Friends wanted to know why we were swapping the permanently up and coming North Finchley for the ‘retirement capital of the South Coast’. They’d decided on that viewpoint without ever venturing south of Lewes, of course.
So why Eastbourne? Well, it certainly ticks the estate agents’ boxes – stunning seafront, five minutes to the Downs, good schools, affordable homes. Check. But we’ve also happened upon a proper ‘we’re all in it together’ spirit, which means Eastbourne consistently punches above its weight. It’s the little town that could. Or can in fact.
Take the Pier burning down last summer – an appalling event made worse by the tragic death of pier worker Stephen Penrice. People paid their respects, pulled together and the boardwalk was open within a few weeks. Remarkable. It’s the same kind of ‘we won’t be druv’ Sussex spirit that’s producing sterling work on Hastings Pier.
There’s a statistic I hear a lot, that Eastbourne is the fastest growing town for families on the South Coast. I’ve never been sure if it’s made up or on the level, but it feels about right. Old Town, where we live, seems to have plenty of babies in buggies and upstart toddlers. We’ve been there and got the T-shirt.
If you’re thinking of moving to Eastbourne then Old Town is a good first place to look – there’s plenty of attractive Victorian streets and leafy suburbs with houses around the £200-300k mark. Ofsted rates the schools around here too. There’s Motcombe and Pashley Down for infants, Ocklynge for juniors, Ratton and Cavendish for teens. Plus, there’s the recently opened Gildredge House Free School, which we’re hearing good things about.
There’s often no need for us to venture into town. We’ve two (soon to be three) supermarkets on our doorstep and five decent pubs. There’s a smattering of cafés, like Cafe Corro in Green Street and Love All in Gildredge Park – we spend an unhealthy amount of time in both.
South west of us is Meads Village, perhaps the most well-heeled area of Eastbourne. It has its own High Street with shops like Barley Sugar, Martha’s Kitchen and the ArtisVin wine merchant affording the place a Muswell Hill sur la mer vibe. Meads is too pricey for us, but many London and Brighton types have made it their home.
Prices are a little more manageable east of the Pier. The Seaside area of town, immediately behind the prom, boasts street after street of well-proportioned homes. There’s several four bed semis on the market for £250k right now – if this was Brighton they’d be heading towards seven figures. Plus, there’s an excellent curry house, Shimla Palace, which we’ve got on speed dial. Also check out the Crown & Anchor – Eastbourne’s only seafront boozer – and the Victoria – unspoilt and off the beaten track.
Nautical types head further east to Sovereign Harbour, one of the largest marinas in the UK. There’s a fair few contemporary looking apartments off Midway Quay changing hands at around £220k for a two bed. They overlook the Waterfront, a recent development of shops and restaurants, including the excellent Seasons Tapas and Deli.
There’s been a lot of talk about regenerating Eastbourne, but our town centre has mostly been looked after. The slightest infraction makes the letters page of the Herald newspaper, so it’s hard to get away with much. The largest shopping area, the Arndale Centre, is a stone’s throw from the station. Architecturally it’s a bit dated, but has all the High Street shops you need. The Arndale is also about to receive an (almost) £100m shot in the arm with work starting next year on a modern-ish looking extension and nine-screen cinema. When you think about all the places that have been decimated by out of town shopping malls, the fact that there’s this amount of investment in our town centre is pretty amazing.
Like Brighton, we can’t move for coffee shops, but thankfully there’s a lot of decent ones. The latest is Nelson’s across the road from the station and its website describes the beans, grinders and espresso machine to a coffee nerd’s level of detail. Owners Ben and Lucy were inspired by a honeymoon trip to Canada and brought a small part of it back home – Lumberjack shirts optional. Elsewhere in the town centre, check out Urban Ground on Bolton Road and also now at the Towner Gallery. Neate’s Cakes on Terminus Road is a must-gorge on the way to the seafront.
Every seaside town worth its salt has an arts scene and Eastbourne is no exception. Everyone should have heard about the Towner by now, designed by modernist master Rick Mather and recent winner of the Brighton Argus’ Best Museum award. It’s recently become an independent trust and won the support of David Dimbleby, so expect some good things this year.