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Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
The winner of the World’s Best Teacher prize teaches art; in a BBC interview she emphasised the importance of the creative subjects, from drama to sport, ‘it helps children to build their own characters, and encourages disadvantaged pupils to believe in themselves’.
Creativity extends across all aspects of our lives, from technology to fashion and furniture design, film production, music, drawing and painting, writing, as well as architecture and garden design, and even food. There must be a broader recognition of the values associated with the creative sector, ensuring it is not sacrificed to schools’ financial restraints, and councils’ cuts.
The Sunday Times recently published “Best Places to Live”. Extensively researched, it notes Culture is one of the factors attracting people, alongside access to parks and countryside, good schools, sports facilities and clubs, with independent shops bringing vibrancy at a time when retail is in decline. Restaurants and pubs were a major factor, adding to the quality of social interaction, as well as good transport links, a strong community spirit – and fast broadband/mobile connections.
With broadband speeds of 1,000 megabits a second, the overall winner, York, won plaudits as the UK’s first ‘gigabit city’, plus its fine architecture, outstanding schools, food and cultural offer. Major investment enabled revamping the Art Gallery and Jorvik Viking Centre, as well as refurbishing the Theatre Royal, developing a range of festivals and the biennial York Mediale to celebrate the arts. Whilst the universities offer free open lectures, despite retail’s current turmoils, the £90m Vangarde Shopping Park, with John Lewis as the star attraction, is thriving.
Elsewhere, Chelmsford in Essex and Altrincham in Cheshire won their regional contests, attracting significant investment to transform run-down areas, and aspirational families drawn by high educational standards and reasonable house prices, as well as good transport links.
Just a 30 minute metro ride from Newcastle, Tynemouth in Northumberland also has outstanding educational facilities within easy reach, as well as wonderful beaches, fine architecture and a thriving café culture. Frome in Somerset is an artisan hub, with a monthly independent market drawing hundreds of visitors to enjoy its design and craft stalls as well as its annual arts festival and two theatres. The vast range of foodie outlets, bars and cafes are especially popular and the strong community spirit creates a safe place for people of all ages, including families.
London’s Bermondsey claimed a place amongst the winners, with three outstanding primaries and two outstanding secondaries; plans to be ‘part of a build-to-rent revolution’ by the Duke of Westminster, building 1500 rental homes on the site of a former biscuit factory, can only add to its growing popularity.
Cosmopolitan Mumbles near Swansea has seen multi-million pound investments in the last decade, upgrading the Pier, developing high end shops and restaurants, and plans for £1 billion tidal lagoon. Sports clubs and beaches add to the vibe, drawing ambitious families to snap up former fishermen’s cottages, as well as famous actors returning to their roots.
Just an hour from Edinburgh via a new trainline, Melrose on the Scottish Borders is famed for its literary festival, local shops and restaurants. Popular with tourists, it also has good schools, including being within the catchment for Earlston High, one of the best State secondaries, with a leading role for drama. Social life is enhanced by sport, and various annual events, including a ball at the rugby club.
Over in Northern Ireland, Ballyhackamore, Belfast, offers a quality of life which ‘goes way beyond eating, drinking and exam results’. Family-friendly, it will enjoy a new rapid transit system, speeding commuters into the city centre from September.
For the cynics, ‘Best Places to Live’ is a celebration of the middle classes, and how they influence change, but it is also a celebration of their willingness to take risks by moving to run-down, affordable locations, pioneering their ‘gentrification’, creating businesses and driving public investment – not least in improving transport links. Most importantly, it is a celebration of the very best in education, which fosters that ambition. Sadly, this is what is lacking in too many former industrial areas, where the leadership’s failures mean talented residents take their ambitions elsewhere. Hull is an example of how retaining that talent and commitment can be transformational, following its successful year as ‘capital of culture’.
Importantly, ‘Best Places to Live’ is not about the most expensive properties, with prices in some of the best locations certainly affordable. Instead, it is an indication of how the public and private sectors can work together to deliver what people want: a safe place with the best schools, well maintained public spaces, sports facilities and transport links making locations desirable which, in turn, encourages inward investment. It proves the value of fostering a strong independent spirit, with people from all walks of life working together to the benefit of the wider community: organising events, campaigning to raise funds for local causes, and helping neighbours.
Crucially, it notes that retirees are a growing band as our population ages, and are crucial to community wellbeing; they don’t want to be isolated, but prefer buzzy locations, with good shops, culture and restaurants/pubs. They also contribute to society, and the local economy, through volunteering in parks and libraries, as well as charity shops and help centres. They run clubs, and frequently also serve as councillors, bringing a vast range of experience and expertise.
‘Best Places to Live’ sets a high bar – local authorities should take note!