A few people have asked whether I had any family connection with Eastbourne before my wife and I decided to move our family here. The answer is that whilst we have no family connection, it is probably my Mum I have to thank for getting me here.
“Good manners cost nothing” my dear old Mum always told me. Two and a half years ago, she was saying please and thank you, and managing the odd tight smile, right up to the end. It was an echo of the way that she had always helped people around her throughout her life.
My wife and I spent the winter of 2009 trying to make sure that we took good care of my Mum over her last months as we juggled this with two jobs, two sons, and caring for my 80-something Dad. When Mum eventually left us in April 2010, we were both exhausted and agreed that a sunny family holiday was essential to recharge our batteries.
We scoured the internet looking for the best deals but it was clear that a week somewhere reliably warm was going to cost thousands of pounds. Air fares make family holidays with kids hideously expensive and we started to look closer to home. That’s when it struck me that we could rent a flat by the sunny English seaside for six months for about the price of a week’s holiday in Greece!
A few weeks later, I - and certainly my wife - wondered if we had made the right decision as we spent the May half term heaving second hand furniture up four flights of stairs into an Eastbourne flat in howling wind and torrential rain! But that evening, even in the drizzle on the beach with our boys, the magic of the seafront grabbed us all and since then, we’ve been hooked.
From then on, we spent almost every weekend we could and the whole of the boys’ summer holiday at the flat. We had countless sunny days sitting at the kitchen table looking out over the sea, chatting and playing games with the boys in the day, drinking wine in the evening, and occasionally being woken up for breathtaking sunrises. Of course there was the excitement of planes buzzing past our window during Airbourne. Most of all it was the kindness and the friendliness of people in Eastbourne that really drew us in.
Eastbourne must be one of Britain’s kindest towns. On our first day, a UPS delivery driver stopped his van and got out to help me carry a heavy sofa up four flights of stairs. People routinely stop their cars to let us cross the road with our kids nowhere near traffic lights or zebra crossings. My wife out with our youngest son was gifted a pound for a parking ticket by another mum outside Fort Fun. A gallery owner getting out original Taverner linocuts to show my sons - fresh from a visit to the Towner - exactly how prints are made. The joke shop knocking money off when my older son hadn’t enough pocket money for a jar of slime (maybe that wasn’t such a kindness - I’m still trying to get it off the living room carpet!).
All this kindness is all starting to have an impact on me. I’ve started to pick up my Mum’s habit of saying ‘good morning’ or just ‘hello’ to people in the street, and actually meaning it when I ask shopkeepers and cafe owners ‘how are you today?’. Last week, I spent my Sunday evening towing my neighbour’s car to Bexhill. Yesterday, I spent a few minutes teaching a local cafe owner how to use twitter.
Just three months ago, charging around London, I always felt too busy with work or family to spend any real time helping people outside my circle of family and friends. Now, since moving to Eastbourne, it feels instinctive.
My mum would have loved Eastbourne. The slot machines on the pier, the rock and gift shops, fish and chips and pottering around charity shops. Thinking about how much she would have loved it here used to bring a lump to my throat.. But today, I have happier thoughts. I think she would smile to see me say hello to strangers passing by and doing the odd good deed.
It’s not just me. Other people who have moved here say they too feel they have become kinder and more thoughtful. There’s a huge amount of evidence that giving things and offering help makes people much happier than buying things for themselves or receiving gifts. If people in Eastbourne are the kindest in Britain then the evidence should suggest that we are also the happiest. For me, this is the ‘Eastbourne Effect’. What’s yours?
Follow Graham Walker on Twitter on @EastbourneLife