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Wokingham in Surrey named healthiest place in England – what’s its secret?

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A cursory glance at the map shows Wokingham marooned between sprawling Reading and the ‘new town’ of Bracknell, which, to outsiders, is a maze of mini-roundabouts and modern office blocks of the kind that has Prince Charles spluttering over his organic muesli.

What’s more, spaghetti junction number 10 of the M4 is practically in shouting distance, and London less than 40 miles away. 

But, even so, Wokingham, in Berkshire, has just been named the healthiest place in England.

Thriving: Bustling Wokingham Market is held three days a week. The Berkshire town has just been named the healthiest place in England

Thriving: Bustling Wokingham Market is held three days a week. The Berkshire town has just been named the healthiest place in England

Factors taken into account include: prevalence of cancer, heart disease and dementia; risk of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure; plus other considerations such as affordability of housing, local transport, neighbourhood noise, eduction and opportunities for young people.

Wokingham (population 47,000) came out overall on top, followed by Richmond Upon Thames and Windsor & Maidenhead, according to England’s Health Index, published by the Office for National Statistics and Lane Clark & Peacock, a financial services company.

It is claimed to be the first composite health index in the world. Which is good news for Wokingham, but not so good for Blackpool and Kingston upon Hull, the latter second from the bottom on the list just ahead of the Lancashire seaside town.

Government ministers have encouraged the index as a means of assessing the impact of their policies on general well-being.

‘It isn’t perfect,’ says Jo Bibby, of the Health Foundation charity, ‘but it does provide a way of taking a rounded view of aspects of society that need to be improved if we want a healthier population.’

It’s not the first time Wokingham has taken a bow. In 2012 it was hailed as the most desirable place in England and Wales to bring up a family, taking in the quality of schools, childcare provision, cost of living, crime levels and property affordability.

‘It’s a happy middle ground between rural and urban life,’ says Sarah Hood, from Romans estate agent, based in the town centre near the Town Hall, built in 1860 in Gothic style. ‘I would say you pay a premium to be here as it offers something for every age group.’

No one is pretending that Wokingham is top of the league for history or culture — although it was known at one time for its bell foundry, which supplied a host of churches across southern England, and during the Tudor period it was renowned as a producer of silk.

Famous sons and daughters include the singer Will Young and the 2012 Olympic rowing gold medalist Anna Watkins.

In 2010, the local council set up a business to manage a £100 million regeneration project in the town centre and this appears to have paid dividends. 

One big success was the conversion of an old car park into Peach Place, home to independent shops, restaurants and cafes.

Sir John Redwood has been the Conservative MP for Wokingham since 1987. ‘I’m not at all surprised by this report. People often are attracted to the town when they are young and then stay here all their lives,’ he said.

‘There’s a good mix of housing, with plenty of jobs and green spaces.’

One particularly prized green space nearby is California Country Park, with more than 100 acres of paths running through ancient bogland, past heathland and Longmoor Nature Reserve, plus a six-acre lake. It also has an outdoor paddling pool, open in the summer holidays only.

One-bedroom flats in the town centre start at just over £200,000 and three bedroom semis sell between £350,000 to £450,000.

‘The town keeps evolving,’ says Ricky Wootton, from Prospect Estate Agents. ‘We have the Everyman cinema, a bowling alley and a new swimming pool complex is being built.’

The open space outside the Town Hall is where there’s a thriving market on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which has done especially well during lockdown. 

And for commuters to London or Reading, the train station, which was spruced up a couple of years ago, is a three-minute walk from the centre of town.

‘There’s been some chuckling about the health report but it’s a lovely thing for Wokingham,’ says David Cliffe, from David Cliffe Property Services. 

‘The council can take some of the credit for encouraging independents and making sure there are fewer chain stores. It’s now an attractive and proper market town.’

On the market… in Wokingham 

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Orange warning in place for five counties on west coast

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Violent storm force 11 winds are expected off the west coast as Storm Barra approaches on Tuesday morning.

Met Éireann has upgraded its marine weather warning to red, the highest category, on Irish coastal waters from Galway Bay to Bantry Bay from 3am on Tuesday morning to 11pm tomorrow night.

A status orange warning is in place on land for the counties of Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork from 6am on Tuesday morning until the same time on Wednesday morning.

Counties included in orange warning could see damaging gusts of up to 130km/h which will head to high waves, high tides, heavy rain and storm surge.

The rest of the country will be under a status yellow warning for the same period with the possibility of localised flooding.

Met Éireann head of forecasting Evelyn Cusack told Newstalk Breakfast that the storm system is developing rapidly over the Atlantic at present and will hit Ireland’s western seaboard on Tuesday with strong gale force winds which will quickly extend across the country.

There will be heavy rain turning to sleet and snow on higher ground, she warned.

Met Éireann will meet with gardaí, local authorities and emergency services this morning to update the progress of the storm and provide advice on what precautionary measures should be taken.

“It will be a pretty horrid day,” added Ms Cusack who advised against cycling.

The high winds and heavy rain will continue throughout Wednesday but they will have moved on by Thursday.

On RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, senior meteorologist Liz Walsh warned that trees could be knocked down during the high winds. She also advised that outdoor street furniture should be taken in or tied down and cautioned that Christmas decorations could be damaged.

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Coronavirus rules for driving tests spark complaints

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Claims of rude testers, of not being allowed to cough and having to drive with windows open due to Covid-19 were among the complaints received from people who failed driving tests recently.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), which oversees driving tests nationally, released a sample of the 1,505 complaints received since the start of last year under the Freedom of Information Act.

New figures show the driving test centre in Cork had the highest pass rate with 75 per cent of people passing, while the lowest was Charlestown in Dublin with a 42 per cent pass rate.

One person complained he had told his tester he had asthma and might need to cough because he had recently changed inhalers, causing irritation to his throat.

“I was advised that if I coughed at any stage, the test would be over immediately. This was difficult to control while under exam pressure and added a huge amount of unnecessary stress and pressure,” the individual complained.

Another individual complained their tester said if their face mask slipped “a little bit from my nose” while driving, the test would be ended.

“I’m in shock how he treated me that day,” said the complainant.

Another learner driver who failed said their car was hot and “very uncomfortable” because the tester said the hot air de-misters had to be kept on to prevent the windows fogging up because the back windows had to be kept open due to Covid-19.

One complainant said the tester seemed to have prejudged the test when they spotted a small stain on the driver’s seat as the car was supposed to be “spotless”.

‘Anxious’

“The tester was clearly taking it too far. I was complying with all Covid precautions as I had just Hoovered and sanitised the car and it was simply a mark on the seat.”

There were general complaints beyond Covid-19 issues. One person complained about feeling “anxious” because the tester was “sitting there shaking his head”.

Another said their tester repeatedly shook his head and sighed several times, and then made notes on the score sheet, which was “extremely off-putting and really unfair”.

Another driver said the tester was “extremely condescending and patronising” and mocked their answer to a signpost theory question about an “unguarded cliff edge”.

“We don’t drive along cliff edges in this country,” the tester was quoted as saying.

The RSA has been dealing with a backlog of driving tests due to the pandemic.

The centres with the next highest pass rates were Clifden (71 per cent), Killester in Dublin (70 per cent), Birr, Co Offaly (70 per cent) and Cavan (69 per cent).

The test centres with the next lowest pass rates were Dublin’s Churchtown, since closed (44 per cent), Nenagh, Co Tipperary (44 per cent) and Mulhuddart (45 per cent) and Raheny (46 per cent), both in Dublin.


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Former US presidential candidate Bob Dole dies aged 98

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Bob Dole, the long-time Kansas senator who was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, has died from lung cancer. In a statement, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, founded by Dole’s wife, said: “It is with heavy hearts we announced that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died earlier this morning in his sleep. At his death at age 98 he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”

In late February, Dole announced that he had advanced lung cancer and would begin treatment. Visiting him, President Joe Biden called Dole his “close friend”.

On Sunday the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, like Biden a Democrat, ordered flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff.

Born in Russell, Kansas in 1923, Dole served in the US infantry in the second world war, suffering serious wounds in Italy and winning a medal for bravery.

His wounds cost him use of his right arm but he entered state politics and soon became a longtime Republican power-broker, representing Kansas in the US House of Representatives from 1961 to 1969 and in the Senate until 1996. He had spells as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as Senate minority and majority leader.

In 1976 he was the Republican nominee for vice-president to Gerald Ford, in an election the sitting president lost to Jimmy Carter. Two decades later, aged 73, Dole won the nod to take on Bill Clinton.

Against the backdrop of a booming economy, the Democrat won a second term with ease, by 379 – 159 in the electoral college and by nine points in the popular vote, the third-party candidate Ross Perot costing Dole support on the right.

Dole received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian honours.

In the Trump years and after, Dole came widely to be seen as a figure from another time in Republican politics.

On Sunday, the political consultant Tara Setmeyer, a member of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, tweeted: “I cast my first ever vote for president for Bob Dole in 1996. A war hero with a sharp sense of humor ? another piece of a once respectable GOP gone.”

However, Dole remained a loyal Republican soldier, telling USA Today this summer that though Donald Trump “lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did”, and though he himself was “sort of Trumped out”, he still considered himself “a Trumper”.

Dole called Biden “a great, kind, upstanding, decent person”, though he said he leaned too far left.

He also said: “I do believe [America has]lost something. I can’t get my hand on it, but we’re just not quite where we should be, as the greatest democracy in the world. And I don’t know how you correct it, but I keep hoping that there will be a change in my lifetime.”

On Sunday, Jaime Harrison, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, said: “Sending heartfelt condolences and prayers to the family of Senator Bob Dole. We honor his service and dedication to the nation. May he Rest In Peace.”

– Guardian

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