What it's like to live in Eastleigh
PUBLISHED: 12:16 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:16 12 June 2017
From beastly to a beacon - the rise and rise of the town of Eastleigh goes on. Emma Caulton paid a visit to see for herself
An erstwhile neighbour of mine, Eastleigh born and bred, regularly referred to his home town as “Beastly Eastleigh”. Perhaps it was meant as a term of endearment. However, if it seemed to me an unfair epithet back then, it certainly is now. Yes, Eastleigh was once best known, historically and architecturally, as a Victorian railway town, its streets laid out in a grid pattern of terracing. And fair enough, it was culturally primarily associated as the inspiration for comedian Benny Hill’s novelty song Ernie (the fastest milkman in the West), with a reference to Eastleigh’s Market Street in the lyrics.
But times change. Eastleigh is undergoing a metamorphosis, alongside substantial and ongoing investment. The town is becoming recognised as a hub for contemporary arts. The Point, converted from the old town hall and adjacent library, is now a centre for performance with a specialist devising space and an emphasis on dance, innovative new productions, community clubs and classes. More recently the old sorting office behind the High Street was converted into workspaces for creative businesses.
Even the street scene has been revamped with contemporary metal benches, new lamp columns from which to hang banners and trees lit up at night. A decorative pleasantry, yet such details matter – they create a pleasant ambience.
Green spaces and leisure facilities are optimised. Eastleigh Park, in the centre of town, has a traditional bandstand and popular playground. Fleming Park is having a £25 million pound upgrade, while Lakeside Country Park, 22 hectares of lake, meadow and woodland plus dual gauge railway, has just opened a new waterside centre.
So, unsurprisingly, priced out of neighbouring Winchester, this is where the young money comes, with first-timers and young families buying into the area. Consequently, there’s a buzzy vibe going on, along with a mash-up of the creative and conventional, the new-fangled and the old-fashioned, presented in an appealing streetscape of ironwork and glass canopied pavements.
An interesting mix of independents and useful brands includes award-winning butcher’s, Smith’s, a greengrocer’s, Roebridge Farm Shop, good sports store, Alton Sports, and Candy Room, a sweet shop that wouldn’t look out of place in hipster London.
At one end of Market Street is a proper street market – held every Thursday and Saturday with a range of stalls from fishing tackle to flowers. At the other is the Swan Centre – a lively entertainment and shopping complex encompassing state of the art bowling alley, nine-screen cinema, and eateries such as Nando’s, Chimichanga and Creams. Meanwhile in the light-filled shopping mall you’ll find familiar names like Next and New Look – joined, about 18 months ago, by hip Swedish clothing retailer H&M. Surprised?
Well, here’s another surprise. Eastleigh has some really great yet unassuming restaurants and cafes. They run the gamut and come highly recommended. There’s Artisan with a colourful interior of Ikat hangings and warm woods and a menu that includes authentic Turkish meze dishes. Nearby is La Fenice, a family-run Italian restaurant, so good you’ll need to book, with diners tempted by homemade pasta made fresh each day. Newish additions to the eating out scene include Tesoro, an Italian café, and a branch of Coffee#1, award-winning Wales-born chain with very good roasts (coffee, not Sunday) and gooey tray bakes. Well off the High Street, East Avenue restaurant at Eastleigh College is staffed by students and offers classic fine dining at very reasonable prices.
There’s also one of almost every supermarket round and about, and an M&S Simply Food opening soon – here’s hoping it doesn’t affect the independents and the market.
There’s a feeling of rebirth as others cotton on to the fact that Eastleigh has a lot going for it. Transport links are excellent. That station (revamped and improved in 2015) offers a good service. Winchester is 10 minutes (more or less) in one direction, Southampton is 15 minutes in the other, and Southampton Airport Parkway is next stop along (Southampton Airport is not in Southampton but on the edge of Eastleigh). Plus the town is tucked into the corner where M3 meets M27 for the ultimate in convenience.
As for schools: they are mostly ‘good’ according to Ofsted. At primary level that includes Cherbourg, Fryern, Shakespeare and Stoke Park Juniors, and Nightingale, Norwood, St Swithun Wells, Scantabout and The Crescent Primaries. At secondary level, Crestwood College and Toynbee are also rated ‘good’, while Thornden in Hiltingbury is ‘outstanding’ and considered one of the best secondary schools in the country. Barton Peveril sixth form college is another ‘good’ (alumni include the very appreciative Colin Firth), while Eastleigh College, a further education college specialising in vocational education, is deemed ‘outstanding’.
Eastleigh’s neighbours may come under the auspices of Eastleigh Borough Council (whether they like it or not) but they are a contrast in character. North of the M3, Chandler’s Ford is all leafy suburbia. South over the railway line, Bishopstoke, alongside the Itchen Navigation, still remains villagey, with a smattering of thatch, and merges into Fair Oak, a scattered, large semi-rural village. Throughout these areas there’s considerable development. But will it detract from or enhance the town? Hopefully the latter. Certainly, it is prospering. House prices have increased by 19% over the last two years – beating both Southampton (16%) and even Winchester (18%) to the hot spot. But it is not just about the money – those living here comment that Eastleigh has pretty much everything you need and a nice sense of community. That’s worth a lot. (And not a whisper of beastly from anyone.)
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