When I left London a few months ago I assumed I’d be back soon. It might not have been the right place for me at the time, but long term I hadn’t considered living anywhere else. Like a pining ex-lover I longed for London, the city that had rejected me, having shaken the last coins from my pockets on some East End corner in exchange for one more pint of overpriced larger. But still I thought it was love and that London would one day take me back with outstretched arms and all would be forgiven.
But lately other people I talk to seem to have a very different relationship with the city I love. The kind that ends with a very real break up. For them the reasons to leave London are beginning to stack up against incentives to stay.
This year the number of people moving out of the capital reached over 90,000- the highest in five years. In a lot of ways, it’s unsurprising; 30-somethings who are keen to get on the property ladder can’t contend with London’s house prices, and families who depend on social housing are being literally pushed out into poorer parts of the country. But the people I’m talking to don’t fit into either of these groups. They’re the wide-eyed energisers, the cultural innovators, placemakers and trendsetters. And even they are leaving in droves and trading the big smoke for suburbs, smaller cities or places overseas.
I spent a couple of days chatting to some of them to find out if good jobs, culture and fun can also be found in places with cheaper coffee.
Priya, 28 – Bristol
My boyfriend and I moved here a few months ago to be closer to nature. We both love climbing and it’s easier here to escape to the countryside and find good climbing spots. We also moved for the usual financial reasons and so our quality of life here is better. In London it felt like people were trying to fuck you over all the time, like landlords and even cafés that charge £10 for a veggie breakfast.
James, 28 – Toronto
In London, I was working 12 to 14 hour days and getting no overtime payment. My commute was two hours and literally my life was just work. In Toronto I work for an investment firm, work 9-5 and get paid overtime. There is less crime here, I can afford to go out and I have a better social life. Yes the winters are colder but I love it here. I do miss London but I don't miss the crazy traffic and claustrophobia on the tube and the streets. Oh and I own a car which I could never afford to do in London!
Julie, 26 – Amsterdam
I'm Canadian and lived in London for three years, then moved on to the Netherlands with my husband (who is British). We had grown weary of the lifestyle we had in London. I was on a spouse visa which is only valid for 2.5 years at a time, so every interview I had lead nowhere, largely because of the uncertainty of my immigration status in the UK. My husband was working all the time at a very good job, yet all we could afford in an area we wanted to live in was a tiny one bedroom flat.
After visiting Amsterdam we both fell in love with the city. It has a great vibe and everyone seems a lot happier. People aren't in such a rush, and the city is small enough that nowhere is ever too far away, but big enough to still keep a degree of anonymity.
Lucy, 23 – Sussex
I left London because I am going travelling next year and there was no way I’d be able to save the money I needed whilst still paying London rent. I work in tech, and my company supports remote working, so I was able to keep my job and I now work from my parents’ home in Sussex.
I do miss having a base in London, but it’s only an hour from Sussex to Central by train and leaving the capital has meant I can save a generous chunk of my paycheck each month.
I’d definitely consider moving back to London in the future, but I don’t miss the financial pressure that comes with maintaining a London lifestyle.
Sam, 27 – Manchester
I lived in London for 5 years and moved back up north a few months ago. Most of my friends, except for the ones who are from London to begin with, have moved out recently too. I never found rent as extortionate in London as others seemed to, but there was no chance as a single person of ever buying there, despite having saved a good amount towards a deposit. I also found London a pretty lonely place some of the time. I miss it occasionally, but it was 100% the right time to leave, and I love my new northern life!