A quick glance at the map shows Wokingham wedged between sprawling Reading and the ‘new town’ of Bracknell, which to outsiders is a maze of mini-roundabouts and modern office buildings like the one that makes Prince Charles spit on his organic muesli.
Plus, the number 10 spaghetti junction of the M4 is practically close at hand and London is less than 40 miles away.
But, even so, Wokingham, Berkshire, has just been named the healthiest place in England.
Booming: Wokingham’s bustling market is held three days a week. The town of Berkshire 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; as well as other considerations such as housing affordability, local transportation, neighborhood noise, education and opportunities for young people.
Wokingham (population 47,000) came first, followed by Richmond Upon Thames and Windsor & Maidenhead, according to the England Health Index, published by the Office for National Statistics and Lane Clark & ââPeacock, a financial services company.
It is claimed to be the world’s first composite health index. Which is good news for Wokingham, but not so good for Blackpool and Kingston upon Hull, the last second from the bottom of the list just ahead of the seaside town of Lancashire.
Government ministers encouraged the index as a means of assessing the impact of their policies on general well-being.
“It’s not perfect,” says Jo Bibby of the Health Foundation charity, “but it does provide a holistic view of the aspects of society that need to be improved if we are to have healthier populations.”
This is not the first time that Wokingham has bowed out. In 2012 it was hailed as the most desirable place in England and Wales to raise a family, taking into account the quality of schools, childcare services, cost of living, crime levels and affordability of property.
âIt’s a happy medium between rural and urban life,â says Sarah Hood, of Romans real estate agent, based in the city center near the town hall, built in 1860 in a Gothic style. “I would say you pay extra to be here because it offers something for every age group.”
No one claims that Wokingham is the leader in history or culture – although he was at one time known for its bell foundry, which supplied a multitude of churches in the south of England, and during the Tudor period, he was renowned as a producer of silk.
Famous sons and daughters include singer Will Young and 2012 Olympic rowing gold medalist Anna Watkins.
In 2010 the local council set up a company to run a Â£ 100million regeneration project in the city center and it seems to have paid off.
A great success was the conversion of a former parking lot into Peach Place, housing independent shops, restaurants and cafes.
Sir John Redwood has been the Conservative MP for Wokingham since 1987. âI am not at all surprised by this report. People are often drawn to the city when they are young and then stay there all their lives, âhe said.
âThere is a good mix of housing, with lots of jobs and green spaces. “
A particularly popular green space nearby is the California Country Park, with over 100 acres of trails crossing ancient bogs, moorland and Longmoor Nature Reserve, as well as a six-acre lake. It also has an outdoor paddling pool, open only during summer holidays.
One-bedroom apartments in the city center start at just over Â£ 200,000 and three-bedroom semi-trailers sell for between Â£ 350,000 and Â£ 450,000.
âThe city continues to evolve,â says Ricky Wootton of Prospect Estate Agents. âWe have the Everyman Cinema, a bowling alley and a new swimming pool complex is under construction. “
The open space outside the town hall is where there is a thriving market on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which has performed particularly well during the lockdown.
And for commuters to London or Reading, the station, which was renovated a few years ago, is a three-minute walk from the city center.
âThere has been some laughter about the health report, but it’s a beautiful thing for Wokingham,â says David Cliffe, of David Cliffe Property Services.
âThe board can take some of the credit for encouraging independents and making sure there are fewer chain stores. It is now an attractive and appropriate market town.