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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Happiness is a city called Carlisle

Happy isn’t the first word that springs to mind when I think of my hometown. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s the last word either.

But in a word-association test, when the person with the clipboard says ‘Carlisle’, before saying ‘happy’ I will probably reply ‘rain’, ‘Botchergate’ and ‘Carlisle United nil’.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see the result of a survey by property website Rightmove, which named the Border City as the happiest place to live in the country.

The 25,000 respondents across the UK, 100 from Carlisle, were asked about their level of contentment with everything from the size and decor of their homes to safety, the friendliness of neighbours and the quality of amenities.

The survey shows a clear north-south divide. And the north is winning. The happiest five places are Carlisle, York, Huddersfield, Harrogate and Chester.

And nine of the most miserable 10 are in or around London.

Doesn’t that make your northern, wind-chapped bosom swell with pride?

Of the 12 criteria used to measure happiness, the north outscores the south on everything except recreation and amenities.

To which the appropriate northern response is: “Bloody typical – they get everything down there.”

We need only look at the billions recently spent on the Olympics and on London’s transport system to see the north-south divide in terms of spending.

And yet Londoners are the least happy people in the country.

Maybe money doesn’t buy happiness. And what Carlisle lacks in dosh, it makes up for with... what, exactly?

I’ve always been intrigued by what people from outside the area think of Carlisle.

On my first day at university in Newcastle I told a fellow student where I was from. He said: “Oh, Carlisle’s got a really good shopping centre.”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud. I was looking at the Tyne Bridge but in my mind’s eye all I could see was a pair of bronze otters.

His comment about The Lanes made a pleasant change from comments like: “Carlisle? Is that in Scotland?” or “You don’t sound Welsh.”

Annoying though these are, I think they give a clue to one reason for Carlisle’s happiness.

We’re out on a limb, and we like it this way.

I’ve always felt a sense of living in the wilds, on a frontier. Which doesn’t quite ring true when I’m sitting in bed with a mug of herbal tea watching Countdown.

John and Liz Bird live in Morton. They moved to Carlisle 14 years ago, having lived in several parts of the UK.

“One of the things we both like is the size,” says Liz. “Technically it’s a city but it is very small. You can be out in the country just by walking to the top of the road.

“The small size takes some getting used to. I thought I was going bonkers when I first came here. I’d be walking through town and I’d think ‘I saw that person a few minutes ago.’ Then you realise, that’s what Carlisle is like.”

For Liz, who grew up in Sheffield, Carlisle has a kind of Goldilocks factor. It’s not too big, and it’s not too small.

“I’ve lived in a village and that can feel intrusive, whereas nobody here is interested if I pop into town. But neighbours are very important. We’ve lived in Morton for 10 years and everybody looks out for everybody else.”

Liz also thinks the weather in Carlisle is pretty good considering how far north it is, with the Solway Firth protecting the city from most extremes.

She’s looking forward to the western bypass easing traffic through the city centre.

John grew up on Teesside. He is settled happily in Carlisle but says it took him a while to understand the place.

“Carlisle is somewhere with lots of different influences. It’s a garrison town so there’s a military influence. Farming is a big thing. It’s a border town. All sorts of things make it what it is.

“When I first moved here I couldn’t work out what makes it tick. I’d see people arguing in the street and I’d think ‘Crikey – watch out!’ I was worried they were going to start on me.

“Then I worked out that it was petty family things, people settling arguments in public.”

He has found most people much more friendly.

“People are just so helpful. I lost my watch on the bus and it was handed in and returned to me.

“I think places grow too big if they’re not careful. They become impersonal. That’s certainly true of Middlesbrough, which used to be no bigger than Carlisle.

“Carlisle is a hard place to fit into, but well worth it.”

It’s telling that the Rightmove survey asked people about their homes.

Despite my own lack of DIY prowess, I’ve always sensed that Carlisle folk are houseproud.

As a child in the 1970s I used to see elderly women in Currock scrubbing their front steps.

I’m not sure if that still happens. But the survey says people in Carlisle are the most likely in the country to spend money on non-essential home improvements.

As the owner of residential lettings company The Bulman Partnership, Judith Bulman has found accommodation in Carlisle for hundreds of people.

“People do appear to like Carlisle,” she says. “I’ve never found it difficult to let property here. I rent out to a range of people, from students to hospital doctors.

“I like Carlisle very much. I’m from Appleby but I’ve lived in Carlisle for 27 years. It is more a village than a city. Kick one person and the rest of the city limps.

“People are friendly. They will say hello to you. I think Cumbria as a whole is friendlier than a lot of places. You go into shops and everyone’s so helpful.”

This backs up the north-south happiness divide, of which Judith says: “It doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t think we have the same ups and downs here as the south. They suffer more from the recession.

“And property is so expensive there.

“To rent a good flat in London would probably cost £500 a week, never mind £500 a month which it is here.”

As well as the city itself, its position in the bigger picture is hard to beat.

Twenty miles from the Lake District, 10 miles from Scotland, five miles from the sea. Less than an hour and a half to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. On the M6 and the West Coast Mainline.

The place has improved a lot since I was growing up. The shops are better, the university makes it more cosmopolitan.

So with so many reasons to be cheerful about Carlisle, why was it such a surprise to see the Border City at the top of the happiness table?

Have your say

im from carlisle and im happy now.. i live in sydney.

Posted by leatherman on 21 February 2012 at 12:00

Yes, it has been a bit of a facebook frenzy. Facebook seems to have created a new army of keyboard warriors. Such people used to bore only their fellow uninteresting friends in their local pub, now they inflict us all with their malcontent, misery and sheer ignorance.

They have moved on from telling us all how, if only they were England manager, we would never lose a game, to providing us all with an expert opinion on everything.

No piece of law, no judicial decision, no council policy is correct until they have, with only a surface understanding of the subject have provided their worthy opinion.

Posted by Moo on 19 February 2012 at 17:08

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