Special Report on Company Relocation: Happiness is shaking off congestion: Changing workplace affects people as well as business. Martin Whitfield examines how one family coped with their move

'I THOUGHT it was horrific. I believed we had come to the sticks when we came here,' says Maggie Whiteley about her adopted home of Milton Keynes.

In 1986, Mrs Whiteley did not share her husband Don's enthusiasm for the new city when he was moved by British Telecom. She had to leave a job she enjoyed and a suburban home in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, where the family had lived happily for 18 years.

But now Mrs Whiteley, 58, has also become a Milton Keynes enthusiast using its cycle paths to do her shopping and relishing the space of her four-bedroom house and garden.

'Wild horses would not get us back to London. We like to go to the theatre and for a meal afterwards, but that's it,' said Mr Whiteley.

Relocation for a family is about the most difficult process it can go through, apart from death and divorce. It affects all the members in differing ways.

Mr Whiteley, 57, like most employees moved by their firms, admits to having the easiest time. He moved with his colleagues and so kept up one of his closest social groupings. His 50-minute commuting journey became a leisurely drive of about 15 minutes.

An initial visit to Milton Keynes with the company sold him on the city: he liked the open space, no congestion and the modern feeling. He lived in a flat in the city for more than a year before the final break so had got to know the place before the family arrived.

Squash and badminton partners were easy to find and the lifestyle lived up to the expectations of the first coach tour.

For the rest of the family, the picture was fairly hostile. Mrs Whiteley had to give up a job as a researcher with British Gas in Potters Bar. An attempt to transfer to Luton lasted six months after endless traffic jams on the M1.

She also found it difficult to make new friends or social contacts. The couple's eldest daughter, Sally, 25, had left college and Penny, 22, had just finished school. It meant that Mrs Whiteley did not have the easy social entry mechanism for new arrivals: young children.

'I can understand people having mental problems if they are not prepared to go out and meet others. You do not see a lot of people walking about here,' she said.

Coming from London, where Mr Whiteley's colleagues lived far apart, there was not a social grouping among partners of the staff as there would have been likely if the the move had been from a small town.

A keen tennis player, Mrs Whiteley eventually found a way of making independent contacts by joining the Stony Stratford tennis club but it was not without its own problems: 'A lot of people did not realise how tough it was for the newcomers.

'I went up there one evening and though 'right, this is it', but a haughty woman told me: 'You have to make up your own fours'. How can you make up your own fours if you don't know anyone.'

The Whiteley girls also found life difficult and had no desire whatsoever to move out of London which, for them, was just beginning to show its appeal.

Sally initially solved the problem by going back to stay with her boyfriend's family at Finchley every weekend. It was not until the relationship broke up and she started work in Milton Keynes that the link with London was severed. With her own flat in Stony Stratford, Sally is also now settled in Milton Keynes.

The family delayed its move out of London so that Penny could complete her GCSE examinations in Potters Bar. After a year at the local college, Penny is still living at home and working at Cranfield.

Mr Whiteley has since left BT but is still in Milton Keynes working for the Telecommunications Vocational Standards Council, an off-shoot from BT. He does not want to move again: 'The quality of life is better here. I went to Bolton the other day, driving around little streets, full of double yellow lines. In Milton Keynes there is a feeling of space.'

(Photograph omitted)

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