Eight Midlands locations have been named in the Sunday Times Best Places to Live 2021, with Church Stretton featuring thanks to its beautiful countryside setting.
The expert judges behind the guide assessed a wide range of factors, from schools, air quality, transport and broadband speeds to culture, green spaces and the health of the high street.
They looked for improving towns, villages or city centres, for attractive, well-designed homes and locations bursting with community spirit – which the pandemic has shown to be the most vital quality of all.
Of Church Stretton, the judges said: “This unsung market town in the Shropshire Hills has a strong sense of community, magnificent walks from the door and a nicely old-fashioned town centre – the perfect recipe for work-from-home happiness.”
They liked the fresh air, the views from the Long Mynd and the slight 1950s vibe to this “well-kept rural refuge”, with its cafés, bakery, deli, butcher and pubs, as well as the way it cares for an ageing population.
Favourite shops highlighted by the judges included Van Doesburg’s, a gourmet food shop, which delivers 'superior' frozen meals.
Bob Welch, mayor of Church Stretton, said the town prides itself on being a visitor town, but is wary of an influx of too many crowds similar to last year.
"Church Stretton is a beautiful town which in the normal course of events welcomes visitors but in the immediate post lockdown period we ask visitors to behave responsibly and comply with all social distancing rules," he said.
"The Shropshire Hills is a wide expansive area, there are lots of places to visit, not just Carding Mill Valley. As a tourist town with an economy dependent on visitors, we would welcome people with open arms, but in these special circumstances we have to be careful."
Helen Davies, The Times and Sunday Times Property Editor said: “This guide has never been so important. The pandemic has taught us just how much we rely on our homes, our communities and our surroundings. With working from home now common, it’s no surprise that many of us are reassessing our priorities and thinking hard about where we really want to live.
“Our focus for this year has been community, countryside and convenience. It hasn’t been a year for big cities or small villages. Instead it is small towns that have shone: big enough to have everything you need within walking distance and small enough for everyone to feel connected."
Stroud in Gloucestershire was named the best place to live in the UK, with Stamford, Lincolnshire, voted the best place to live in the Midlands.
The comprehensive guide is released online today at www.thetimes.co.uk/best-places-to-live and will be available in the paper on Sunday.