Some put it down to its long association with the renowned cheerfulness of the Gurkhas, others the sunshine and clean air or the wealth of the area. But whatever it is, fun-loving Fleet continues to be named one of the happiest places to live in the UK. The Hampshire town, at the heart of Hart District, won the accolade of happiest place to live five years running. And a quick look around gives a sense of positive vibes that judges cannot fail to pick up on.
A bustling main street with a vibrant mix of household names and independent outlets lies less than 40 miles from London and alongside the M3 commuter route to the capital. Fleet is surrounded by 84 miles of rolling Hampshire countryside and is home to the county’s largest freshwater lake, Fleet Pond – once used for fishing by the monks of Winchester Abbey – and a selection of Ofsted outstanding-rated schools. In the spirit of happiness that prevails, Fleet Infant School welcomes prospective parents with the logo ‘Where every child can shine’.
The area scores consistently highly in the Halifax Quality of Life annual survey which takes into account a range of factors including health and well-being, life expectancy, employment, leisure facilities and crime rates. Hart District topped the polls unchallenged from 2011-2015 but slipped out of the top 10 in last year’s survey when criteria altered.
Figures show that women living in the district can expect to live to almost 87 and men 83 – significantly higher than the UK average (83 and 79 respectively) and an impressive 97 per cent of inhabitants report being in good health.
Unemployment levels are low and incomes as much as a third higher than the UK average – but then again, so are house prices with the average cost of a home more than 7.5 times a local salary. There can’t be many high streets in the country which play host to Barbour clothing store alongside an array of stylish eateries of all nationalities plus neat tearooms and traditional takeaways!
The Met Office records 32.5 hours of sunshine a week which compares favourably with the UK average of 29.5. (Our very own Isle of Wight tops that particular chart with a glorious 36.9 hours.)
Church Crookham, Fleet’s neighbouring village, was home to the Gurkha Regiment at QEII Barracks for 29 years between 1971 and 2000. Residents never failed to be impressed by their discipline, smart appearance and, above all, friendly disposition and love of life. A Gurkha statue has recently taken pride of place in the village and depicts a smart, smiling soldier.
The infectious cheer has spread, it seems, to shops in the town; Giggles the fancy dress shop (speciality glam rock) advertises outfits ‘for giggly girls and gorgeous guys, from historical to hysterical’. An Aladdin’s cave of feather boas, masks, ruffles, Shrek and superhero costumes awaits any keen partygoer.
Nearby, and boasting ‘Serendipity will lift your day and provide something for everyone and friendly and helpful staff who will always welcome you with a smile,’ the emporium is a treasure trove of antiques and antiquities, costing anything from £1 to £3,000, spread across a quirky Victorian former bakery in Fleet Road. Its strapline on its website describes the experience as ‘the art of making happy and unexpected discoveries’.
And to boost happiness levels still further, Daisy’s Tea Room within the venue provides ‘an oasis’ away from the busy shopping frenzy with homemade cakes, cream teas and lunches. If the way to a man’s heart (or a woman’s), is via the stomach, then it’s no wonder Fleet wins all the plaudits for an enviable quality of life. Not only can you eat Mexican, Thai, Italian or Indian in a smart restaurant in town, there’s also a special event celebrating and encouraging our love of food which draws in crowds from far and wide.
The annual food festival takes place on May 28 this year and promises to serve up a feast of fabulous food and put a smile on all visitors’ faces. The ever-popular event offers masterclasses from regional chefs, talks, family fun activities, live music – and plenty of food to ample and buy at a celebration of local producers and their tasty offerings. This year there promises to be ‘amazing indulgent afternoon teas in our posh tea tent,’ with vintage décor, speciality real ales in the Pint ‘n’ Pimms tent and inspirational wine talks with experts.
You only have to flick through the pages of any lifestyle magazine these days (Hampshire Style is a good place to start!) to learn how important the act of volunteering or working in support of others is to your general health and happiness. Fleet appears to have made this a way of life for residents with an entire organisation and website dedicated to rallying voluntary action in the district.
From leading healthy walks to supporting people with dementia, helping older people with IT issues to cleaning up neighbourhood parks, the Hart calendar is packed full of events where local residents can volunteer to help out in the community. The district runs a large number of ‘Friends of…’ groups, volunteers who take it upon themselves to look after parks and nature areas to maintain their appeal. A huge cause for celebration in the town every summer is the historic Fleet Carnival, regarded as one of the biggest and best in the south of England and also managed, to a great degree, by volunteers.
Each July, residents of all ages in the town come together to join in a week of carnival fun. Every year a different theme is chosen – recent highlights include nursery rhymes, kings and queens – real or imaginary, comedy, cultures around the world and travel and transport.
If it’s not shopping, eating or working with others that makes you happy, then another tried and tested means is sport. To that end, a new £123m sports and leisure centre has just opened in Fleet, boasting two swimming pools, a 130-station state-of-the-art gym, sports halls, indoor and outdoor full-size football pitches, five-a-side facilities, studios, a sauna and steam room – all perfect facilities for anyone wanting to boost those ‘happy hormones’ released during exercise or getting in shape for another annual Fleet event – the popular half marathon.
First run in 1982, thousands of competitors have completed the course, many running in support of local charities. And for the final feelgood factor, what better way than a family trip to the pantomime?
When former Hollyoaks and Holby City star Jeremy Edwards took up residence in Fleet for his role in Dick Whittington, he said: ‘Everyone here’s just really happy and genuinely pleased to see you.
‘People are incredibly polite. When you’re driving in London, no one ever lets you out. Here, it’s “after you” and “please”.
‘I thought it was just Christmas, but now I know about this survey, it must be something in the water.’
– The fast train to London Waterloo takes 30-40 minutes and an annual season ticket costs around £4,000
– At the turn of the last century, the Pankhursts and supporters ran a lot of Suffragette meetings out of a house on Victoria Road.
– The local rumour is that Stephen King did some of his book writing at a house in Connaught Road
– Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey used to live in the town in the mid-1980’s
– British tennis ace John Feaver was born in Fleet in 1952. He reached a career-high ranking of 38 in the world in 1973.