Meet the 20-somethings priced out of London, leaving for a new life elsewhere
Anyone standing in a lengthy queue waiting for a sandwich at lunchtime in London would be forgiven for daydreaming about the prospect of a quieter life, running their own coffee shop by the sea, or opening an antique shop selling vintage classics. It is of little surprise, then, that Londoners are increasingly moving out of the city as they buy up cheaper homes and start families in areas like Bristol, Leeds and Margate. More surprising, however, is the number of people still in their 20s who are choosing to leave the capital.
Fed up with extortionate rents and hoping to improve their quality of life, many 20-somethings are bucking the tradition of enjoying big city life during their younger years and instead moving to cheaper areas where they can work remotely while enjoying lunchtime swims and midweek days off.
“For the same cost as taking a share in a three-bed in Camden you could rent a two- or a three-bed property in more affordable markets such as Bristol, Manchester and Leeds,” says Lawrence Bowles, a research analyst at Savills. “Obviously, the cost of renting isn’t the only factor. But with growing numbers of high-value job opportunities in regional cities, being able to rent more space for less money can only add to the appeal.”
There are staggering savings to be made by changing postcode: according to Rightmove the average asking rent for a property in Greater London is £1,920, compared to £789 nationally. One of the towns synonymous with this shift has been Margate in Kent.
Sam Bristow: “London is a brilliant place, but no one I knew could afford to go out”
Sam Bristow, 25, moved there last September after a friend suggested they both test out the coastal town. “I’d been living in London for three years and become tired of it,” says the freelance graphic designer and illustrator. He swapped his room in a seven-person/five-bed houseshare in Camberwell, that set him back £850 plus bills every month, for a room in a large four-bed houseshare at £300 plus bills. “Obviously there are events in London and it’s a brilliant place, but no one I knew was going out as they couldn’t afford to,” he says.
But like many others who move to Margate, it is not just the affordable rents that attracted them, it’s the change in lifestyle. “I like the quietness, and the air is fresh,” says Bristow. “It also feels like you can do whatever you want here – such as open a shop. It’s given me more free time to do other things. I work less – I take Wednesdays off.”
Like many other 20-somethings exiting London, cost was the most influential factor in spurring Violet Myers, 27, to leave. The copywriter and her boyfriend had lived in the capital for seven years, but soon after returning from travelling around Asia they decided that the cost of moving into a one-bed flat together was just too extortionate.
“I felt like it was merely a playground for the rich and that I didn’t really belong there because I didn’t have the money to experience everything that makes it great,” says Myers. “In the end I was working and going home to stay in, with the odd night out with mates. I started thinking, ‘wait, maybe I can do that anywhere’.”
Violet Myers: ‘I felt London was merely a playground for the rich … I didn’t have the money to experience what makes it great’
After hearing friends rave about Bristol, the couple upped sticks to the city in September. They now pay £750 for a two-bed flat, less than the £850 they paid for a room in a two-bed shared house in Kilburn. Not only has the move meant they can now save £1,000 a month, but it’s enabling Myers to follow some of her interests.
“One of the biggest annoyances was not being able to try new hobbies. Everything seems to be £15-£20 a session in London, say for yoga or pilates, so I felt even though I earned a pretty good wage, my life was forced to be a bit small. Here classes are cheaper – and less busy – so I can try some new things.”
Dan Wilson Craw, director of campaign group Generation Rent, says this trend highlights the difficulties of living in London. “It seems like there are more pressures on people in their 20s and 30s … it’s challenging … there’s so much struggle with housing costs.”
Wilson Craw also believes the wave of 20-somethings leaving London reflects changes in the economy. “Certainly, places like Manchester are seeing improvements in the job markets which means relocating is more viable,” he adds. “It also reflects wider patterns, such as people being able to work remotely and businesses moving to those areas as they realise it’s more cost effective to have an office up north.”
Digital product manager Emily Norval quit London 18 months ago for Leeds after living in the capital for more than four years. She insists she wasn’t unhappy but just craved a change.
“There are so many people in London looking for jobs that I think it’s harder to move across industries without having to virtually start your career all over again,” says the former journalist. “With so many big companies opening in places like Leeds and Manchester, they’re more open to searching for people with transferable skills.”
While she spent almost half of her wages on a double room in a flatshare in London, she now spends less than a third on a one-bed flat and has access to an on-site gym and concierge.
“I’m able to save money every month for the first time, which is a great feeling,” says the 28-year-old. “Saving for a mortgage wasn’t likely in London, but here I’m putting aside money for the future, as well as a holiday fund,” she adds, having just returned from Indonesia – her first two-week holiday in three years.
London has lost many of its high-profile nightclubs in recent years as property development takes over the city, but in Margate the nightlife is being revived, with ex-Londoners Amy Redmond – co-founder of Sink The Pink club nights – and her set designer husband Luke Vandenburg launching Margate Arts Club, which holds regular DJ sessions.
However, while cheap rents, more space and avoiding the tube are part of the allure of escaping the capital, there are noteworthy downsides to leaving. London remains a global multinational mega city with huge offices from major worldwide players such as UBS, Google, and Deutsche Bank. With many industries – such as publishing and finance – centred there, job opportunities in certain sectors may be less fruitful in the regions, and so may be the potential to thrive.
Also, as soon as you exit the M25 earnings start to fall. While median earnings for full-time employees in London reached £671 a week in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics, across the whole of the UK it fell to £539.
This did not deter Sarah Richardson, 27, who moved to Manchester just over a year ago after spending only 18 months living in London. “I felt like a hamster on a wheel. Plus it took 40 minutes at least to get anywhere,” she says. “Now I can walk to work in 15 minutes, I earn the same salary as in London, and I was able to buy a place in Salford this year.
“ I thought I might be missing out, but I still visit London and when I do meet up with my friends there it’s often the first time they’ve got together because they’re all busy.”
‘The capital just wasn’t worth it’
Anna Hepton, 25, decamped from London in 2015 after just over two years living in Putney, where she paid £600 plus bills every month for a small room in a three-bed houseshare.
“The capital is one of the most expensive cities in the world so my disposable income was pretty much non-existent, and my job took up most of my time,” says Hepton, who now works for a design and marketing agency in Leeds. “That, combined with a rubbish commute didn’t bode too well for a raving social life. With little money I never really had a chance to fully enjoy and experience London.
“I’d graduated from university but began to feel like I was still a student living in a room you could not swing a cat in. London, in the end, just wasn’t worth it for me.”
Hepton gave up on the city and decided to move back in with her parents in Leeds, paying them £150 per month. “I don’t have to worry about my finances and manage to save roughly £200 or so a month. I can eat out whenever I like, I have bought a car and a road bike, and I joined the gym, which I couldn’t afford in London.”
Her move also allowed for something which living in the capital did not. “This year I’ve been away to the French Alps, Croatia and Prague. In London I didn’t manage to save for one holiday.”