“We are a community here, everybody looks out for everybody.”

Rob Kingston was fishing from the end of Eastbourne Pier when I asked if he thought his hometown was a miserable place.

Why such an odd question, you ask? Well, Eastbourne was named the third saddest place in the UK in a study released a few weeks ago.

Paranimo, an online counselling matching platform, said it found a significant decline in satisfaction, worthwhileness and happiness in the town over the last decade.

I stumbled upon Rob, 53, at the end of the old pier as he proudly showed his catch to some tourists before throwing it back in the sea. He firmly disagreed that the Regency town is one of the saddest places in the UK.

“We are all happy. Yes, you get some idiots in town, every town has them."

The Argus: Eastbourne is a Regency town full of hotelsEastbourne is a Regency town full of hotels (Image: The Argus)

Coming into Eastbourne over the South Downs, you get a stunning view of the town. It dubs itself the “Sunshine Coast” but does have a reputation (which some call unfair) as “God’s waiting room”.

“We come every year, it’s a happy town but some of the shops are a bit run down,” said Kath Ellis, 75, who visits every year from Scunthorpe with her husband Tony, 79.

“A lot of the shops are empty. I wouldn’t say it’s a sad town. It’s like anywhere you go, some buildings need a paint up.

“We have talked to everybody even people we don’t know. It’s friendly.”

The Argus: Eastbourne's seafront is lined with old hotelsEastbourne's seafront is lined with old hotels (Image: The Argus)

Eastbourne relies heavily on its tourist trade like many seaside towns. I visited two weeks ago when the weather was not so kind and it felt a bit like a ghost town. This second visit was the complete opposite however due to the tepid March sun.

Eastbourne is lined with old seafront hotels which have probably had their heyday but clearly have regular clientele like Kath and Tony.

Pretty much every hotel is in a street which has Italian gelato restaurants, fish and chip shops and… faulty parking machines.

The Argus: Eastbourne is full of Italian restaurants and faulty parking machinesEastbourne is full of Italian restaurants and faulty parking machines (Image: The Argus)

“Eastbourne is a sad run-down place, there isn’t enough for young people to do here,” said James Lock, manager of Eastbourne Aquarium and Reptile Centre which has been in the town since 1969.

The 42-year-old said: “It looks like a very down and depressing town, there is nothing for visitors of a certain generation to do. The older generation might like to go visit the art galleries around town but for the younger generation there is not a lot to do. It has lost its sparkle.

“One woman brings her children in here because they love looking around. It’s about inspiring the next generation to enjoy these animals.

The Argus: James Lock with one of his Albino Boa ConstrictorsJames Lock with one of his Albino Boa Constrictors (Image: The Argus)

“A lot of people come in here and say it’s better than a zoo. The other day one of our piranhas almost bit my finger off.

"I like to attract the younger generation because they are our future customers."

One thing I took from this conversation, other than the fact James cleans out his fish tank with piranhas ready to pounce, was the sense of community in the town.

James runs a scheme with friends where they sell fishing tackle for reduced prices and all the proceeds go to a nearby foodbank. He explained that it helps people get into fishing for a cheap price and supports people who can’t afford a food shop.

“I could be that person who needs it in the future,” he said.

I thought what a selfless act it was, giving people access to their passion and also helping people in dire need. 

The Argus: Eastbourne Pier is one of the main attractions of the townEastbourne Pier is one of the main attractions of the town (Image: The Argus)

Next up I visited the town’s golden roofed pier which on its peeling sign has the prestigious title of “Europe’s number one”.

I would love to see the parameters for it to get such an accolade.

Perhaps it is number one for piles of rubbish on its walkway or number one for empty shops? That is maybe a harsh indictment. There were still shops with charm, one Victorian tea room which had mostly elderly customers who I imagine were enjoying a nice catch up with the lovely views around them.

On my visit two weeks ago I was tempted to try out the tarot reading but on my return it appeared to be the latest venture to have closed on the rickety attraction. I wonder if they saw that coming?

The Argus: Eastbourne Pier has piles of debris all over the placeEastbourne Pier has piles of debris all over the place (Image: The Argus)

Upon reaching the end of the pier I bumped into a man holding a thornback ray which he had just caught. It was Rob, the man I mentioned earlier. He was happy to pose for a picture.

“I’m throwing this one back because she’s a female and is pregnant,” said Rob, who added he eats the males for tea.

The 53-year-old said: “I saw the study, I moved here from Gloucestershire and it’s friendlier than there. The people here are friendly and look out for each other more. You get more sunshine here.

“We are a community here, everybody looks out for everybody."

The Argus: Rob Kingston said Eastbourne is a happy placeRob Kingston said Eastbourne is a happy place (Image: The Argus)

“You get that in Brighton, Newhaven and Lewes wherever you go. At the end of the day it’s about what you make of it.”

I then paid the arcade a visit and did the customary tourist thing of wasting a tenner on the coin pushers and toy grabbers that never grasp anything with any strength.

On my way back off the pier I got two-for-one, a pile of rubbish (broken regency-style lights) inside an empty business lot.

“It’s not a sad town, there are some sad aspects with businesses closing down,” said Stephen Carmichael, who was busking on the seafront.

“Sussex is quite bad for rough sleepers. Eastbourne is quite cheerful and friendly on the whole.”

The Argus: Stephen Carmichael enjoying busking on the seafrontStephen Carmichael enjoying busking on the seafront (Image: The Argus)

Despite being a fairly small town, Eastbourne is a sport and cultural hub. It hosts the Rothesay International Eastbourne tennis tournament which has been going since 1974. Tennis has been played there since 1879.

It also has the Congress Theatre next door which is one of the largest in southern England. Eastbourne has been hosting the Turner Prize until April, the world’s leading prize for contemporary art. It also hosts Eastbourne Airbourne every August, an event which sees thousands descend on the town.

“How can you be sad when you have the seafront and the Downs,” said Eastbourne Borough Council leader Stephen Holt.

“I’m not downplaying people’s mental health. There is a lot in the town we can be grateful for. There are challenges for every town and city.

The Argus: Council leader Stephen Holt said Eastbourne has plenty to offerCouncil leader Stephen Holt said Eastbourne has plenty to offer (Image: The Argus)

“There is a huge momentum behind Eastbourne and a huge cultural swing.”

While people had mixed feelings on whether Eastbourne is a sad place, the town has visitors coming back every year to enjoy its scenery. And perhaps the most pertinent thing was the sense of community from the locals who genuinely look out for each other.

I imagine there are far more towns around the UK which have far less to offer and a much less happy population.