Ribble Valley officially named UK's happiest place!
The Guardian 23 October 2019
Just north of the former mill towns of south Lancashire, this green and pleasant part of the north-west – which includes the vast and unspoilt Forest of Bowland – is officially the happiest place in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. On a scale of 0 to 10, Ribble Valley residents scored an average of 8.30 when asked by government surveyors about how happy they felt. This compared with an average of 7.56 for the country at large.
“It’s not surprising. People here derive a great pleasure from living their lives, as opposed to gathering material possessions. They might have bit of money and a nice house, but they’re not on a city centre treadmill,” said Gledhill, who moved to the tiny parish of Bashall Eaves five years ago with his wife, Fran, to run the Red Pump.
The quiet lanes of the Ribble Valley – with the old market town of Clitheroe at its heart - may seem far from city stresses, but here a rural life for city workers is within easy reach. Manchester is only a short train ride away, while the west coast mainline and motorway networks snake around the Trough of Bowland to bring in piles of visitors, supporting an economy shifting away from agriculture to tourism.
Once best known for its small Norman castle and countryside surrounds, Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley has developed a reputation as a gastronomic hotspot in recent years, with a cluster of award-winning inns. It attracts clientele from across the north and further afield, and won welcome exposure when Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visited the Inn at Whitewell for their TV series The Trip.
“People don’t realise how accessible it is,” said Steven Smith, the chef-proprietor of the award-winning Freemasons at Wiswell, who frequently visits London on business via a two-hour train ride from Preston.
“My customers work in Manchester, London and so forth. Here you can get that little step out and that ‘breathe’ factor. Its beautiful, but not a million miles from anywhere,” he said.
The former head of the Professional Footballers Association Gordon Taylor, who plied his trade as a winger at nearby Bolton Wanderers, lives in the quiet village. Smith said executives from firms across the north-west called the area home – including those from BAE Systems, one of the biggest employers in the county, with several factories near Preston.
Earnings are above average, and people are more likely to be homeowners. Ribble Valley has among the top rates of owner occupation in Lancashire, ranking well ahead of towns such as Blackburn, Burnley and Preston.
Young people, however, can find it hard to get on the housing ladder, while cuts to the public bus services have made life harder for those without transport. Residents number about 60,000, and are widely dispersed and rapidly ageing. About a quarter of the population are over 65, above the national average of about 18%, in an area popular with retirees from across the country.
But Rachel McQueen, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, said: “It’s a place where families enjoy a great work-life balance, an active outdoor life in commutable distance to work, good schools and some of the country’s finest universities, so we’re not surprised that residents of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley are amongst the happiest in the UK.”
Against a backdrop of immense political stress and uncertainty, Britain as a whole has got steadily happier in the six years since the government’s statisticians began to assess the wellbeing of the nation, but the north-west has recorded the largest improvement.
The surveys show that money and power aren’t everything. London boroughs, such as Islington and Camden, are on paper among the most prosperous places in the country, with wages well above average. But their residents are consistently less happy than the national average.
Allan Knox, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on the Tory-controlled Ribble Valley borough council, said: “We are a fairly prosperous borough, there’s no doubt about that. That prosperity can bring the ability to ride out some of the economic challenges that might be a bit more detrimental to other areas.”
But he said he would have given a gloomier answer than most of his neighbours if the ONS surveyors had questioned him yesterday. He waited in for post that never came, says rain falls more frequently on the west of the Pennines, and his dog hasn’t been well.
Still, the area is a “hidden gem”, Knox said.