Why Norwich and Sheringham were named among best places to live in UK
PUBLISHED: 19:18 23 March 2020 | UPDATED: 19:18 23 March 2020
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It is known as Norfolk’s fine city, and now Norwich has been named the best place to live in the east according to The Sunday Times best places to live guide.
It was the only other place in Nelson’s county to make the final list as the regional winner, joining Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast, while just across the border Ely, in Cambridgeshire, also made the cut.
Norwich was top of a list of 10 locations - and 101 across the UK - chosen by The Sunday Times to represent the best of Britain in the annual guide.
Judges travelled thousands of miles around the UK, visiting locations and talking to locals, looking at criteria including improving towns, villages or city centres, attractive, well-designed homes, and locations with strong community spirit.
Other factors were assessed including schools, transport and broadband speed to culture, green spaces and the health of the high street.
Judges of The Sunday Times list said of Norwich: “All too often dismissed as a backwater, this quirky, historic little city is actually well ahead of the game.
“Norwich is young (with an average age of under 34), prides itself on being dementia-friendly and has an impressive green record.
“[It] has shown the rest of the country how to build houses, with the Goldsmith Street development winning the prestigious Stirling architecture prize last year.
“There’s also a creative edge here: Norwich is a Unesco City of Literature with six theatres, gigs and comedy everywhere, and an arts festival.”
The judges also praised its “winning blend of history and modernity”, outdoor market and vast food choices.
The best address was listed as the Golden Triangle, southwest from the centre, with its beautiful Victorian and Georgian homes.
Anna Burnard, 32, head concierge of a boutique hotel, who lives in a Victorian flat in the area, said: “It’s hard not to have fun here.
“There’s always something going on. It’s full of foodies, artists and boozers - there’s a really nice bar and pub scene. There are lots of students, too, which always adds energy. I’ve moved away and I’ve lived abroad, but I always end up coming back.”
Tom Gaskin, who runs the charity cafe and community project Kindakafe, said: “We do have a problem with loneliness, but we’re one of the best places at dealing with it, thanks to groups like the Goodgym - runners in red shirts who combine exercise with good deeds.”
Leader of Norwich City Council, Alan Waters said: “We need all the good news we can get at the moment, so it’s wonderful to hear that Norwich has been named one of the Sunday Times’ best places to live.
“There is a special mention of all the wonderful businesses and restaurants in our city, which are facing a challenging time and we’ll do our utmost to support them.
“Also highlighted is the incredible community spirit, kindness, and creativity of our city – qualities which put us in a strong position to recover from this crisis and return once again to the thriving, bustling city that we all know and love.”
Sheringham was praised as being “jolly”, mainly due to its host of annual events including the Viking Festival, carnival, Potty Morris and Folk Festival.
“This is our sweet spot on the Norfolk coast,” judges said. “You’ll still get to see the seals in Blakeney and lose yourself on Holkham’s wild sands, but you’ll come home to a house you can afford and a community that’s fun and friendly all year round, and bursting with justified local pride.”
Local photographer and a member of the town’s lifeboat crew Chris Taylor said the best time was the “magical couple of weeks in August” when the sea turns from muddy brown to azure blue.
“The sediment drops out and it becomes like the Caribbean.”
Judges were also fascinated by Sheringham’s history, Blue Flag beaches, Ronaldo’s ice cream, Beeston Bump and the National Trust’s “lovely” Sheringham Park. While in the high street, the praise continued with the numerous places to eat and drink as well as Sheringham’s “arty side” with galleries and nautical murals along the seafront by the artist Colin Seal.
And finally, there were compliments for local education, excellent but chilly air quality, and its best addresses - the detached houses behind the station, on streets such as Abbey Road, Norfolk Road or Hooks Hill Road, as well as the attractive Victorian houses around Morris Street, behind the beach.
The need for a new leisure centre and better broadband were the main negatives brought up.
Altrincham, in Cheshire, was crowned the overall UK winner.
What the judges said about...
All too often dismissed as a backwater, this quirky, historic little city is actually well ahead of the game. Norwich is young (with an average age of under 34), prides itself on being dementia-friendly and has an impressive green record. Carbon emissions have fallen by 45% since 2008, cycling is up 40% since 2013, and the proportion of people who walk to work is more than double the national average.
Norwich has shown the rest of the country how to build houses, with the Goldsmith Street development winning the prestigious Stirling architecture prize last year. A collection of 105 beautifully designed, environmentally friendly council homes, it’s a more effective solution to the housing crisis than the luxury flats and execu-home cul-de-sacs favoured by less enlightened housebuilders.
There’s also a creative edge here: Norwich is a Unesco City of Literature with six theatres, gigs and comedy everywhere, and an arts festival every May, with the trumpeter Alison Balsom, the tenor Ian Bostridge and the author Robert Macfarlane among the guests this year. If you don’t want to dip into your pocket, no problem: there are free events at the festival, the city’s Head out Not Home Campaign offers free summer outdoor entertainment and you might find a hidden delight such as the free monthly storytelling club run by Sarah Walker, a local historian, in the 12th-century undercroft of Jurnet’s Bar.
The city is a winning blend of history and modernity, with the colourful outdoor market at the heart of things, selling fresh fish, fruit and veg as it has done for nearly 1,000 years. You’ll also find hippie and pet paraphernalia, comics and a wide range of food stalls. The surrounding streets are the perfect combination of big names, a grand old department store, Jarrold’s, and arty-crafty, funky one-offs: only 40% of the shops here are chains. Most of the independents are in the Lanes (like Brighton’s, just classier), including everything from the Book Hive, one of the best bookshops in Britain, to stores selling houseplants, homewares, pottery and film memorabilia.
Vegans will relish the forward-looking food scene: their first port of call should be the Tipsy Vegan, for cocktails and a beet burger (£11.50). Meat and dairy dodgers are also well served by the city’s high-end restaurants, including Benedicts (three courses £39) and the laid-back Farmyard (two-course lunch £16). If you’re just after a drink, choose between the 30-plus real ales on offer at the Fat Cat (perennial Good Beer Guide pub of the year), the coffee-based cocktails at Alchemista (£8 for a Hex espresso martini) and the friendly atmosphere, comedy, quizzes and life drawing sessions (really) at the Birdcage bar.
Check out the Secret Norwich Facebook group for more fascinating facts. The perfect flint wall on the Bridewell is a place of pilgrimage for architecture students from all over the world, but many locals don’t realise just how rich the city’s history is.
Why we love
it Everything you want from a city, and all within walking distance.
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The long-running Norwich in Ninety campaign has finally borne some fruit: two trains a day each way now cover the 100 miles between the city and London Liverpool Street in 90min. The rest still take two hours. Other rail routes will take you to the coast at Cromer in 45min, Stansted airport in a leisurely two hours and Manchester in about 4hr 30min. Feet are all the transport you need within the city, although you might prefer to cycle (20min) or take a bus (25min) if you’re heading from the centre to the University of East Anglia. By car, it’s 1hr 20min to Cambridge, 2hr 30min to London and 45min to Cromer. There’s a wide choice of holiday flights from the city’s airport. Closer to home, you can explore the Broads from the city centre by boat, kayak or paddleboard. Broadband coverage here is exceptional: only about 100 homes in the area lack a superfast option, and the mixture of G.fast and cable broadband means 90% of properties have access to speeds of 100 Mbps or faster.
Top of the class: a dozen of the city’s primaries are rated outstanding by Ofsted, as are two secondaries, Notre Dame (last inspected in 2011), and Thorpe St Andrew (2014). The Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form college is the sixth best in the country, according to The Sunday Times Parent Power guide, which also mentions the independent Town Close and Notre Dame prep schools, and the private secondaries Norwich School and Norwich High School for Girls GDST. Adult courses in everything from arts and crafts and sign language to English and maths are available at the council-run Wensum Lodge.
As in most cities, the centre is an Air Quality Management Area, with Castle Meadow and St Augustine’s Street the roads where you’ll most want to hold your breath.
The Golden Triangle, which spreads southwest from the centre, has beautiful Victorian homes for every taste and budget, with a bit of Georgian thrown in for good measure. On Clarendon Road or Trory Street, the best four- or five-bedroom houses go for about £900,000, with attractive three-bedroom terraces selling for £300,000-£400,000. For something cheaper, look to the east of the city. Purpose-built flats near the centre cost about £200,000, while a detached family property in Thorpe St Andrew, near the Broads and Whitlingham Country Park, will set you back £400,000-£600,000.
The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital has a serious problem with underfunding. For four straight months over the winter, its A&E department was the worst-performing in the country for patient delays.
So much jollier than the shabby resorts to the east, and so much more sensible than the expensive holiday-home ghettos to the west, this is our sweet spot on the Norfolk coast. You’ll still get to see the seals in Blakeney and lose yourself on Holkham’s wild sands, but you’ll come home to a house you can afford and a community that’s fun and friendly all year round, and bursting with justified local pride.
There’s a joyful disregard for health and safety on display in Sheringham’s showpiece occasions. The Viking festival in February concludes in incendiary style with the burning of a longship, and the twin highlights of the annual summer carnival are a rickety raft race and a death-defying dash through the streets on homemade buggies. There are more dangers to life and limb from the Morris dancing at the Potty Morris and Folk Festival, which in 2018 set a world record for the number of participants. No gathering here is complete without a song from the Sheringham Shantymen, whose nautical numbers are a reminder that life here revolves around the water. Sheringham crabs may be lacking in alliteration, but they’re every bit as tasty as Cromer’s, surfers can ride some of the best waves on the east coast, and it’s a rare day when nobody’s having a dip — hundreds take to the water in fancy dress on New Year’s Day to raise money for the RNLI.
There’s older wildlife here, too. A two-million-year-old mammoth bone was found in January, and a “deep history coast” app and trail will help you explore the fossil-filled cliffs. Alternatively, you could just enjoy the Blue Flag beaches below the mighty sea wall in the usual way, with a dog walk and a cone of Ronaldo’s ice cream from Ellie’s (the 80 flavours include 20 vegan ones), or a warm pasty (£4) from Trendie’s Beach Cafe. Alternatively, get a grandstand view of the countryside by extending the walk to Beeston Bump or the National Trust’s lovely Sheringham Park.
In the town centre, you’ll find other decent places to eat and drink: Fat Teds Streat Food for dirty nachos, the smart Sitting Room cafe and the Grey Seal, where an excellent flat white costs £2.60 (add 25p for oat milk). There’s also plenty of evidence of Sheringham’s arty side in the art galleries and nautical murals by the artist Colin Seal. Art and food come together in fine style at a proper Sheringham institution: Whelk Coppers, a wonderful cafe and tearoom that offers the magical combination of striking sea views, treats for the dog, brilliant brunches (sourdough French toast £6.85) and ornate metal gates believed to have been designed by Walt Disney, who was allegedly a friend of the original owner.
Why we love it
Fossils, fun and reef encounters.
It’s a 50min drive to Norwich and just over an hour to King’s Lynn. If you’re after fancier fare, the delis, antiques shops and nick-nackeries of Holt are 20min away — or head there in style on a Poppy Line steam train (day ticket £14). There are hourly trains from Sheringham station to Norwich (from 52min).
A handful of properties have no superfast coverage and there are the usual problems caused by distance, particularly for rural homes south of the A148.
Sheringham Community Primary and Sheringham Community High are both rated good by Ofsted. Gresham’s School, an independent in Holt, is listed in The Sunday Times Parent Power guide.
Excellent (but chilly when the north wind blows).
Detached houses behind the station, on streets such as Abbey Road, Norfolk Road or Hooks Hill Road, fetch the highest prices: £620,000-£800,000. Budget £400,000 to buy into the grid of attractive Victorian houses around Morris Street, behind the beach. If you’re lucky enough to find one, a traditional flint cottage will cost £300,000 for three bedrooms.
The town needs a new leisure centre. One is due to open, but not until next summer.
■ To read about all of the winners across the UK, visit www.thetimes.co.uk/article/best-places-to-live-sunday-times-3qkwjnvrm