Bask in the light that draws artists

28th July 2006 at 01:00
With more than 40 art galleries, including the Tate, St Ives is not your average seaside town. Steven Hastings finds out what it's like to work there

St Ives! Whey-hey! A hot-bed of polygamy, right?

I beg your pardon?

Man with seven wives?

Afraid not. The much-loved nursery rhyme refers to St Ives, Cambridgeshire.

This is St Ives, Cornwall. But the town is full of arty types, so you never know your luck.

Arty types?

Since the late 1800s, the area has been a magnet for painters and sculptors.

I suppose they like to sit on the beach all day?

Don't be so ignorant. It's the quality of light they're after. There are more than 40 galleries and craft shops, but star of the show is the Tate St Ives. It has a quite magnificent collection of sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, the town's most celebrated former resident.

Big lumps of stone with holes in them?

Perhaps this isn't the place for you. Have you thought about Blackpool?

Sorry, I'm just not into art.

Well, that's not necessarily a disaster. St Ives school is a leading technology college, with a progressive vocational programme. It may be the only school in the country to offer lessons in both car maintenance and surfing.

Tell me more.

Download the prospectus ( if you're that keen.

There are lovely pictures of the beach, the harbour, and two pupils gazing blissfully out to sea. You'll be left in no doubt that this is "the best secondary school location in Cornwall". In fact, I've seen less appealing holiday brochures.

How can I resist?

Don't get the wrong idea: teaching here isn't without its challenges. "St Ives North is one the most deprived wards in the country," says deputy head David Harris. "Beneath the postcard veneer there's some grinding poverty."

Poverty? Great, that means cheap house prices!

What an unpleasant person you are. And no, even if you're moving down from London, you won't win much on the deal. If you're an NQT, then heaven help you - you're probably going to have to live on a campsite. As a guide, a one-bedroom apartment near the beach will set you back pound;265,000.

Thanks, but I'd be wanting something with a bit of garden.

Of course. What could be nicer than barbecuing in the shade of your very own palm trees? With more than 1,600 hours of sunshine, and frost-free winters, St Ives is a gardener's paradise. You can grow grapes, peaches and kiwi fruit. Even bananas, if you like them small and green.

Global warming?

Local geography. Cornwall is as far south as you can go, as far west as you can go, and the Gulf Stream passes right by. It all adds up to the UK's mildest climate. Unless you count the Isles of Scilly, but, hey, who does?

Even the sea is warm?

You can swim all year round, if you're mad enough. In fact, it's a New Year's Eve tradition to put on fancy dress, light bonfires on the beach, and then take a midnight dip.

So, how easy is it to get a job?

If you're willing to consider the Cornish hinterland then it's not so bad.

You could include north Devon too, which is just as lovely. But if you've got your heart set on the St Ives vibe, you'll need to be patient.

But it can be done?

Art teacher Paul Fox-Williams had been taking his holidays in St Ives for 12 years, before landing his dream job last September. He even took a pay cut, applying for a classroom teacher's job, when he'd been head of faculty in Portsmouth.

He must have been keen?

He was - and he still is. "It's everything I wanted it to be. The town is so full of life and hope, and the Tate is within walking distance of the school. Every day when I head off to work, I think 'how did I manage to do this?'"

Next week: wish you were in Scarborough?

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today