In this era of fake news, very few headlines have the ability to surprise any more. But when I saw this story about Newbury being the 6th happiest place in GB to live, I would have spat out my cornflakes, had I been eating them.
I have lived in Newbury for the past fifteen years, punctuated by a two-year long break where I moved to London and I truly don’t get the impression that people are very happy here. The 6th happiest place in Great Britain? It’s not even the 6th happiest place in Berkshire!
Have a walk down Northbrook Street and count the happy faces. Try striking up a conversation with someone! I bought some shoes from a shop this morning and the assistant conducted almost the whole transaction without speaking to me, ignoring my cheery “hi” and only finally bothering to address me when grunting something about a 5p carrier bag.
Friends who come to stay with us frequently comment on how Newburians are an unfriendly bunch. One friend couldn’t get into our driveway because a neighbour had parked across the access. “Any chance you could just move it for a minute please?” was answered with an expletive, rather than an apology.
I have travelled to a number of places around the UK just this week and can tell you that the people I met in Cornwall, Bristol, Liverpool and Rugby – to name a few, are much happier. Newbury has a relatively transient population, brought in by big employers and perhaps the fact that it’s located near to the intersection of the A34 and the M4, giving a real sense of people just passing through. It’s also fairly wealthy with higher than average house prices, leading to a huge disparity between the rich and poor. This is never good for average happiness or social cohesion.
I’d be delighted to hear that I’m wrong about this. And to be fair, there are some great things here; eg the lido, the Corn Exchange, the canal, the fairly buoyant economy. But I honestly can’t see any joy on people’s faces in the way that you can in some communities – Leigh-on Sea and Christchurch being in the top five makes perfect sense.
Perhaps Newbury is the 6th happiest and the whole UK is chronically depressed. Perhaps it’s me. But next time there’s a survey about the happiest place in the UK, I’m definitely going to take part! What do you think?