Future-proofing society

Our happy places

We polled 20,000 UK households to uncover the key to happiness in their local area. Of course, happiness means different things to different people, but aside from factors like work, family and housing, it’s often the places we love (or loathe) that affect our ability to lead the fulfilling lives we want. But how does the built environment, whether it’s the local high street, public green spaces or even road congestion, impact the way we see our nearest cities?

3 Oct 2022

Rebuilding Britain

The 2020s have been a time of significant change. The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the health inequities in ‘left behind’ communities, and the regional inequalities in Britain’s economic and social infrastructure. But while it’s easy to talk in the abstract language of happiness and wellbeing, we wanted to define what that really means in Britain today.

We’re proud that Legal & General’s Rebuilding Britain Index (RBI) has lifted the lid on happiness and satisfaction levels across the UK. We surveyed 20,000 people to find out how satisfied they are with their lives, and how different factors – from work opportunities to getting around on transport – affect their levels of contentment. We awarded an RBI score for ten major UK cities based on 52 measures – from healthcare to housing. So, which parts of the UK have unlocked the key to happiness?

Home is where the heart is

On the whole, Brits feel positive about the place they live.

However, there were regional differences uncovered in Wave 5 of the RBI:

  • People in the south-west reported the highest levels of satisfaction (76%) with their local area.
  • In contrast, just 62% of respondents in the north-east said they were satisfied – the lowest of any region.
  • In both Scotland and Wales, people reported an equal level of satisfaction in their local area – 68%

But beyond these headline figures, what local features are most strongly associated with a happy and thriving community?

The importance of ‘place’

Local pride runs deep in Britain’s regions, and while our research confirmed that core issues like income, housing status and access to healthcare are integral to people’s wellbeing, what’s often overlooked is the importance of the physical world around us.

In fact, research by the University of Exeter found that spending 120 minutes a week in natural environments is associated with improved health and wellbeing. Whether it’s inspirational architecture, clean streets or fresh air, the places we encounter can shape our mood, identity and levels of optimism.

And of course, in a global economy still recovering from COVID-19, the way we interact with our environment has changed. For millions of people, the days of commuting on a crowded train carriage for five days a week are a thing of the past. But have our changing lifestyle habits altered how we perceive our own back yard?

Satisfaction and cities

No two places are the same, and it turns out our perceptions of our own hometowns (and other UK cities) differ markedly. So we wanted to get a handle on how people view their nearest urban centres – for better and worse – and what words they’d associate with each place. To do this, we asked people to select the word they most associate with each UK city, including their own. The top selected words are displayed in the individual city designs below.  

Here’s how the public view ten of the UK’s major cities:

The feeling is mutual, as Londoners themselves chose the words expensive (66%), historical (58%), and theatre/arts (54%). Overall, 70% of people in London said they’re satisfied with their local area as a place to live. They also told us that the availability of green spaces (48%) and reliability of mobile network internet data (48%) were the issues that most impacted their level of satisfaction with their neighbourhood.

Residents of the Steel City largely agreed, and chose industrial (61%), football (48%) and music (41%) as their three words to describe Sheffield. Notably, ‘friendly’ was cited by those who had visited Sheffield recently (31%) and more than five years ago (34%), but only 16% of those who’d never been shared this perception.

Brummies begged to differ, and chose lively (48%), industrial (44%) and food (39%) as their big three. In general, Brits aged 55 and above were most likely to describe Birmingham as ‘industrial’ (55%) compared to just 24% of 16-24-year-olds, perhaps reflecting the changing landscape of the ‘Second City’.

Glaswegians thought otherwise, and picked football (66%), lively (61%), and friendly (60%) as their top three words to describe the city. They were least likely to choose rugby (4%), peaceful (8%) and prosperous / expensive (10%) when describing their hometown.

Similarly, residents of Bristol chose historical (48%) and lively (43%) to describe the city, but also opted for music (36%). Perhaps Bristol is buzzing right now, as those who had visited recently were the only group to choose ‘friendly’ as the top word – 32% versus 22% as a whole.

Geordies largely concurred with the public, and chose football (63%), friendly (59%), and lively (52%) as the three words that sum up Newcastle. There’s no doubt Tyneside is football-mad; in fact, every region except Yorkshire and the Humber ranked the beautiful game as the thing they most associate with Newcastle.

Cardiff locals opted for rugby (55%), lively (50%) and food (50%) as the three words they’d associate with their city. But perhaps perceptions are changing – the youngest UK respondents (16-24-years-old) were the only group not to choose ‘rugby’ as quintessentially Cardiff (17% versus 35% of all those polled).

Leeds locals had other ideas, and chose lively (57%), football (49%) and trendy (44%) as their big three words. Across the UK as a whole, just 18% of respondents described Leeds as ‘trendy’, but 34% of recent visitors chose ‘friendly’ as their top word – the only group to do so.

In the Scottish capital, residents chose historical (71%), theatre/arts (65%), and architecture (62%) as the words they most associate with the city. In fact, ‘historical’ was the top word across all regions polled, and the youngest age group (16-24-years-old) were unique in choosing ‘architecture’ (29%) as their number one word.

Brighton residents had even stronger opinions on their city, choosing lively (70%), trendy (58%) and food (53%) as their three words. Just 3% of Brightonians chose ‘industrial’, perhaps reflecting its beach-side location.

A nation proud of its towns

It’s clear that while there’s no shortage of local pride across the UK, people are acutely aware of the positives and negatives in the places they call home. We explore how different regions are performing in terms of key indicators – among them healthcare, housing, transport, and education – which are inextricably linked to our health and happiness.

We have also produced an interactive map to give a more detailed breakdown of the UK’s RBI scores, which can ultimately help us understand the challenges ahead as we all hope for a future where everyone can access quality infrastructure and opportunities.

  • We commissioned a survey of over 2,000 nationally representative respondents whereby respondents were asked to select the words they associate the most with each UK city (ordered by population).
  • Additional data was analysed and taken from our Rebuilding Britain Index. The RBI was established to measure the UK’s progress in levelling up on a quarterly basis, surveying 20,000 people and tracking social and economic progress across 52 measures, including Health and Social Care, Education, Housing, Jobs & Economic Prosperity, Environment, Energy, Transport and Digital.
  • Information exploring happiness levels in local areas and infrastructure comes specifically from The RBI report Wave 5.