Reading, Berkshire

Discover why Reading was chosen as one of The Sunday Times Best Places to Live 2022 in their words.

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Don’t be shocked. The behemoth of Berkshire is here on merit. Reading used to be known for the 3Bs — beer, bulbs and biscuits — which underpinned its industry in its 19th-century heyday.

Today the Double-Barrelled Brewery usually has more than a dozen craft ales available; the Biscuit Factory is a brilliant new cinema that hosts everything from life-drawing to wine tasting; while the third B is now business parks: the commercial megalopolis that is Thames Valley Park, which also has 80 acres of wetland and green space beside the River Thames; the eco-friendly Green Park, built around a lake and dominated by Ecotricity’s 85m wind turbine; and building has just started on the huge new Shinfield Studios, the UK’s biggest film and television studios. 

It is the availability of jobs, relatively affordable house prices and a fantastically accessible location, with trains that will take you to the centre of London faster than most Londoners can get there, that make Reading a right-on millennial favourite. It’s a place you can prosper and plan your future. There are two schools in The Sunday Times Parent Power’s top 20, a retail and restaurant offering from Primark to L’Ortolan, and still more to come with the redevelopment of Station Hill. 

Charlotte Chatfield, a design operations manager, moved here from east London just before the pandemic, attracted — like so many — by the transport links and reasonable house prices. Last year, 68 per cent of buyers in the suburb of Earley were under 40, according to research by Hamptons estate agency. “There’s a real community here, and I love how unpretentious it is. It’s cosy and chilled, and although there’s a lot going on, people don’t tend to shout about it,” she says.

Her highlights include outdoor swimming and tapas at the Thames Lido — like its celebrated sister in Bristol, but a bit smarter — and the walk along the Thames to Sonning, where you can relax over brunch, lunch or dinner at the Coppa Club, or just try to catch a glimpse of George Clooney.

The twice-a-month town-centre farmers’ market was voted one of the country’s best. Reading is also the home of the UK’s oldest triathlon club, an entrepreneurial university and there’s a fast-improving cultural offering, that stretches far beyond the annual post-GCSE invasion for the Reading Festival. There are some cracking green spaces — Forbury Gardens and Caversham Court Gardens are a delight, and the paths beside the Thames and the Kennet and Avon Canal are a blissful alternative to roads that could do with a lot less traffic.

All the town lacks is a great big space where the many local arty and creative types can come together to show their talents to the world. The good news is that Reading Gaol, temporary residence of Oscar Wilde, is standing empty and a plan is in place to convert it into exactly the arts centre that the town needs. Support is certainly there, and the council has put in a bid for the revamp.

Thousands turned out to see the Banksy mural that appeared on the wall last year, and local girl Kate Winslet has promised to appear on stage on the first night if the plan goes ahead.

High Street

Few surprises, good or bad, among the chains in the town centre and the Oracle shopping centre. However, there are more than enough gems to satisfy those looking for more than Primark or Costa. Fanny’s Antiques is a gloriously quirky store, and the Grumpy Goat has a huge selection of interesting beers, spirits and cheeses. Top coffee stops include Workhouse and the Collective in Caversham, for sourdough toasties and indulgent French toast. There are some decent posh-nosh options, too, at L’Ortolan, the Reading Room and the Corn Stores.

Broadband

A Virgin Media stronghold with its Gigabit service covering four out of five properties. CityFibre is rolling out full-fibre, sold via several providers, and lots of new-build homes already have Openreach full-fibre or Hyperoptic.

Connections

The fastest trains to London take less than 25 minutes, though many are slower. The Elizabeth Line trains — 24 an hour — will be slower but there’ll be no need to change on to the Tube at Paddington. Direct trains go to a host of other destinations including Manchester (from 3 hours 8 minutes) and Bristol (from 49 minutes). By car, it’s about 45 minutes to the M25 and 10 minutes more to Heathrow airport. Swindon is about an hour’s drive and Southampton about 1 hour 10 minutes. 

Schools

The selective Reading School (boys) and Kendrick School (girls) are both in the country’s top 20, according to Parent Power. Secondaries include UTC Reading (Ofsted-rated outstanding, last inspected in 2015) and Maiden Erlegh School (good, 2018), and there are five outstanding local primaries and plenty more rated good. Independent options include The Abbey School (girls, fees from £4,295 a term) and Leighton Park (day fees from £6,745).

Best Address

If you want to hobnob with the Clooneys (also Theresa May and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page), the riverside idyll of Sonning just east of the Thames Valley Park is the place for you. Half a million pounds might just get you a foothold, but homes can easily fetch up to £3 million.

Next best is Caversham, on the northern outskirts, which loves to think of itself as separate from Reading, but really isn’t. It does, though, have a lovely riverside setting and a spirit of its own. Top street here is the Warren, almost rural and full of lavish houses (£4 million-plus for a five-bedroom detached house with pool). If your budget is lower, there are some good Victorian and Edwardian terraces near the university, or head a little further away from the centre to Tilehurst or Earley.  

Property prices

Average house price: £445,000 
Growth since 2020: 8% 
Source: Halifax using Land Registry data

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Prices are correct as of April 2022.

Halifax is a division of Bank of Scotland plc. Registered in Scotland No. SC327000. Registered Office: The Mound, Edinburgh EH1 1YZ. Bank of Scotland plc is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 169628.