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This is a review I wrote a while back, but I have now updated it (October 2008) - it's a long one so be warned. Since this is a Cafe piece, although I have said it is about Workington (where I live), that bit comes after the journey I took getting to Workington!
How I ended up in Workington
Leaving University and Best Laid Plans
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…..
At first things were OK. I was still technically a student as I had my Master's dissertation to complete. I sent numerous letters and applications for jobs, and received numerous rejections. There were interviews - one in an office the size of a shoebox where the stationary cupboard was also the toilet), and one where employees were expected to do Yoga at lunch. My dream job came along and I thought I had it in the bag, but I messed up the second interview, and was rejected. I was devastated.
Meanwhile hubby and I were planning our wedding. Living over 200 miles apart (him in Bridlington with his parents, and me in Essex with mine) and only seeing each other sporadically was starting to take its toll. Inevitably with a history of depression things started to get me down, and I arrived at the doctors a total mess. On the day after starting a course of anti-depressants (ADs for ease of typing, which I am still on now 5 years later), my first nephew was born. This was meant to be such a happy time, but in the midst of depression I couldn't see how things could ever be ok. Remember I had lost the one chance at getting my dream job (that's what I thought), and no one understood as they told me "something will turn up". This didn't help! There is absolutely no talking to me when I'm like that…if I think it's the end of the world then that's it, it is the end of the world. The ADs had bad effects at first and there were times when I felt so scared, but with hubby so far away I had no one to talk to or to hug - my family isn't a huggy kissy one to say the least.
My mum was understandably concerned, and arranged for me to do some voluntary work at the Mother's Union (she's very involved in it) in London, analysing a questionnaire (right up my research street!), and I'm very grateful for that. At the same time the ADs kicked in and I remember the wonderful feeling of being able to hear the birds sing and seeing the blue sky - before it had felt like I was lost in a fog.
Through this work I ended up getting a paid (yippee!) job at the Church of England in Westminster, which became full-time in January 2004. I'm not a religious person, but the environment was (in general) 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.
I feel that if I don't move on I will probably never get to talking about Workington, but as I said at the start, this is a cafe review. I could probably write a book on that year, but I will move to April 2004.
April 2004 and onwards
I was just about to leave work one day when the phone rang. It was hubby. He had got a job! The job was in Sellafield (Cumbria if people don't know). The job therefore was NOT in the South of England. 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. (To cut a long story short, I was 17 and drunk at a school ball and fell over, losing half of one of my front teeth). 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" - don't know what I wanted him to do really! I went to the dentist afterwards (who fixed it - it fell out on the honeymoon), and then went to work. My mum called with a cryptic message about a "friend called Jan" phoning. Of course if my mum had phoned the given number she'd have found it was the mental health team, so the secrecy was pretty pointless. The doctor had sent an emergency fax to them, and now I felt that people were chasing after me on top of everything.
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). Got home, woke the parents up (didn't have keys as keys were in bag in hedge with phone and purse), went to bed and gave myself a very nasty cut on my arm (that's the self-injury thing) - not what I needed with a sleeveless wedding dress. I was a bit calmer then. 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, that is my one regret), 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 (or less) 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, and situated on the train line which was a must since I don't do driving!
Workington is in the West of Cumbria, and is part of Allerdale Borough Council (website here - http://www.allerdale.gov.uk/ ). Workington is a fairly large town (this is by Cumbrian standards) with a population of approximately 19,884 in 2001, but I think about 25,000 in 2008 which I imagine would include surrounding villages. I can't find exact numbers as different statistics say different things. In the text on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workington ) it says that there is a population of over 75,000, but this is actually the population of Allerdale so includes place like Keswick.Other towns nearby are Maryport, Cockermouth (sounds rude - sorry, I'm childish - 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 called Marra, but I think he died eventually.
The history of Workington (iron and steel manufacturing and stuff), and some nice pictures can be found at: http://www.visitcumbria.com/wc/workton.htm - there are also some pictures at the end of this review!
I often forget that we live right next to the sea even though my train to work takes me by the sea…..obviously it's not a seaside town. The beach at Flimby is reasonable enough. I haven't been mad enough to swim in the sea there though - but if it wasn't due to ill health I'm sure my dad would have on one of their visits up here by now!
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 for in Summergrove conference centre, 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 down a road called Yeowartvillevale road, 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 Cumbria 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 in 2004 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 miner's house. It is basic, and at first I wasn't too sure how I'd cope with just a downstairs toilet (and trips to the loo in the night), 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 still seem to be rising. 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 with garden and garage in popular residential location- £182K
2 bed terrace plus attic room, lounge, kitchen/diner - £90K
If you're looking to rent you can expect to pay about £350-£450 per month for a 2 bed roomed house - which is more than our mortgage, so if you can you'd do better to buy!
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, although now they only seem to offer vocational qualifications rather than A levels.
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. There is talk of merging two of the secondary schools as an academy which seems to be the in-thing at the moment.
Fairly recently (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, so hopefully it will be good for the area.
Now that it where problems arise - Workington is not a great place for employment. Unless you are a graduate in engineering (like hubby), science, or something like that, then things are not so good in Cumbria. If you do have the qualifications, or want to do shift work (which pays very well), then Sellafield is the place to go - and that's where hubby is. A lot of people in Workington work at Sellafield.
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 - and still don't despite passing my test - at the time I got the job, but it wouldn't be any quicker, and would cost a lot more to drive (and cause me stress) anyway). The train service is reasonably good, although pretty temperamental during the winter months, and I have to say things do seem to be getting worse. I might have to update my Northern Rail review!
Unfortunately plans to open Carlisle airport as a commercial airport which would have created a lot of jobs (and a huge boost to Cumbria) have failed as Carlisle City Council wouldn't agree to the terms and conditions.
Plenty of local doctors to choose from, and mine (Oxford Street Surgery) is pretty good, although I wish they had an online booking service. Have had brief dealings with the mental health team when I first arrived here, and more recently had a short course of CBT with a therapist. I had to wait over a year for that which was absolutely ridiculous. So, that is not great. I should mention that I am a director of a self-harm charity (Self Injury Support in North Cumbria, or SIS) and we offer free counselling (no prescribed amount of time) for those who self-harm which covers Workington.
In fact you can read about me and SIS in the local newspaper - http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/1.52831
Haven't had much dealing with other health things - had my wisdom teeth out in Carlisle hospital (very nice, especially compared to Whitehaven hospital which is a dump (there are plans to knock it down and build something new) - where I had my initial appointment about my teeth) There is a hospital in Workington, but unfortunately no A & E (they have minor injuries). For this you need to go to Whitehaven (which is dilapidated) or Carlisle (which is better, but it's further away).
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 called the News and Star) in December 2006, crime was 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."
Pictures of Everything that starts with W ...
We're right down the other end on the right hand side
from what I have seen and heard, it appears that the majority of crime is personal. Basically you're not likely to have your car vandalised unless you have seriously annoyed someone! I'm happy here and feel safe.
When we first arrived in Workington, the shops weren't anything to shout about, except for a nice big Woolworths (oh the excitement never ends!). However, since the regeneration project we now have a HUGE JJB Sports, Next and New Look, River Island, a (small) 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. They really could make something of Dunmail Park if they added a pub and a KFC or Pizza Hut or something. As it stands, despite their advertising boasting a choice of restaurants, they have a Wimpy (lovely!) and a sandwich stand. There is a Matalan and Focus just out of town, and then there are retail parks with, Halfords. Homebase and Currys to name a few.
We do our main shopping in Tescos - they are planning to build a big new Tescos Extra in Workington which we are looking forward to - if it ever happens - there has been much local upset about its location on the Cloffocks site due (as that is where the annual Uppies and Downies competition takes place - don't ask!). There is also a Morrisons, but I hate the layout and the shoppers there so try and avoid it. We do try to shop for meat in our local butchers which is very good.
I would like to see a Staples, a WHSmiths and a Toys'r'us in Workington, but I hope that in time these will come.
There are various places to eat in Workington. There is a McDonalds (out of town), and numerous takeaways, sandwich shops (unfortunately a Subway) and pubs. Of the actual restaurants, these are the ones worth mentioning:
Caspians - a grill bar - good value, quick service, great food - I have written a review on this (http://travel.ciao.co.uk/Caspian_Flame_Grill__Review_5689098).
Impressions - a small restaurant, reasonable prices - they do the most fantastic steaks, and its very homely - haven't been there for a while though.
Washington Central Hotel - we've been here several times for special occasions. It costs £25 a head (when we went we had a 4 eat for the price of 2 voucher) but is out of this world. They also have an AA rosette. However, last time we went it did seem to have gone downhill a lot.
There is meant to be a new Chinese opening soon (has been opening soon for a couple of years), but this has been stalled since their air vents back onto Debenhams and Debenhams said that they didn't want their shop smelling of Chinese food. Understandable I suppose!
There are loads of pubs in Workington - Yankees, The Well and Chasers to name a few. 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 (The Henry Bessemer) and it's dead! There are three nightclubs, have been to one once but decided hubby and I are far too old! There is also a gay pub at the other end of town, but I have to say I haven't been.
Things to do
* There's a 6 screen cinema - it's out of town, but you could walk if you really wanted to. There's also a small shopping centre where the cinema is (Dunmail Park), but it's a bit rubbish especially in the light of the regeneration.
* There's a bowling alley which we've been to several times.
* The Helena Thomson Museum which is the Workington museum is free, and worth visiting once - but just once! I need to review this, but that would involve going again.
* 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 - it burns down every 100 years.
* Workington library is very nice, and I spent lots of time going to get books when I was unemployed (wish I'd known about Ciao then and could have reviewed them!)
* The leisure centre (which is 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 the year before last - and that included everything. I think that's good value.
* There is the Workington Speedway, a football club (Workington AFC - The Reds), rugby club and various other things which we know nothing about!
In the town centre, the regeneration project means that there's lots of new benches, monuments, a clock, public toilets with a fish tank in, and a thing called the hub - if you want to know more visit http://www.allerdale.gov.uk/default.aspx?Page=1580
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 really miss the family and friends - not anymore. They come and visit. The great thing about Cumbria is being able to take people to tourist attractions (I feel later reviews about these will come! I have already reviewed the Lakeland Sheep and Wool Centre - http://travel.ciao.co.uk/Lakeland_Sheep_and_Wool_Centre_Cockermouth_Cumbria __Review_5783396). Keswick is a 15-20 minute drive - people go on holiday to Keswick, and it's so near us! There's mountains, there's lakes (well, technically there's only one lake in the Lake District)….what more could you want really - well, apart from a bit more easy access to the rest of the country.
I hate to admit I'm wrong. But I was wrong. I do love it, Cumbria is beautiful, and we're very happy here.
PS. The sheep are an added bonus
PPS. Anything you'd like me to add, just ask!!!
PPPS. I went out today to take photos of Workington with my mobile phone (thought I'd look less suspicious than with a camera), but the weather is terrible - very windy and the pictures are crap!