be.”

Georgina plays the violin, they bake bread, write, tend to the chickens and cats and Jo loves to drive, both her soft top jeep and her quad bike. She might feel 18 inside, but I would say that she’s a pretty good advocate for age being “just a number”. I had a blast on this shoot and I hope it won’t be too long before I can make a return visit!

If you’d like to find out more about Stepping Off or Smoky Jo’s (Gift Certificates make great presents for the cooks in your life!) click on the links to be taken through to the respective websites. The books are also available online – they make for intriguing reading.



  1. Jo – This is fab. Thank you so much. I love what you are doing. Apart form anything else you are making us all think about where we are in life and what we are doing – but also to look back and celebrate where we have come from. I love it!

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