What it's like to live in Southampton
PUBLISHED: 11:50 14 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:18 14 November 2017
With redevelopment on an impressive scale, has Southampton's ship finally come in, wonders Emma Caulton
There’s a fair wind for Southampton. Forgive the analogy, however it is too tempting to describe Southampton in seafaring terms. I’m not alone. Just look at the city’s contemporary architecture influenced by the shape of a ship’s prow, a stately cruise liner or the curve of a wave.
Located at the head of Southampton Water and the confluence of the Rivers Itchen and Test, Southampton has long thrived as a port. Its history in brief: the Romans first established a port here; in medieval times it flourished through trade with Europe; in Jane Austen’s day Southampton became a popular spa town - until the Prince Regent transferred his affections to Brighton. The coming of the railway brought the development of the commercial docks. This was followed in the early 20th century by a new role as a transatlantic port, which continues in effect to this day, with the city dubbed the cruise capital of the UK – earning it an estimated £300M a year.
Many have embarked and disembarked here, including the Pilgrim Fathers (hence Mayflower Park, home to the annual Southampton Boat Show, the country’s biggest boating festival), the doomed Titanic (remembered in the SeaCity Museum) and some ten million troops who left for the battlefields of France in both World Wars.
However, as home of the Supermarine factory and birthplace of the Spitfire, Southampton was heavily bombed in the Second World War. Nearly 45,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged and the city lost, along with much of its built heritage, a great deal of its character. Post-war it was cast adrift, due to unimaginative rebuilding and inadequate long-term planning.
Yet its attributes are many. It is home to Southampton General Hospital, a large teaching hospital with specialist departments, the University of Southampton, one of the Russell Group universities, and Solent University, which incorporates one of the world’s leading maritime training academies. It has also attracted numerous businesses from Cunard to Cogeco Peer 1 (an international IT company) and there are ambitious plans to transform the city into a business powerhouse of the south. The result is that Southampton attracts many, including professionals, families and investors, keen to buy into the city.
It’s been a while coming, but finally, an extensive regeneration programme is underway, focusing primarily on the city centre and the waterfront. There are some concerns, however, that as one area is revamped upwards, there may be an equal force downwards elsewhere. For example, the opening of the original WestQuay shopping centre in 2000 had repercussions for the high street. And WestQuay mark two, which opened late last year with a cavalcade of restaurants, state of the art cinema and new public plaza beside the city’s medieval town walls, may affect the wine bars and bistros of Oxford Street, traditionally Southampton’s ‘Restaurant Quarter’.
The creative arts are receiving a makeover, too. Elements shifting from the University of Southampton’s Highfield campus into the city centre include the John Hansard Gallery, relocating as Studio 144, and a new venue for the Nuffield Theatre (one of the country’s leading producing theatre companies), named NST City. They will form part of a new arts complex opening this year in Southampton’s burgeoning cultural quarter - encompassing Southampton City Art Gallery, O2 Guildhall and SeaCity Museum as well as BBC South’s and Radio Solent’s offices and the Mayflower Theatre.
On the waterfront, this month sees the opening of a £27 million hotel in the style of a cruise liner nosing into the marina of Ocean Village. The impressive redevelopment of the former Vosper Thornycroft shipyard in Woolston continues, and there are plans for both the Royal Pier and Mayflower Park - the intention being to improve access to one of Southampton’s greatest assets, its waterside location.
Southampton offers all this, plus a premier league football club, excellent transportation links covering rail, road and air, an abundance of open space, plenty to do, from bowling to watersports, and a shopping experience that includes big names like Ikea and John Lewis as well as quality independents – check out Bedford Place.
For families, schooling is good. Noted independents include King Edward VI which has been based in the heart of Southampton for some 460 years and achieves exceptional academic results. Otherwise a strong tranche of primaries are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted with Highfield Church of England Primary, Portswood Primary, Springhill Catholic Primary and Bitterne Manor Primary all ‘outstanding’. It is a similar story at secondary level with many rated ‘good’, among them Bitterne Park School, Cantell School, Regents Park Community College and Upper Shirley High School with St Anne’s Catholic School & Sixth Form College considered ‘outstanding’.
Overall, there is a feeling that this is a city in transition. Its fortunes in the past have ebbed and flowed with tide and time, but at present the trajectory is up for this buzzy city; or, as they say, set for fair winds and following seas.
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