Like many disaffected, indie music-loving teenagers, I couldn’t wait to leave my home town. Compared with the bright lights of London, where I dreamed of living, it was boring. Quiet. Insular. Yes, it was pretty, but what was pretty by comparison with exciting and vibrant?
Now, though, as a working mother I can see exactly why Harrogate, the North Yorkshire town where I grew up, has been ranked the best place in the country to work from home. In fact, I’m doing it right now: WFH, or Working From Harrogate, as it may come to be known among fellow inhabitants for whom the survey confirms what they already know.
To say perspectives have changed in 2020 is a profound understatement. Millions who previously spent every working day in the office have found themselves joining conference calls from the spare room, where they usually hang their washing, or tapping out emails at the kitchen table while their children ‘work’ (create havoc) beside them. Home, and its surrounding environment, has never been more important – and, though teen me might have hated to admit it, Harrogate is as attractive an environment as they come.
The circumstances that led me back to the place I was born weren’t work-related: I had a baby in April, at the height of the pandemic, and needed the support of my parents. After spending an intense lockdown with my newborn son in my flat in North London, I was more than happy to oblige their wish to return to their far more spacious Harrogate home.
The reasons for my relief at arriving there chimed with those cited in yesterday’s report, which questioned more than 2,000 people about 100 places. Chief among them is Harrogate’s access to green spaces, which was deemed a priority by more than half of respondents. With a baby in tow and six months of sleep deprivation under my belt, I’m now immensely grateful for the soothing, stress-relieving effects of being somewhere so clean and incredibly, lushly green.
I’m obviously not alone. During the day, workers never used to be much in evidence in Harrogate; many commuted to nearby cities such as Leeds and Bradford. Covid has changed all that. Now, WFH-ers are visible all around the Victorian spa town, enjoying its tranquility as they work.
I once took for granted the Valley Gardens, Harrogate’s English Heritage Grade II-listed park, with its immaculately manicured flowerbeds, duck ponds and acres of adjoining pine woods. Now, as I push my son in his buggy around them every afternoon, I’m joined not only by the usual dog walkers and fellow mums, but WFH-ers taking a far more restorative screen break than the daily stroll I used to take down the pollution-choked Holloway Road in London, which came a dismal 88th in the WFH survey.
Then there’s The Stray, the 200 acres of stunning grassland, which dominates Harrogate’s town centre (part of which was turned into a bog by events held on it during 2019 Tour de Yorkshire, sparking great controversy. Harrogatians are very protective of The Stray.) And the beautiful rolling North Yorkshire countryside, which lies minutes away – close enough to pop for a sneaky invigorating walk and be back at your WFH desk without your colleagues noticing.
As a conference town – or what was one, before its conference centre was transformed into a Nightingale hospital – Harrogate also has seemingly endless bars and cafés to work in if the spare room becomes too claustrophobic. Chic hangouts such as Hoxton North and Baltzersens now have just as many young workers tapping away at laptops during the morning as post-school run parents. And, of course, if they want a properly indulgent environment in which to work, there’s always the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms, which would never let a global pandemic stop it providing the people of Harrogate with Fat Rascals.
All this, plus good schools, an abundance of attractive Victorian housing and low crime rates mean Harrogate is regularly voted one of the country’s happiest places to live. As a result, living here has never come cheap, and the average property price has risen to £381,278 this year – up almost 3 per cent in the past three months.
More than one childhood friend has begun the process of moving back home; they’re part of what’s looking set to be a second wave property boom in Harrogate, with local estate agents reporting a recent spike in enquiries. Pricey though the town is, it’s still far better value for money than cities such as London, another factor cited by the WFH study’s respondents.
“Lockdown made me realise that if I’m not going into an office, why were my family and I living in a small, modern flat when we could buy a lovely old house with a garden somewhere that’s safe with lots of green space?” said my friend.
It’s a question increasing numbers of people have asked themselves over the past few head-spinning months. And while I’ll be returning to my flat in grimy old London in due course, because my heart, along with my career and friends, remains there, I can see why those who are WFH – Working From Harrogate – might permit themselves to feel just a little bit smug.
Do you consider your home town a best (or worst) place to WFH? Let us know in the comments below...