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The Thames Valley is one of the few places in the UK where you can both live and work somewhere beautiful. Just an hour from London, the Thames Valley covers a wide geographical area. It stretches from as far west as Hungerford, beyond Newbury, and east as far as Hounslow in the outskirts of London. Then from Banbury in the north of the region, as far south as Godalming, Surrey, in the South of the region. As such, the Thames Valley covers parts of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire.
The region, which follows the River Thames, is home to Oxford University (ranked the world’s best university[i]); to Slough, (the UK’s most productive city[ii] and the best place to work in the UK); to Reading, (which has gross value-added growth that exceeds the country’s capital.[iii]); to Heathrow, (the UK’s busiest airport); and to the chocolate box beauty of Buckinghamshire.
The region of the Thames Valley is so diverse that the companies in the Thames Valley vary, the house prices and lifestyle on offer varies and even the education systems are different. Here, we’ll take you through each of these in the best way we can, to give you an overview of the options available to you if you are interested in relocating to the Thames Valley.
The sheer diversity of the areas that fall within the Thames valley make it very difficult to generalise on housing or indeed lifestyle. Whether you want chocolate-box pretty villages, a dynamic restaurant scene, or a cultural hub, there’s a part of the Thames Valley that’s perfect for you.
Berkshire sits to the westernmost point of the Thames Valley and encompasses Hungerford, Newbury, Theale, and Reading. Even within these four areas, there’s great diversity. Reading is a big town, with over 218,000 residents, whereas Hungerford has only 5,767.
From an affordability point of view, West Reading areas such as Tilehurst, Pingewood, and Burghfield will definitely get you more metreage for your money. Here homes cost, on average, £305,563. Burghfield isn’t far from Theale (link to Reading City Guide) and offers all the benefits of dynamic city living, with all the beauty and opportunities of countryside dwelling. From lavish restaurants and vibrant bars and nightclubs to glistening lakes where you can sail, swim, or windsurf and scenic walks.
If you’re after traditional architecture and tasty food, Hungerford sits just off the M4. Here, a property will set you back, on average, £380,000. A historic market town, Hungerford is surrounded by some of England’s finest countryside, and a twenty-minute drive into Newbury connects you with Theale, Reading or London with a single direct train line.
If you have a little more cash to splash, it’s worth checking out Caversham and Hurley. Both pretty Thames valley towns were listed in the top 15 places to live in the South-East for their broadband speed, transport links, quality of school, air quality and average home prices.
Technology companies in Berkshire are extensive, and in 2019, Reading was named as one of the UK’s top digital tech ‘cities’. Berkshire is home to tech companies that include Ensilica, Veriest, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Huawei, and Symantec, but there’s plenty more, as Reading has a density of digital start-ups 7x higher than the UK average, according to Tech Nation.
As elsewhere in the UK, schools in Berkshire can be state, or private. There are also a number of good grammar schools in and around the east of the county in Reading.
School is started in the September after the child’s 4th birthday, and children will stay at primary school until they are 11. In some schools, this time is divided into infant school and junior school, but other schools may cater for the full range of primary education. At the age of 11, students then move on to a Secondary school where they will most likely become streamed for their studies. They will typically remain at secondary school until they are 16 when they sit their GCSE examinations. After their GCSEs, students can choose to move to either a Sixth Form, which is part of a school, or a college, to complete their A’ Levels.
Alternatively, you can choose to pay for education at a private school. A private school will typically set you back between £15,000 and £20,000 a year per child. Children will attend Pre-Prep from the age of 4 until the age of 9. Then, in Year 5, children move to Senior Prep, until the age of 13 (year 9). Once they’ve completed Year 9, they will then move to Seniors, which is often (but not always) a boarding school.
Grammar schools tend to follow the State School system, but grammar schools tend to offer a higher level of teaching to a selective group of students, and, as a result, deliver better grades at key examinations such as GCSE and A’ Levels.
Buckinghamshire, whilst closer to London, also has more of a rural feel to it, with rolling green hills, nestled within the heart of the UK’s motorway network, it’s easy to get pretty much anywhere from Buckinghamshire.
In most studies that rank quality of life, Marlow comes top of the places to live in Buckinghamshire, noted particularly for its natural beauty, and architectural beauty. It’s no surprise that the likes of Chris Evans, Robbie Williams and Sir Steve Redgrave all choose to live in Marlow. However, the average home costs over £650,000, so it’s not the most pocket-friendly place to live.
Amersham, to the North of the region, offers beautiful countryside and direct underground lines to London, enabling you to commute to the capital and live the ‘good life’. However, it’s still a pricey place to live with average house prices around £818,000 according to Zoopla.
Technology Companies in Buckinghamshire include Ryland Technology, SAP, O2, Telefonica, Hewlett Packard, Amazon, Samsung, Three, Rackspace Technology, Fujitsu, Adobe, Dynatrace, ServiceNow, Salesforce, Cisco Systems, VMware, Informatica, Syngenta, Dell Technologies, Epicor Software, and more.
Buckinghamshire is one of the last remaining fully selective school systems. With 13 grammar schools and 21 upper schools. All children sit an 11+ exam in the final year of primary school (around the age of 10) to determine whether they’ll be entitled to a grammar school place. Those that pass will attend a selective grammar school, those that don’t will attend a state upper school. You can read more about the difference between the two above in the Berkshire Education System.
Until this point, children in the state system will attend a primary school from the age of 4, until the age of 11, in much the same way as in Berkshire.
There are private school options available in Buckinghamshire too, for a fee of around £18,000 per year. The fees vary slightly depending on the stage of education that the child is at.
Oxfordshire sits right in the heart of the Thames Valley. Home to the world-famous Oxford University, famous for its cycling network, iconic architecture, and inter-university boat race against Cambridge.
Within Oxfordshire, Bicester offers a more affordable housing option. With an average house price of £391,000, and a retail outlet packed full of iconic brands on your doorstep, there really couldn’t be anywhere better to live for those that love to shop.
Burford tops the list for quality of life, as a chocolate-box pretty Oxfordshire village with its own high street, quaint pubs, and fabulous eateries. With average house prices sitting at around £650,000, Burford sits on the River Thames and, as such, is great for rowing and canoeing along some of the prettiest parts of the English river network. From Burford, you can get to Oxford in just 40 minutes to take advantage of its thriving technology scene.
Oxford is the third-largest digital cluster within the country. Technology companies include Kandou, Kioxia, Salience Labs PQ Shield, Exscientia, Dyson, Tokamak Energy, Oxford Gene Technology, NewOrbit, NaturalMotion and Imaginera.
In Oxfordshire, the school system is closer to that of Berkshire, with states schools and private schools.
The private schools are also separated into pre prep, senior prep and seniors, and give students the choice of day schooling or boarding.
State schools start after a child’s 4th birthday with infant school or primary school. Infant school would take the child up to the age of seven before being followed by a junior school, and primary schools up to the age of 11 when a child will then attend a senior school. The senior school attended will usually be determined by geographical location, with each school having a catchment area within which the applicant should live, but there may also be an element of personal choice involved if several schools take from the area in which you choose to live.
At Year 9 or 10 (age 14 or 15), students will drop some subjects and choose a smaller range (usually 9 or 10) of subjects to specialise in ahead of their GCSE exams, which are graded 1-9, replacing the more traditional letter grades of A* to E.
After these exams, students will typically attend a college or sixth form to sit A’ Level exams, a smaller set of subjects, for which the final examination grades will be an element of consideration in university applications.
Whilst Oxford is home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, getting a place at Oxford University can, for most people, be a challenge. However, there are plenty of other very good universities nearby such as Oxford Brookes, Reading University and Henley Business School, and not far from the Thames Valley are other red brick universities and Russell Group universities such as Bristol and Southampton University.
European citizens need a visa to work in the Thames Valley, or anywhere else in the UK. Once you’ve secured a job, your employer can usually apply for a work visa on your behalf. You can read more about the UK work visa application process post-Brexit in our article ‘All you need to know about UK immigration visa changes ’.
The cost of living in the Thames Valley isn’t far below London prices.
Typical living costs in the Thames Valley can vary according to where in the region you live, but you can expect living costs for a family of four to be around £2507 per month (Reading).[iv]
Dining out for two will cost you around £52.00, but a McDonalds can be picked up for around £6.00. A beer or a glass of wine to wash it down will set you back another £4.
A loaf of bread is typically around £1.20 and a litre of milk priced just over 81p.
The average salary for technology roles in the Thames Valley varies between role and locations. A lead C#. Net Developer could command up to £70,000, whereas a Java Developer could expect to be paid as much as £90,000 per annum. However, even the salaries vary depending on where in the Thames Valley you are working. A software engineer in Oxford could command up to £50,000, but in Marlow could command nearer £60,000.
Hardware positions such as an ASIC Design Engineers within the Thames Valley area could receive a salary between £40-£80,000 depending on experience levels. Verification Engineers and RF ASIC Design Leads within Oxfordshire could earn up to £75-£95,000 depending on their level of experience. Junior positions such as an Analog / Mixed Signal IC Design Engineer within the area could expect to be paid £45-£60,000.
The Thames Valley is an extensive area and the best way to get from one part of the Thames Valley to another is undoubtedly by car. There are trains that run between Reading, Oxford, Swindon, Slough and even Aylesbury, but some of these services may require you to change at London.
However, if you’re lucky enough to be living and working in Oxford, public transport such as the city’s bus service is your best bet, or, better yet, grab yourself a bike and see the sights of Oxford, whilst skipping the traffic and reducing your carbon footprint.
In the larger cities like Swindon and Reading, car or bus is a good option, but Reading is legendary for its rush hour traffic.
The Thames Valley has long been recognised as the UK’s most established technology hub, receiving investment from Microsoft, Oracle, Vodafone, Telefonica, McAfee, Symantec, Verizon, FireEye, and Herjavec Group to name a handful.
There are more than 8,000 technology-led companies in the region, which is popular among both established companies and start-ups for its proximity to London, and the lower rates of the regions. Berkshire, part of the Thames Valley, is an internationally renowned tech cluster, as it’s home to many large-scale technology businesses and a growing number of start-ups.
The Thames Valley is famous for its exquisite eateries. Restaurants such as Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck; Roux family-owned The Waterside Inn, Bray; Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons; and the exquisite L’Ortolan in Reading which has been home to a number of Michelin starred chefs, offer a wide choice of fine dining.
If a laid-back afternoon enjoying a traditional pastime is more your thing, you can take a punt along the River Thames in Oxford, or pop along to the Royal Regatta in Henley-on-Thames. You can even try your luck at the racecourses in Windsor or Newbury.
For those more adventurous, there’s the Thames Valley Cycle Route which offers spectacular views across the Chiltern Hills, time by the riverside, and the grand architecture of Hampton Court, all on one cycle-friendly route.
If you would like to discuss opportunities in the Thames Valley that we are currently recruiting for, please contact me email@example.com.
[i] World University Rankings 2020, World University Rankings 2020 | Times Higher Education (THE)
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