Sevenoaks resident and KentOnline reporter gives his take on the Sunday Times headline

Sevenoaks has been voted the best place to live in the South East, winning the title after consistently appearing in the Sunday Times top ten for almost a decade.

We asked the journalist Alex Jeewho grew up in the city, to give his point of view on his native city and on what has been said about it.

Sevenoaks has been rated the best place to live in the South East. Photo: Grant Falvey

It’s always great to see your hometown hailed as the “best place” to live – if you’re in my position, it reassures you (if you needed it), that you made the right choice by returning there after a a few years later.

When I moved, having found a house with my fiancé a bit closer to the Kentish Express offices in Ashford, I longed for a change of scenery after having spent the previous 21 years in town.

However, while West Malling was fantastic (it’s a hugely underrated corner of the county), I soon found myself missing the shops I knew so well and the familiar green spaces I’d called home for so long. .

After taking the big step back, I was convinced it was the right decision – but it was nonetheless nice (in a pretentious and self-rewarding way) to see the city top the list of best places where to live from the Sunday Times. in the Southeast soon after.

With similar lists in the past, however, there has always been the danger of reducing the city to a suburban space when it is so much more.

Journalist Alex Jee returned to Sevenoaks after growing up there as a child (55973761)
Journalist Alex Jee returned to Sevenoaks after growing up there as a child (55973761)

It is therefore reassuring that in the past two years of the pandemic, attention has been forced to shift away from the traditional benefits of commuting and focus more on what the city actually has to offer.

It was nice to see it listed in The Sunday Times, which once again paid special tribute to Sevenoaks Bookshop, which is arguably the best bookshop in the country.

A note here: I am painfully aware that much of what I write risks being tinged with a strong element of bias, so I apologize in advance for that.

This is particularly true of the bookstore, which is the one I’ve frequented since I learned to read, and where I met my fiancé.

However, it’s not just me singing its praises: it won the South East and UK/Ireland Independent Book of the Year awards at the last British Book Awards.

Sevenoaks Bookshop is the UK's top independent bookshop
Sevenoaks Bookshop is the UK’s top independent bookshop
Blighs Meadow is a fantastic part of town
Blighs Meadow is a fantastic part of town

The High Street is also among the best in the UK, although it hasn’t been as successful as Tenterden in keeping the chain stores at bay – although I was disappointed to see Starbucks replacing Cafe Nero, I was happy to see the introduction of the world’s classiest Nandos at Bligh’s Meadow.

Despite this, there are countless indie gems to find without much effort. I could spend hours and thousands of words listing all of these places without doing them justice, so I had to limit them to a few of my favorites.

Take Dulce Pastry; Dulce and Alain Chua took their business from their kitchen to Bligh’s in 2018 after racking up huge success with their appearances at farmers’ markets in Kent. If you’re in town pop in for a macaroon – then grab some bread at the fantastic Gail’s just up the street.

There is also the Stag Theatre; a pillar of the community who has been threatened more than once in my 25 years in town, but who has been rescued so often by the locals banding together, and who is now doing better and better with the latest films on their two cinema screens and fantastic performances in the 450 seat theatre.

It is also heartening to see new restaurants opening; just opposite the Stag, Number Eight recently opened in place of the poorly received Prezzo which closed during lockdown.

There are many gems
There are plenty of “hidden” gems to discover in town
Among the chains in town is what I believe to be England's fanciest Nandos
Among the chains in town is what I believe to be England’s fanciest Nandos

With all that, it was a surprise to see the Times list entry say, “Sevenoaks ain’t sexy but he knows it.” The town caters to the needs of almost all generations – there’s a library, leisure center and even a haberdashery (I’ve never been there so can’t say exactly what it is, but I’m sure that there is a market for it in town).

What exactly would we define as “sexy” in this case? There is plenty of weekend nightlife in pubs and restaurants; a lack of a clubbing scene is (personally) one of the best things about it.

The entry also states that “the allure of Sevenoaks is that it is surrounded by stunning countryside”, and yes, that is true. It’s just not the only where its appeal lies.

Either way, the expanses of greenery and stunning landscapes around the city and surrounding areas are truly unmatched.

Whether it’s Knole Park or Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, or further afield at Ightam Mote, or even just strolling the beautiful Kent Downs, the green spaces around us are second to none.

The Vine cricket ground
The Vine cricket ground
Knole House in Knole Park
Knole House in Knole Park

But therein lies the only concern many people, myself included, have about the area. Its status as a fantastic “suburban” city jeopardizes some of the things that make it so special.

The District Council is under pressure after failing to meet the 75% threshold of its housing targets, meaning it will be much harder for it to turn down major developments in the future.

Naturally, this is a symptom of what is happening throughout the county. But if nothing is done, our most precious spaces risk being engulfed in a wave of bricks and mortar.

With that in mind, maybe my first sentence should be rewritten to include this sentiment:

It’s nice to see my hometown recognized as the best place to live in the Southeast. Now we just have to make sure it stays that way.

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