Unhappy Islington or the best borough in London?


Here at St Mary's, we're not just fond of Islington. We absolutely love it.

This week, the Metro rated Islington the best borough in London. They said "If you were to take the whole of London and pack it into one borough this is what you’d be left with."

Who can resist looking up a ranking to see where they feature? No wonder this article stirred Londoners to celebration and argument on social media.

Poor Lewisham was judged in this most un-scientific of surveys as being obese, the least peaceful and "a bit rubbish". But even they have the consolation of being remarkable. What about the joint last-placers, Kingston upon Thames, Redbridge, Havering and Bexley? No one on the Metro in-house jury even had an opinion on them.

The Metro's light-hearted list gives no numbers to back up the rankings. But it made me think.

I note that the things the Metro celebrates about Islington only work if you've got cash in your pocket (lots of restaurants) or a thumping salary (it's "the absolute dream when it comes to buying a property"). If you can't participate in the party that is Islington streetlife, presumably you're condemned to live the kind of dull and boring life of the residents of Barking and Dagenham (ranked 26) or Enfield (ranked 25).

A more reliable survey of London boroughs came my way a couple of months ago. It's a graphic on the Guardian website taken from The Information Capital by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. It shows a particular face for each borough based on government statistics (ONS data from 2012-2013). If you haven't seen the graphic, look it up and spend ten minutes to take it in.

When I saw Islington depicted as the most unhappy borough in London, I was shocked. That's not my experience. I meet lots of people who are struggling with a lot of problems yet they still appear to be cheerfully making the best of it. Other data reveals that Islington people have some of the highest rates of mental ill-health in the country.

Can it be true that Islington is at the same time, judged to be "London's best borough" and also its unhappiest?

One explanation is that the best bits of Islington life are conspicuous while its sadnesses are hidden. Opportunity, entertainment, and N1's general buzz give an impression of a stylish urban village that hasn't lost its grittier roots. But when the music fades and the lights go out, could it be that life for many local people is more stressed, less happy, more lonely than the team at the Metro can imagine?