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Workington, and how I came to live here
Workington in General
Member Name: marymoose
Workington in General
Advantages: Cheap and cheerful! Near to the lakes and the sheep.
Disadvantages: Education and health could be a bit better.....but couldn't it be everywhere?
I originally wrote this review for the Ciao Café. Since this is now a review about the actual town of Workington, I have cut down significantly on the "how I came to live there" bit, although I'm not removing it completely.
~~~The how I came to live there bit~~~
I had it all planned when we left Hull Uni in June 2003. I would get my dream job in London doing social research. Hubby (then fiancé) would carry on working in Hull for a brief time until he found a job in the South of England. We would then buy a house, get married and live happily ever after! Best laid plans.....
In between planning our wedding whilst living over 200 miles apart, and becoming quite depressed about life, I ended up getting a job at the Church of England in Westminster. I'm not religious, but the environment was calm and caring. I made good friends and had interesting experiences, and I don't think I'd have got through that year without the support at work.
Moving on to April 2004. I was just about to leave work one day when the phone rang. It was hubby. He had got a job! The job was at Sellafield (Cumbria if people don't know) - the place where two-headed sheep come from. The job therefore was NOT in the South of England as I had planned. I travelled home in a daze, with just over a month until the wedding I felt like things were collapsing.
About two weeks before the wedding I was biting into my pork crackling and my front tooth filling came out. I turned up at the doctors the next day looking hideous and spurting gibberish, gesticulating saying "Look...Look, just look at my tooth!" "You don't understand I'm getting married" "I don't want to go to Cumbria, I REALLY don't want to go to Cumbria" - don't know what I wanted him to do really, but he got the mental health people onto me.
Things came to a head less than a week before the wedding. I thought I was going mad. My drinking buddy and I went out. I left the pub at 11pm, didn't get home until 3pm (it's a 15 minute walk). I had evidently been in a hedge this time (I only know this as the man who found my handbag found it in the hedge), finally got home, self-injured etc. Hubby talked of cancelling the wedding, but with only a few days to go and well over 100 people coming and thousands and thousands of pounds of my parents' money, I just couldn't. I don't know how much my parents knew about what went on at this time.
The wedding (May 2004) and honeymoon passed without event (both lovely, although I wish I had been happier), and I returned to my parents, and hubby to his. People used to ask "So, what's married life like then?" This really upset me. I know that not everyone knew our situation, but living 200 miles apart and seeing each other every other weekend was not what I had envisaged married life to be.
Basically hubby was staying working in Hull until his job in Cumbria started in September - for financial reasons we couldn't just stop working to be together! There was no point in me giving up my job before we had our accommodation sorted out, so I stayed until November. This was not an easy 6 months (in fact it was a nightmare really), and I hope that no one reading this has to spend the first 6 months of their marriage living apart.
I looked at maps of Cumbria and reckoned that my best chance of finding a job would be in Carlisle (until working at the Church I had thought Carlisle was in Scotland!) So I picked Workington as the place for hubby and I to live - it was half way between Carlisle and Sellafield in terms of travel to and from work.
Workington is in the West of Cumbria, and is part of Allerdale Borough Council. Workington is a fairly large town (this is by Cumbrian standards) with a population of approximately 19,884 (2001 census) although I would have thought it is increasing at the moment. I can't find exact numbers as different statistics say different things (it could be up to 30,000 including surrounding villages). Other towns nearby are Maryport, Cockermouth (sounds rude, but hubby and I are considering moving here when we want a bigger house and have a family), and Whitehaven. In Workington we call people in Whitehaven jam-eaters (and they call us jam-eaters too). Basically it means that they're too poor to be able to afford meat sandwiches to take down the mine (a bit dated since jam costs more than cheap meat nowadays). The rivalry (as far as I'm aware) is good-humoured, not like feuds between towns in the south of Cumbria which can get ugly.
The West Cumbrian accent is fairly distinct......to use an example my West Cumbrian driving instructor said "Turn left at the Harra." Harra of course means "arrow". Of course, silly me! An affectionate Cumbrian term for friends is Marra. I happen to have a Marra from Barra (Barrow), and there was also a dolphin in Maryport harbour for a while called Marra - sadly I have heard that Marra is now dead.
The history of Workington, and some nice pictures can be found at: http://www.visitcumbria.com/wc/workton.htm
----Houses (our house and experience) & House Prices---
We didn't have much time to sort out buying a house. Hubby had a certain number of weeks he could live bed and breakfast paid in a hotel, so he was already in Cumbria. Basically I researched houses on the Internet, booked viewings of 4 houses (one was already sold before we got there, so it was 3 we saw) and we had one day (2nd October 2004) to choose a house. People might read this and say "You didn't have to buy it that day, you could have rented". But trust me, it was complicated, and this was the least stressful way to do things! Just believe me ok?!
We looked round the 3 houses, the first was lovely and we decided we would have it. However, the second house we fell in love with as it was absolutely perfect. The third house was a bit of a dump. We decided that we absolutely MUST get the second house. We bought our house for £60K. It was on the market for £52K, but houses in Workington always go for more than they are advertised for. There were 3 other couples who were after our house so we put in an offer above their offers and the owner accepted, and also threw in the fridge and freezer for good measure!
Things were a bit touch and go for a while (I think they probably always are when buying houses!), problems with damp in the house (3 years later and still no sign of this legendary damp), problems with Nationwide sending information to me in Essex instead of hubby in Cumbria. The estate agents (Tiffen and Co) were really good, and on the whole everyone else was. Luckily being first time buyers made the chain a lot easier.
There was the stress of leaving my family and friends, and job, and that was the hardest thing. But all things considered it all went really well. I came up on 1st December on the train (now that's another funny story!) as hubby had a work Christmas party. On 3rd December we drove to Bridlington to sort out hubby's stuff. My parents hired a transit van to fill with my stuff and met us in Bridlington. On 4th December we all travelled to Cumbria to our house.
When we arrived the previous owners were just finishing hoovering. They left the house immaculate, left us a useful list of information about suppliers (etc) and they even left us a bottle of bubbly which was much appreciated. Our house needed no work on it at all, the bathroom was a year old, kitchen 6 months, all the carpets etc were (are) good. The reason the last couple left was that they were having a second child so the house was too small for them.
So....for £60K in Workington we got a 2 bed terraced house, separate living and dining rooms, kitchen, and downstairs bathroom. There is a small yard outside the back. The house (like many in Workington and similar towns) is a coal-miner's house. It is basic, and at first I wasn't too sure how I'd cope with just a downstairs toilet, but it suits us and we are very happy there. Our house is in an excellent location, 5 minute walk (2 minute run!) to the station, and 5-10 minute walk into the town centre.
A house similar to ours would currently be on the market for somewhere in the region of £80-90K (still very cheap compared to the rest of the UK I know - I am from the South!), so we did well buying when we did, and houses are set to rise a lot more. The main reason for the rise in house prices in Workington is the regeneration project.
So, what can you get for your money in Workington at the moment?
*5 bed (1 ensuite) modern detached house, gardens, garage, dining room, living room, double glazing and central heating, - £285K
*3 bed semi, recently modernised, garage, dining and living rooms, garden - £185K
*2 bed terrace plus attic room, lounge, kitchen/diner - £90K
From personal experience I completed my ECDL (Computer qualification) at a local community development centre (in a school) via distance learning, and did an A level psychology via distance learning at the local college (The Lakes) which seems like a really nice sixth form college - they tend to mostly focus on vocational qualifications.
There are lots of primary schools, and three secondary schools in Workington (one Catholic) - their results are between 53% and 60% 5 A-Cs at GCSE. From what I'm used to in Essex this doesn't sound great, but apparently it's ok for the area! Not having children this is not really an issue for us at the moment. To be honest I think I'll be more concerned with how happy our children are at school, since I reckon that between us, hubby and I will be able to get them through any qualification at school.
In August 2007 the University of Cumbria opened, and has a base in Carlisle. This means that there is a university within easy reach of Workington. At the moment things are really just taking off.
Now that it where problems arise! Unless you are a graduate in engineering (like hubby), science, or something like that, then things are not so good in Cumbria. Sellafield is a great employer and wages are excellent. That's great for people like hubby. Although as with most things, higher pay means higher stress levels.
Where does that leave little old me with my degree in Sociology and Masters in Social Research? My job at the County Council (incidentally it took 6 months to get a job as I'm overqualified) requires 5 GCSEs. So, it's not taxing! There are lots of jobs for Social Workers but on the whole (in my opinion at least) things are not great. Pay at the County Council (and borough councils) is pretty pathetic compared to elsewhere in the country.
My job is in Carlisle so I have a 50 minute train journey to and from work (I didn't drive at the time I got the job, but it wouldn't be any quicker, and would cost more to drive anyway). The train service is reasonably good (well, most of the time) - a review on that will be coming in due course.
However, with the University of Cumbria opening, it does seem that things are beginning to improve. It does give me some hope that there are more jobs available which require qualifications! So, fingers crossed!
Plenty of local doctors to choose from, and mine is really nice. Haven't had much dealing with other health things, except brief dealings with the mental health team, and had my wisdom teeth out in Carlisle hospital (very nice, especially compared to Whitehaven hospital which is a dump - where I had my initial appointment about my teeth). I have to say that unless you get seen as a priority by the mental health team, waiting lists are long. At present I have requested counselling, and have been on the list for nearly a year. I would imagine that sadly this is not unusual to Cumbria, and one has to reach crisis point to get treatment.
There is a hospital in Workington, but unfortunately no A & E. For this you need to go to Whitehaven (which is dilapidated) or Carlisle (which is better, but it's further away). They are planning on building a new hospital somewhere in the West of Cumbria.
I did however manage to register with an NHS dentist in Carlisle - this was only due to the wisdom tooth thing - other people aren't so lucky. There are plans to be getting rid of Whitehaven hospital and building something new.
According to an article in the Times & Star (our weekly broadsheet, we also have a daily paper) on 1st December, crime is at epidemic levels in the St. Michael's Ward of Workington (this is where I live).
"Cumbria police figures show that 1,600 serious offences took place in St Michael's ward in 20 months up until August 31 this year. They include 101 drugs offences, 11 sex offences, seven robberies, 437 thefts, 102 burglaries, 473 cases of criminal damage and 36 cases of fraud/forgery and 61 vehicles were stolen during."
However, from what I have seen and heard, it appears that the majority of crime is personal. Basically you're not likely (at least down our street anyway) to have your car vandalised unless you have annoyed someone!
When we first arrived in Workington, the shops weren't anything to shout about, except for a nice Woolworths. However, since the regeneration project we now have a HUGE JJB Sports, Next and New Look, River Island, a Debenhams, HMV, The Works. Other shops like M & S have improved a lot. The shopping centre in town is good, but exceptional I think when you consider the population.
There is an out of town shopping centre called Dunmail Park, which I would say is not really worth bothering with unless you're going to the cinema anyway.
There is a Matalan just out of town, and then there are retail parks with PCWorld, Halfords and Currys to name a few.
We do our main shopping in Tescos - they are planning to build a big new Tescos in Workington which we are looking forward to (although plans seem to be taking years). There is also a Morrisons, but hate the layout so try and avoid it.
I would like to see a Staples, a WHSmiths, an Argos Extra and a Toys'r'us in Workington, but I hope that in time these will come. Some people still seem to trek to Carlisle to go shopping, but I really don't see the point (although saying that I can pop into Carlisle in my lunch break).
There are various places to eat in Workington. There is a McDonalds (out of town), and numerous takeaway (Sadies deserves a mention for their donner wraps!), sandwich shops. Of the actual restaurants, these are the ones worth mentioning:
*Caspians - a grill bar - good value, quick service - also does takeaway
*Impressions - a small restaurant, reasonable prices - they do the most fantastic steaks, and its very homely
*Washington Central Hotel - we've been here several times for special occasions. They also have an AA rosette. I have to say that is does seem to be going downhill, after going on Valentines Day this year.
There is a new Chinese set to open soon, and I hear there are plans for an Italian. I think we could do with a Pizza Hut, but then you can't have everything.
There are lots of pubs in Workington. They have what is widely known across Cumbria "The Circuit". Basically everyone on a Friday/Saturday night starts off at the same pub and goes round on a pub crawl circuit. As you can imagine it's very busy. We have done the circuit (at least started it!) several times, but generally go the opposite way which is less busy.
The good thing about the circuit is that at most times you can get into Wetherspoons and it's dead! There are two nightclubs, have been to one once but decided hubby and I are too old!
----Other things to do----
*There's a 6 screen cinema - it's out of town, but you could walk if you wanted to. There's also a small shopping centre where the cinema is (Dunmail Park), but it's a bit rubbish in the light of the regeneration.
*There's a bowling alley which we've been to several times and will go again.
*The Helena Thomson Museum which is the Workington museum is free, and worth visiting once - but just once!
*There's a ruined castle.
*The circus (which was excellent) and the fair come once a year.
*A fair few churches if you like that sort of thing - St. Michael's is very nice inside and worth a look. You can't fail to miss St John's which was apparently modelled on St Paul's cathedral - hilarious when you see it!
*Workington library is very nice, and I spent lots of time going to get books when I was unemployed.
*The leisure centre (which is just out of town) has a gym, swimming pool - the usual. It cost us under £500 (I forget exactly) for a year's membership for the 2 of us in 2005 - and that included everything. I think that's good value. However, we've become somewhat lax with our exercising.
*There is a football stadium, and various other things which we know nothing about!
The main thing about Workington is its location. When I found out about coming up here I didn't want to come. People kept saying "Mary, you'll love it, it's beautiful". I was adamant that I would hate it (remember I didn't want to leave my friends and my job). I was sure that it would be temporary and we'd soon move back down south. I did hate it at first.
But I don't miss the family and friends - not anymore. They come and visit. The great things about Cumbria is being able to take people to tourist attractions (I feel later reviews about these will come!). Keswick is a 15-20 minute drive - people go on holiday to Keswick, and it's so near us. We don't really have friends in Workington, they mainly live in Whitehaven or round that area. But we have our house there and we love it.
I hate to admit I'm wrong. But I was wrong. I do love it, it is beautiful, and we're very happy here.
PS. The sheep are an added bonus
Summary: A great place to live and the sheep are an added bonus.
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