We’ve had the Waitrose effect, now it’s the yummy mummy factor. “Young families tend to have lengthier wish lists than most,” suggests Lawrence Hall of Zoopla. “It goes beyond commuting links and school catchment areas. Now it’s a thriving community with family-friendly pubs and artisan coffee shops that top the list.” Belinda Aspinall, founder of Lifeafterlondon.com, says: “People tend to follow family rather than friends and often begin their search in the general direction of, but not actually where, their parents live.” Here are 20 confirmed family-friendly towns and villages that just may have you reaching for a map.
The Surrey Hills
Shamley Green,the quintessential English village, is hugely popular. Katherine Watters from The Buying Solution says: “There’s an annual fête, dog show and cricket club. The village hall hosts playgroups and local parents run the Speckledy Hen café and deli.” There is a primary school and a host of local nurseries. Nearby Cranleigh is eatery heaven with a cinema, leisure centre and playing fields. The rural idyll is complete in Shere, to the east, where children can paddle with ducks and fish with nets in the stream before adjourning to the Dabbling Duck for tea. Guildford, a 15-minute drive, has fast trains to London and an A&E at the Royal Surrey County Hospital.
Average price for 3-4 bedroom family property: £511,694, according to Zoopla
Savvy families have discovered the joys of Essex and its string of attractive, commutable villages. “Homes in catchment areas are snapped up as soon as we list them,” says Denise Morris of Beresfords’ Ingatestone office. Barney McCarthy moved to Ingatestone with his wife and son for the schools and village life. “We want our son to grow up in a friendlier atmosphere than a town,” he says. Local primary schools have consistently high Ofsted scores, as does the Anglo European secondary school. The high street is a conservation area and locals support its annual Victorian-themed charity Christmas evening. Commuters get a seat for their 27-minute journey to London and a space in the car park.
Average family property: £421,224
Crawley is a popular choice for young families looking for space and a community feel. Only four miles from Winchester, it’s handy for London commuters. James Grillo of the buying agency Prime Purchase is smitten: “Crawley has the prettiest duck pond and a busy village hall, which hosts ballet lessons, NCT parenting classes, village panto, cabaret evenings, quizzes and yoga. There are several good nurseries near by.”
Average family property: £549,450
Previously as family friendly as a game of Grand Theft Auto, London Fields is now teeming with Bugaboos. Daren Haysom from Foxtons says the gentrification of Broadway Marketturned the area’s fortunes. “Everything is on your doorstep and families no longer have to move away because of the schools, which are now fantastic at both primary and secondary.” Media types, musicians, bankers and artists gel in the community spirit and support the weekly farmers’ markets and huge range of family-friendly eateries.
Average family property: £943,214
The attraction of living on the banks of the Thames, good schools, excellent commuting links and price-growth potential with the arrival of Crossrail in 2017 have brought a surge of family buyers. Claire Laycock turned a blind eye to the down-at-heel town centre when she moved there from southwest London. Now Maidenhead is getting a makeover. “There is so much on your doorstep — it’s a great place to raise a family,” she says. “The NCT is strong and when you start delving into baby groups and classes you’re spoilt for choice.” There is an outstanding primary school and there are grammar schools. The station is a short walk from the streets of Edwardian cottages, where families tend to settle first, and the town has numerous child-welcoming cafés.
Average family property: £421,964
Small parks between the rows of mock Tudor homes in this Kent commuter suburb offer ponds and play equipment and there’s a library in old Hayes, a village hall and extensive woods to explore just off the high street. The large village primary feeds into the popular co-educational Hayes secondary school. Russell Sinclair of the estate agency Sinclair Hammelton says the cafés are packed after and before school pick-up. “We’re seeing buyers take the plunge from south London postcodes but there’s often a delay until secondary school because many find Hayes too suburban and don’t want to turn into their parents,” he adds.
Average family property: £501,684
The Chew Valley, Somerset
A string of villages including Compton Martin, where Coldplay performed in the local pub and a duck called Desmond Drake lived on the village pond for 25 years, are drawing families in search of the good life. Local agent Debbie Fortune says the region’s charm is stunning countryside and villages with proper centres, a store, post office, pub, village hall and church. “The hamlets are naturally clustered between hills and along lakes so can’t be turned into enormous housing estates,” she adds. The villages are served by excellent primary schools and three outstanding comprehensives.
Average family property: £314,680
Saffron Walden, Essex
The medieval market town has all the hallmarks of being family friendly with its independent shops and restaurants, and twice-weekly market. David Emberson of the estate agency Mullucks Wells, says: “The town is a magnet for families looking for good schools and an easy commute to Cambridge or London.” There’s a newly built concert hall, cinema, museum, two ancient mazes and a huge common with a playground to keep the kids occupied. NCT groups hold regular nearly new sales and the library has storytelling, baby time and Daddy Cool sessions every Saturday. The independent Friends’ School has a pre-school following Quaker principles.
Average family property: £343,215
Moreton-in-Marsh and Kingham, Gloucestershire
Families love these Cotswold havens. Prep schools include Dormer House and Kitebrook House, as well as a selection of nurseries and good state primaries. The regional hospital on the edge of town is a bonus.Moreton’s wide main street is lined with independent shops, cafés and eateries and the renowned Fire Service College has a swimming pool that is open to the public. The annual Moreton Show is the largest one-day agricultural show in the county, while Kingham hosts Jamie Oliver and Alex James’s three-day family event The Big Feastival in August. There’s Daylesford organic farm shop too.
Average family property: £329,220
This quirky, family friendly upmarket village with low crime rates and great schools is only a 15-minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh. The Stockbridge (plastic) Duck Race is a typical community event. Families can explore the vast Inverleith Parkand visit the famous Botanical Gardens. Stockbridge has a weekly market and an abundance of excellent independent shops, cafés and restaurants. Stockbridge Primary is the popular state school and the independent Edinburgh Academy is a co-ed for 2 to 18-year-olds. Peter Lyell from Savills in Edinburgh adds: “Ann Street and Saxe-Coburg Place are among the best addresses.”
Average family property: £718,631
Families are discovering Southbourne, with its abundance of eclectic shops, delis, bars and restaurants, as a more than adequate alternative to the pricey Sandbanks and Branksome Park. Michael Riley of Capital & Coastal says: “Families have everything they need on their doorstep from leading nurseries, schools and colleges to Bournemouth University.” Families can choose a more suburban home in one of the tree-lined streets or a contemporary seafront property overlooking the seven-mile award-winning beach. Bournemouth hospital is three miles away, and Pokesdown station has trains to Bournemouth and Poole, as well as direct services to London.
Average family property: £270,014
All good villages have an accolade and Christleton is a winner of the county’s best-kept village. Pauline Kay of Savills Chester says: “Families are drawn to the village’s excellent schools, including a popular, Ofsted approved, community pre-school toddler group in the scout hut and the well-regarded Christleton High.” The independent King’s School, Queen’s School and Abbeygate College are within easy reach. The child-friendly Ring O’Bells restaurant has a play area and children’s menu, as does The Plough. The village has a general store and doctor’s surgery. There’s an annual family fun run, village show and fête. Chester, with mainline train services, is two miles away.
Average family property: £281,582
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
Sutton Coldfield is less than eight miles from the centre of Birmingham and packed with family friendly places, including the 2,400 acre Sutton Park. Chris Green, from the estate agency Green & Co, says: “Sutton Coldfield has always been a popular location for families seeking well-respected schools.” Pete Hitchman moved from south Birmingham with his young family. “We have a choice of three urban parks, a nature reserve or a country valley, most of which are linked through one cycle trail. It’s an easy commute to Birmingham and we love the café Verdo Lounge that has a pile of games for the children to play.” The Four Oaks and Little Ashton estates are sought after.
Average family property: £237,779
It’s not the most obvious family friendly town but Bedford seems to have it all. The River Great Ouse hosts a day-long regatta in May, there’s a film festival, outstanding parks with children’s activities, a museum-cum-art gallery, traditional sweet shop and a town centre revival. Barry Butler from haart’s Bedford branch, says: “Families are attracted by the comparatively affordable homes and Ofsted rates our schools the sixth best in the country. The family-friendly parks are also a big draw; Russell Park hosts the International Kite Festival.” Bedford boasts fast trains to St Pancras in less than 45 minutes. The best streets for family homes are within walking distance of the station and river.
Average family property: £237,700
Its grand Georgian streets have served as a location forTV period dramas, but for families Stamford is a great place to live. Kate Vincent from the buying agents Garrington Property Finders, says: “The elegant town centre is pedestrianised, with traffic limited to parents pushing baby buggies between its many cafés and independent shops. Within toddling distance is the Town Meadows, with the River Welland on either side, a popular destination for youngsters keen to let off steam and feed the ducks.” The open spaces and watersports centres of Rutland Water are only 15 minutes’ drive. Schools include Stamford Junior and St Gilbert’s Primary, and the independent Copthill School and Stamford School. London commuters tend to take the fast trains from Peterborough.
Average family property: £215,194
Bingham is a town with a village feel, family-friendly parks and good schools in the Vale of Belvoir. Narrow streets of period homes surround the market square where there’s a regular farmers’ market and family-friendly cafés. Popular schools include Robert Miles Junior and Carnarvon Primary, and Toot Hill secondary school. Alex Gosling from the online estate agents HouseSimple.com comments: “The town caters for youngsters with many sports clubs, a nature reserve, leisure centre and scout group. The Picture Café on the market square is a local family favourite.” There are good transport links, including a railway station in the town with connections to Nottingham and Grantham.
Average family property: £173,112
Bridgnorth’s Majestic Cinema dates from the 1930s and babes in arms are welcome for morning and afternoon children’s films. The Theatre on the Steps has children’s productions and there are several play barns within easy reach. The Low Town along the banks of the River Severn and the High Town on the cliffs are connected by a funicular railway. The High Town has a bustling market on Fridays and Saturdays. Caroline Eaton from agents Berriman Eaton, says: “Shropshire is home to some of the best state and independent schools in the country and is increasingly attracting families away from London and the home counties.” St John’s Catholic Primary, St Leonards, St Mary’s Bluecoat and Castlefields are the top local primaries, and Oldbury Wells secondary is highly rated. Families tend to live just outside the High Town where gardens are bigger.
Average family property: £198,434
The River Tavy runs through the town and there’s easy access to Dartmoor National Park. There’s a range of state and private primary and secondary schools. Train services are from Plymouth 15 miles away. Emma Tallack from Jackson-Stops & Staff comments: “Tavistock has a good local hospital, state and private schools, and family friendly restaurants such as Robertson’s organic pizzeria. There’s also the indoor Pannier market with an award-winning West Country cheese shop.” There’s a good choice of family properties, from elegant Victorian villas near the town centre to larger period and modern properties on the outskirts.
Average family property: £223,791
The town recently made the Post Office’s top ten of the most desirable places to live in the UK. Local state primaries such as St Chad’s have a good reputation and three independent schools are within half an hour’s drive. Two tennis clubs, a nine-hole golf course and a redeveloped leisure centre complement the local park with swings, play area and an all-weather football pitch. There’s a local butcher, deli, designer children’s wear shop, ice cream parlour and a weekly market. The town centre is being redeveloped to accommodate a branch of Booths supermarket, the north’s version of Waitrose, as well as a bypass to take traffic away from the centre.
Average family property: £152,608
Parents can take their children to the beach at Llansteffanor for long walks in the country or to explore the many castles. Sports facilities are extensive with everything from athletics, rugby, football, golf and cycling available and weekend trips to the coast to surf and sail are popular. Both state and private schools have an excellent reputation. Carol Peett from West Wales Property Finders says: “The annual River Festival on the Towy has been revived, providing a wonderful family event. There are numerous independent coffee bars and the fantastic Cowpots Ice Cream Parlour has become a honeypot for mothers and children.” Trains go to Swansea, Cardiff and London Paddington.
Average family property: £139,517