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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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British Land unveils London Exchange Square scheme (GB)

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British Land reveals the opening of its new 1.5-acre Exchange Square located at Broadgate in the City of London. Designed by architects DSDHA, the park quadruples the amount of green space at Broadgate and creates a new outdoor space for workers and the wider community to enjoy in the capital. Exchange Square is now open to the public and includes 420m² of lawned areas, an exciting mix of planting and trees within its gardens, an amphitheatre with plenty of seating, and new retail and event space.

 

It aims to blend nature with the energy of London and promote the physical and emotional wellbeing of people who live and work in the local area. As spring approaches, the park will become a haven for workers looking to enjoy high-quality outdoor spaces when working from the office, and for the local community to enjoy a range of plants and biodiversity. The park’s range of planting is maintained by Exchange Square’s Head Gardener and is expected to be a popular choice for workers looking to make the most of premium outdoor space.

 

Health and wellbeing form a vital part of the €1.8bn (£1.5bn) investment in Broadgate to create an environment that brings people together to work, shop, drink and dine. Research commissioned by British Land shows that putting good design at the heart of urban development could lead to substantial improvement in peoples’ mental health, which would result in substantial economic rewards.

 

David Lockyer, Head of Campuses, British Land said: “As we start the New Year, Exchange Square aims to create an accessible, sustainable and better-quality place for workers and residents in the community in 2022 and beyond. Broadgate has undergone a significant transformation as a mixed-use destination that appeals to everyone. We hope that by creating a new outdoor area filled with green space, it allows visitors to find a tranquil place within a busy capital.”

 

Matthew Webster, Head of Environmental, British Land, said: “Exchange Square is a brilliant addition to London’s green spaces, and has a unique position within the City of London. Creating opportunities for people to encounter nature as part of their daily lives boosts wellbeing and productivity. This new, green space has been designed to enhance both physical and mental health in a variety of ways – through providing an area for tranquillity, opportunities for social interaction or through encouraging and making it easy for people to visit and move through the space.”

 

Deborah Saunt, Founding Director of DSDHA, said: “With Exchange Square, we are delighted to see the culmination of our Public Realm Framework for Broadgate, which has already enhanced and better connected the open spaces of Broadgate Circle, Broadgate Plaza and Finsbury Avenue Square. Our ambition for this new park was to create a landscape that nurtures both plants and people through retrofitting nature into the heart of the City, breaking down perceived barriers to the surrounding areas, and offering a space that provides opportunities for both recuperation and recreation.”

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Paint colour of 2022 is a deep purple called Very Peri

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Purple may not have graced our homes much since the psychedelic era of the 1970s, but all is set to change this year.

That is, at least, if we decide to follow Pantone’s recommendation. The world’s leading colour trend forecaster has controversially selected Very Peri, a shade inspired by the deep violet blue of the periwinkle flower, as the colour of 2022.

It may seem like an odd choice when we’re still embracing muted tones and understated interiors. 

But Pantone’s annual colour choices wield huge influence with fabric and paint manufacturers and also among interior designers keen to deliver the latest looks.

Love it or loathe it: Pantone¿s colour of the year Very Peri is inspired by the deep violet blue of the periwinkle flower

Love it or loathe it: Pantone’s colour of the year Very Peri is inspired by the deep violet blue of the periwinkle flower

Pantone says Very Peri embodies ‘carefree confidence and a daring curiosity’. Such assertions are another reason why some interior designers will not be recommending Very Peri. 

One remarked: ‘None of my clients would want purple in their homes, especially in the corner that they’ve set aside for their desk.’

Others are more positive, praising its effectiveness in almost any space.

Andrew Dunning, of London Contemporary, says that it represents a further move away from the Elephant’s Breath, the mid-grey Farrow & Ball paint that held sway in interiors in the early years of this century.

As a champion of the deft use of patterned wallpapers and brighter colours, Dunning considers Very Peri to be warm rather than chilly, particularly if furnishing fabric companies produce a lush velvet in the shade.

‘People have been scared of colour, but I think Very Peri could work well in a ‘wow’ piece like an accent armchair upholstered in the shade,’ he says. ‘It’s also an option for a cloakroom, a smaller place in the home in which you can be more audacious.’

Beth Travers, of Bobo1325, a Manchester design business, also argues that we should lower our resistance to the colour purple. 

Its historic links with royalty endow the colour with ‘luxury, power and nobility’. Since Very Peri is a blue tone of purple, Travers believes it can be ‘relaxing and soothing’.

Paula Taylor, of Graham & Brown, the paint company whose range includes the purple-blue Tanzanite, also thinks going bold could bring decor dividends.

Sitting pretty: Tresor Stool in Very Peri, to order at bykoket.com

Sitting pretty: Tresor Stool in Very Peri, to order at bykoket.com

‘Our Tanzanite used in a hallway would make visitors feel reassured and joyful. In a living room, it would be crisp but comforting, especially when teamed with one of our soft-whites, such as Baked Cheesecake, for a more timeless effect.’

The warm reception to Very Peri — in some quarters at least — could indicate that the shade will become an important part of the rise of blues and greens, a movement that began this year.

Simone Suss, of Studio Suss, a London design business, says this is connected to the wish to bring nature into our homes.

Such is the growing demand to introduce more elements of the great outdoors in the interior that more housebuilders will be prioritising ‘biophilic’ elements in their developments next year.

‘I am always inspired by the natural world,’ says Suss. ‘ I think biophilic design will be key in 2022.’ 

The other shades vying for supremacy in 2022 include Dulux’s selection Bright Skies, an airy blue that aims to inspire hope. Dulux recommends several palettes to accompany Bright Skies such as Greenhouse.

This array of blues and greens encompasses Fresh Foliage and Calming Meadow.

Breakfast Room Green, a cheery tone ideal for kitchens, and Stone Blue, a light indigo, are among the five shades that Farrow & Ball is tipping as the colours of 2022. 

The company is also backing the elegant School House White, along with Incarnadine, a dramatic crimson, and Babouche, a sunny yellow.

F&B senses people are ready to step outside their comfort zone which could augur well for Very Peri. 

But, in the short term, this shade seems less likely to suddenly explode than to be seen in small touches, such as Dark Flowers, a £23.95 poster print featuring sultry purple blooms from Desenio and purple cushions, such as the £25 cotton velvet cushion from Cotswold Company.

Loaf’s Joelle £2,345 19th-century style bed is available with a purple headboard for those who aspire to a more formal, almost regal setting after the pared-down aesthetic of the past two decades. But experimenting with Very Peri does not necessarily mean a break with the past.

It can look smart with any shade of beige or grey. Going with purple requires confidence. It will be interesting to see what’s in store for Very Peri over the next 12 months.

Savings of the week! Draught excluders 

William Morris print excluders from Lancashire company ReddandGoud come in different sizes

William Morris print excluders from Lancashire company ReddandGoud come in different sizes

The draught excluder, a long sausage-shaped pillow placed at the foot of a door, is a low-tech, planet-friendly means of staying cosy indoors.

This utilitarian item seems to inspire creativity among designers meaning that you can have warmth, plus aesthetic appeal. 

Low-cost options include the Kaia from The Range in charcoal, reduced from £11.99 to £10.99 and the Plush Bear in mustard at £5.59, down from £6.99. 

Not On The High Street’s cheery blue and red plaid version, pictured left, is reduced from £22 to £11.

The Snap Croc from Dora, a mid-price option, is down from £32 to £9.60. 

It resembles a crocodile whose aggression focuses on warding off chills. Wayfair’s Emmett excluder, with its prints of bees and ladybirds, reduced from £28.99 to £26.99 would lift any decor.

If you want to splash out, William Morris print excluders from Lancashire company ReddandGoud come in different sizes. The widest (99cm) is £40.80, from £48.

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How to build your own garden room

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THINKING OF BUILDING A garden shed? Here’s Some expert advice on WHERE to FIND PLANS, HOW to SOURCE MATERIALS AND WHEN to CALL FOR HELP

Back gardens have seen a lot of action over the last two years as many of us got stuck into projects to improve our exterior surroundings. One of those key jobs was often upgrading the humble garden shed to a status symbol of sorts, as a place to escape the confines of the house and as a way of demonstrating DIY prowess.

With a raft of digital tools now available to even the most novice DIYer, access to the information required to construct building projects is just a click away.

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