The cynics among you will joke about Leigh being voted 'Happiest Place to Live' by property website Rightmove, but I can't help but like the fact we've been given the accolade.
Sure, it's suspect when it comes from a company whose sole purpose is to make money from selling houses (and you know how the property prices are round here anyway), but I do think that if the survey had come from a less corporate source, the outcome would be the same.
I've lived in Leigh on Sea my whole life - and it is a happy little place. Sure, I've got my frustrations with the town, but who doesn't about their home town? It's changed a lot over the years, and I do wish there was a little less TOWIE about it a little more of an indie, Brighton/Hastings/Margate vibe (like it did back in the early 2000s and no chains existed in the Broadway).
But we are lucky. We have brilliant independent shops, some of the best coffee places. We have our beaches, the Old Town, the parks and amazing schools and things like Friday's Leigh Lights that bring everyone together.
Community is something that is often associated with the past, but I think Leigh has a great community feel. I walked out of my house on Friday and my next-door-but-one neighbour was asking my actual-neighbour if she could have some plain flour as she'd run out and was halfway through making gingerbread. Is that the not the sweetest, most festive and Gilmore Girls-esque thing to overhear?
You can go into a shop like Green's where Richard, the proprietor, asks, "How's the poetry going?" Or bump into a friend you've made on Instagram and you hug and chat like you've known each other forever and bond over the local badger problem. Or go to the same café every week with your friend and sit on the same table, where the barista knows your order and sets about making it the moment you walk in the door.
Community is enriching. It brings people together. The world is a strange place at the moment. In times like this, we need a bit of community spirit. It can bring light. So while it's easy to be cynical about us being called the happiest place to live, we should be grateful and proud instead.
Post script: Talking of community, I heard this weekend that The Railway pub in Southend is up for sale. Dave and Fi Dulake have dedicated the past 11 years to creating an incredible artistic community there (akin to what The Grand was for a lot of you reading this), and for many people, this will have a huge impact. That pub is more than just a pub. It's one of the only gig venues left in town, and has become a place for people to go that is wholly inclusive: a space for everyone regardless of their background, a space that has hosted events for the LGBTQI community, and supported local charities from animal shelters to the Southend food bank. I hope whoever takes it over can continue that feel, where there is no judgement, but a safe space, banging pizzas, and live music to lift the soul. Dave and Fi, thank you for everything.
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