I moved to Crawley fifteen years ago, having lived in Manchester for five years before doing so, and the first 31 years of my life in Leicester.
I had pre-conceived ideas of what Crawley as a new town would be like. When I was small I had relatives in Milton Keynes. The way that town was set out in a seemingly never ending grid where the houses were all hidden away by hedges from the straight main roads and countless roundabouts had led me to believe all new town were like that.
It was a culture shock moving here. I was used to big cities, lots of historic buildings, record shops, pubs and clubs that let you in wearing trainers. Crawley was so quiet, and it felt like I had gone back in time. My first Saturday night out in Crawley was an eye opener. I was dressed as I normally would for a night out in Manchester – Jeans, T-shirt and trainers. I went to go into the Jubilee Oak, only to be told “No t-shirts.” It wasn’t the best introduction to Crawley, but as time has gone by and my dependence on alcohol fuelled nights out four times a week has dissipated, years later I can see that my initial impressions were wrong. There’s so much more that is different from other new towns, and it is a good place to live.
I think I must have lived in a kind of fog for at least the first ten years I lived here. If it wasn’t work, a pub, or home I didn’t notice it. I still walked around thinking that Crawley was just a new town of post war builds with no history whatsoever, and very little culture.
For a start I found that Crawley was built around the basis of three medieval villages and a fourth going back to the eighteenth century, and that it had an older infrastructure; the historic buildings are there if you know where to look for them. Very often in the most surprising places, hidden in plain sight and lost amongst the buildings that sprung up in the new town plan and since.
There are a lot of modern buildings, but they’ve managed to leave so much green space as well, and there are so many walks that can take you from one end of Crawley to the other without having to veer very far from nature at all. It is well blessed with streams, woodland, and parks. I’ve pretty much walked along nearly every street in Crawley over the last four years and can say that I can’t think of many (if any) places where it isn’t possible to see trees. Something I can’t say about other places I’ve lived.
And there is the variety of places of worship I was used to in Leicester as well. Some may be tucked away on industrial estates, or in converted buildings including former churches that are no longer required due to the ever-shrinking Anglican congregations (not just in Crawley); but there are great new-build temples, and some glorious medieval and historic churches. I was surprised to find there are over forty different places of worship in the town, covering nearly twenty religions.
I always thought that I would want to move back to Leicester, but now I find that I don’t want to move away from Crawley. I like the town, it’s not too big to feel impersonal, but it’s big enough that there are plenty of things to wander around and see. I like the mix of people and shops, especially the selection of different specialist food you can get. Having a traditional supermarket like Asda, Taj the grocer, and the Polish store all within five minutes’ walk of each other is great.
(By Kev Neylon)