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Sevenoaks resident and KentOnline reporter gives his view on Sunday Times title


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Sevenoaks has been named as the best place to live in the South East, taking the title after constantly featuring in the Sunday Times' top ten for almost a decade.

We asked reporter Alex Jee, who grew up in the town, to give his own views on his home town and what has been said about it.

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

It's always great to see your home town praised as a 'best place' to live – if you're in my position, it gives you a reassurance (if you needed it), that you did the right thing to move back there after a few years away.

When I moved, having found a house with my fiancé slightly closer to the Kentish Express offices in Ashford, I had been keen for a change of scenery having spent the preceding 21 years in town.

However, while West Malling was fantastic (it is a hugely under-appreciated corner of the county) I soon found myself missing the shops I knew so well, and the familiar green spaces that I had called home for so long.

After taking the big step of moving back, I was confident it was the right move – but it was nonetheless nice (in a pretentious, self-gratifying sort of way) to see the town top the Sunday Times' list of best places to live in the South East shortly afterwards.

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

Reporter Alex Jee moved back to Sevenoaks after growing up there as a child (55973761)
Reporter Alex Jee moved back to Sevenoaks after growing up there as a child (55973761)

It's reassuring then that over the last two years of the pandemic, the focus has very much been forced to turn away from the traditional commuting benefits and focused more on what the town actually has to offer.

This was lovely to see from the Sunday Times' list, which once again paid special homage to Sevenoaks Bookshop, which is doubtless the best bookshop in the country.

A side-note here: I'm painfully aware most of what I am writing risks being tinged with a hefty amount of bias, so I apologise in advance for that.

This is especially true of the bookshop, which is one that I have been visiting since I was able to read, and in which I met my fiancé.

Nevertheless, it's not just me singing its praises: it has swiped both the Southeast, and UK/Ireland Independent Bookshop of the Year awards at the most recent British Book Awards.

Sevenoaks Bookshop is the best independent book store in the UK
Sevenoaks Bookshop is the best independent book store in the UK
Blighs Meadow is a fantastic part of the town
Blighs Meadow is a fantastic part of the town

The High Street is also among the best in the UK, although it has not quite been as successful as Tenterden at keeping chain stores at bay – although while I was disappointed to see Starbucks replace Cafe Nero, I was happy to see the introduction of the world's poshest Nando's into Bligh's Meadow.

Despite this, there are countless independent gems to find without much effort at all. I could spend hours and thousands of words listing all of these places and still not do them all justice, so I have had to limit them to a couple of my favourites.

Take Dulce's Patisserie; Dulce and Alain Chua brought their business from their kitchen to Bligh's in 2018 after racking up a massive following from their appearances at farmers' markets across Kent. If you are in town, do pop in for a macaroon – and then grab some bread from the fantastic Gail's just up the street.

There is also The Stag Theatre; a community stalwart that has been under threat more than once in the 25 years I have been around town but that has been saved so often by the banding together of the locals, and is now going from strength to strength with the latest films on their two cinema screens and fantastic performances in the 450-seat theatre.

It is also warming to see new restaurants open up; just across the road from the Stag, Number Eight has recently opened in place of the ill-received Prezzo that shut during lockdown.

There are plenty of 'hidden' gems to be found in town
There are plenty of 'hidden' gems to be found in town
Among the chains in town is what I believe to be the most posh Nandos in England
Among the chains in town is what I believe to be the most posh Nandos in England

With all of this, it was a surprise to see the Times' list entry say that "Sevenoaks isn't sexy but it knows it". The town caters to the needs of mostly every generation – there is a library, a leisure centre, and even a haberdashery (I've never been in so I can't exactly say what that is, but I'm sure there's a market for it in town).

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

The entry also says "Sevenoaks’ appeal lies in the fact it is surrounded by stunning countryside", and yes, that is true. It's just not the only place where its appeal lies.

Regardless, the swathes of greenery and stunning scenery around town and the surrounding areas are truly second to none.

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

The cricket pitch at The Vine
The cricket pitch at The Vine
Knole House in Knole Park
Knole House in Knole Park

But herein lies the one worry many people, including myself, have about the area. Its status as a fantastic 'commuter' town is placing at risk some of the very things that make it so special.

The district council is under pressure after failing to meet the 75% threshold of its housing targets, meaning that it will find it much harder to refuse large developments in the future.

Naturally, this a symptom of things that are happening across the county. But if something isn't done, then our most precious spaces risk being swallowed in a wave of brick and mortar.

With that in mind, perhaps my first sentence should be rewritten including that feeling:

It's lovely to see my home town recognised as the best place to live in the South East. Now, we just need to make sure we keep it that way.

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