Bournemouth: Sleepy Retirement Resort Or Buzzing Business Hub?

02/11/2016 16:26

I confess that when I moved to Dorset from the happening London borough of Islington last year, I was worried it would feel like I'd retired before my time.

I knew that Bournemouth and Poole had fabulous sandy beaches and the stunning Jurassic Coast on their doorstep, but what about culture, creativity, the Arts, nightlife, great food and like-minded people?

In London, I worked out of a studio in Hackney, dined in the eclectic restaurants of Upper Street and frequently stumbled upon hidden gems of bars, live music venues and art exhibitions. Plus, I was connected to a huge network of people in the personal development and therapy fields.

Could Bournemouth, with its reputation as a mecca for pensioners and families toting buckets and spades, rival London's buzz? And could I, a city girl who'd lived in some of the largest metropolises in the world including Mexico City and Sao Paulo, survive outside the big smoke and find my place at the seaside?

2016-11-01-1478017720-5782880-Bournemouth.jpgCredit: Pixabay/Creative Commons

Until last year, my main experiences of Bournemouth had been the party political conferences I'd covered as a Reuters journalist. I'd spent my days cooped up in the Bournemouth International Centre, my evenings eating out with my journalism chums and my nights mingling with politicians in the carpeted bars of seafront hotels. We brought our London bubble with us and rarely ventured outside it, racing to the train station on the final day, delighted to get back to the capital.

It's so easy, when you live in London, to think that nothing goes on outside, to think that anywhere on the South Coast other than Brighton is a provincial backwater. But a year-and-a-half after making the big leap, I've been blown away by what I've found.

Bournemouth is most definitely buzzing.

After doing the rounds of local networking events - and there are many - it's clear that creativity is alive and kicking down here. There are hundreds of creative digital agencies, along with tech developers, designers and entrepreneurs. Not to mention the bluechip companies like JP Morgan Chase Bank and Barclays and well-known brands like Animal and Lush that have their homes here.

So much for the cliché of the blue rinse brigade and people coming here to retire - the area of Bournemouth and Poole is among the top 10 clusters for employment growth in the UK, according to this year's report by Tech Nation, and two local universities keep churning out talent.

Everywhere I look, there's a startup event and some pull in big names, such as James Benamor, of Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire fame, who's offering tips to local entrepreneurs at Bournemouth's Google-backed Startup Grind, and perhaps eyeing up investment opportunities at the same time.

And even though tech was barely on my radar before I came here, I've found my own niche amongst all this - helping local businesses and startups tell their stories and get their message out into the world, mentoring on First Bourne, a digital accelerator programme, and running workshops.

Storytelling was the focus of one of the most original networking events I've been to so far. At Open Sauce, the latest brainchild of local digital champion Matt Desmier, speakers had to tell their stories in 20 slides of 20 seconds each at an event worthy of East London's creative hipster scene, only with less beards. It was an enthralling evening - and I haven't used that word about networking before.

And as a bonus, it was easy to get to. In London, I grew tired of waiting at bus stops in the rain and travelling for half-an-hour with my face squashed against a Tube window, reading a crumpled copy of Metro as fellow commuters stared at their feet. Don't get me wrong, I loved my time in London but I ran out of energy for it and I never liked travelling underground.

As for my own creative endeavours, I've found a unique creative community and a co-working space that rivals my Hackney studio in The Old School House in Boscombe, which, conveniently, is just a 10 minute-walk from the beach. And if I want to write with a sea view, I can take my laptop down to Urban Reef.

The Arts, too, are thriving here. I was just at an exhibition of local artist Kathryn Thomas and I can't believe I've yet to visit the Russell-Cotes.

But back to the beach, which is where I spend much of my time and the main reason why I haven't made it to the Russell-Cotes yet.

What I most love about living here is that I get to mix with people who have chosen seaside living, sea swimming and coastal walks over the fast-paced, concrete-clad, hamster wheel that some people endure in London.

I get a real kick when I drive through Bournemouth on my way to work and see paddleboarders or surfers splashing about in the sea. This is the true value of this place - you can swim in the morning or the evening after a day's work (if like me, you're happy to brave the cold) or walk on the sand to get inspired. It's priceless.

And if I was worried about meeting like-minded souls, I had no reason to be. Inevitably, people like me who yearn for more space, more freedom, a more balanced lifestyle and to be connected to Nature are drawn to Bournemouth's promise of "beauty and health", as its Latin motto "Pulchritudo et Salubritas" declares.

So my preconceptions of this seaside town have been well and truly smashed and I can't believe how lucky I am to be living here.

Just don't tell anyone.

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