The impact of Lockdown on our local community has been profound and, as a school, we have learnt much along the way.  Although we have been using Google Suite for many years, the moment we launched our ‘School without Buildings’ programme, the challenges of distance learning gave rise to a remarkable surge in creative energy from both teachers and students alike. As we expanded our working knowledge of many new digital tools and resources, teachers and students began to hone and develop skills as presenters, videographers, quizmasters, fundraisers, graphic designers, project managers, activists, scriptwriters, actors and filmmakers; and in doing so, we were able to finely tune our approach to ‘blended learning’.  The result has been an enriched student experience and the ability to keep the Claremont community close together whilst apart.   

Outside the school gates, the impact of COVID-19 and the proliferation of video conferencing and remote working, has almost certainly led to a reappraisal of business travel and the need to be physically in an office to chair a meeting or work collaboratively. Having recently toured the highest number of prospective parents looking to move out of London in our School’s history, there is a commonly held view that as we accelerate through the fourth Industrial Revolution, living further afield but within striking distance of the Capital, is increasingly attractive and the key to a better work-life balance.  

The trend of young families moving out of London is well documented and my conversations with local estate agents confirm suspicions I have had for some time; that Hastings and St Leonards on Sea are becoming increasingly popular, with demand for large family homes in period properties near the seaside at an all-time high. It has also reminded me of just how much I love where I live. 

I have grown up in East Sussex, having spent time in and around Eastbourne and Lewes and surrounding villages since I was 5 years old. Three years ago I moved to St Leonards on Sea and during that time I have seen cafés get noticeably busier with more and more independent shops and quirky boutiques open as affluent, creative and forward-thinking families have flocked to discover the town’s rich cultural history and beautiful Regency architecture. Having built much of Bloomsbury, property developer James Burton and later his son Decimus, who designed the layout for Hyde Park and Kew Gardens, transformed the previously deserted stretch of coastline into a destination of choice for wealthy ’out of towners’, drawn by its stunning Victorian gardens, grand villas overlooking the sea and elegant promenades. It is a truly beautiful place to live. 

Much like London, in nearby Hastings people live close, but in very different worlds. I believe this gives the town a genuine grittiness which keeps you honest and in touch with real life. I also believe it is the reason why the cultural arts scene is as inclusive as it is diverse. With an ever-present bohemian vibe, Hastings has the highest number of small music venues per square mile than anywhere else in the country, with its own independent music magazine, crucially keeping new talent in the headlines. The Pier Ballroom has a legendary past performers list that includes The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Sex Pistols and The Who, and David Bowie chose our beach to shoot his video for Ashes to Ashes. And then there’s the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe and UK’s biggest Mardi Gras festival now in its 11th year… 

St Leonards’ is to Hastings as Hove was to pre-boom Brighton; both bursting with history, eccentricity and a creative pulse that you can’t help but take notice of. Estate Agent Knight Frank reported in May that fewer than half of London-based buyers searched for a property in the capital, versus 62% during 1 February and 23 March before lockdown. The reason given is the rising ‘interest in outdoor space and greenery’ with the South East one of the main beneficiaries seeing 28% of Londoners now considering a move here, versus 23% pre lockdown. As inflated property prices and the benefits of working remotely begin to redefine a post pandemic world of work and city living, the trend for more people to seek out an alternative to big city life will no doubt continue… it’s just a great time to be living in our corner of East Sussex.

Giles Perrin – Principal – Claremont School

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