For years I could never see myself living anywhere but London. I genuinely thought that no other place in the UK could offer me what London could. For reference, after studying at drama school, the idea of moving back to the midlands felt like taking 10 steps back from the entertainment industry, and London was the hub of it all. Without living there, I wouldn't have made the connections that I did in theatre, live comedy, tv & film and even digital. Fast forward to today, i've now spent over 2 few years of my life in a smaller town. Ok, Chichester is technically classed as a city because it has a cathedral but for the purpose of this article (and the fact that Chichester doesn't have a Zara) let's call it a town. From spending nearly a decade in London and 2 years in Chichester, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on living, and whether or not I'd ever move back.
Generally, there are more job opportunities in London and with that usually a nicer salary to go with it. I can't say I can relate, since all of my jobs in London were temp jobs, but still, the majority of people move to a city to climb the ladder in their chosen field of work. Lots of people that accept a job in big cities end up sacrificing things like a decent home environment, being closer to family, living near nature. All of these I feel can really affect the overall quality of life. Whenever I used to take the 8am tube into central London on my way to drama school, I used to look at other commuters in their uncomfortable suits and I'd think, please never let that be me. I just found the whole corporate 'rat-race' game so miserable and bleak. Everyone looked miserable on Monday. Work. Drink. Sleep. Eat. Repeat. There's a reason the pubs and bars thrive in London and it's because everyone wants to escape the office.
Do you live further than Zone 4 though?
For those that do not have a permanent base in London, like a family home for example, the question that usually follows is usually whether or not they live in London or whether they commute in and out of the city everyday. Often the reason for commuting is money related, since the cost of living in London is so ridiculously high. The average rental value for new tenancies in London is £1,572 a month, and from experience, I can tell you that you won't get a lot for that amount of money.
Working from home
During covid, working from home became the norm and it was really amazing to see how much was possible, remotely. I feel like the stress I put myself under making the decision to leave London was completely unnecessary a couple of years ago considering that the world we live in today is now very different after the pandemic. I can only speak from my own experience, and having already established myself and my career (mostly) online, I felt like I was in a more comfortable position to be able to leave the city and carry on working from a small town, unaffected. I still benefit, work wise, from my London based network and connections but I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't had spent nearly a decade in London putting in the groundwork. Still today, most of my job opportunities come through people I met whilst I lived there. There isn't really much happening on the creative scene for me here in West Sussex, or back in Warwickshire near my family. Zooming out further, when I tell someone who isn't from the UK that a train into London is an hour long, they just laugh since it's really not that bad. All this headache for a 60 minute commute. It's one episode of a series, they say. But if you've been a Londoner for a long time then you'll get it. It's just not the same as living there. It feels like an event.
For me the biggest difference here is car vs public transport. I didn't know anybody who had a car in London (unless they lived in zone 3 or beyond in which case you could justify it). I, personally, loved getting around by tube, trains, busses and walking. Especially off peak, when you aren't dealing with crowds or overheating on the tubes. For some reason I just loved the London transport system and I loved planning all my journeys on the app Citymapper. For someone that wasn't used to driving, the London transport system felt like freedom to me. I could go anywhere with ease, and without relying on anybody. There was also something really great about knowing that wherever I was in town, it was never really more than a £15 Uber back to my zone 2 flat (rented, of course). The freedom to go anywhere, do anything, have a couple of drinks, stay out late and always be able to get home was just exactly what I wanted.
Since I moved to a smaller town where everybody has a car, I can't explain how nice it feels to do a supermarket shop and not have to carry everything on a bus home. I once stood up on the 24 bus in London outside my nearest stop and about 6 cans of chickpeas had pierced through the plastic bags because the contents were so heavy and they rolled all the way down the bus. It was a bit tragic. I had a million bags, what felt like a million problems, and a million chickpeas to try and collect before the bus driver pulled off. It's rare that a Londoner who is a stranger to you would help you out in a situation like that, there's not really a strong sense of friendliness in a community. It's so rare that when it does happen, people tweet about it or share it with The Evening Standard paper who publish 'acts of kindness' that have happened on the underground, tubes, busses and streets of London for fellow commuters to read about. If that happened in a small town, it's likely the driver would not drive off, and someone on the bus would probably help. Sometimes in London, you feel like you are totally on your own and you soon realise that you're only an inconvenience to people and where they need to be in 5 minutes if you get stuck in the closing doors, or drop all your chickpeas, like I did.
I suppose the last thing I wanted to say about having a car in London is the cost and inconvenience of parking. It's incredibly high, so unless you're on a really high salary I'm not sure how you would justify the cost (in my opinion). Lots of Londoners opt for bicycles, but sadly every Londoner I've ever met has a story of their bike being stolen. So don't buy a nice one if you're planning on having one.
There is no doubt that city life does not do so well when it comes to community Everyone in a big city like London has a busy life, and people can actually find it really hard to form meaningful friendships. People in cities put their careers and earnings before anything, and sometimes they prioritise it more than family. The office work, business meetings, social drinks (with work people) and career climbing are just on another level.
When I moved to Chichester, I was taken aback by the fact that people in the gym spoke to me, before and after class, just general chit chat and small talk. Complete strangers showed an interest and asked a lot of questions. I found it really strange and actually a bit too invasive compared to what I was used to. In a sense, I craved the London way of just being ignored completely, because the expectation to be social the next time I saw that person made me want to go to the gym less. If I wasn't feeling positive that day, I didn't want to face anyone who might ask me "are you ok?". Because I just wanted to be alone sometimes. I just wanted to go in, do my thing, then leave. It sounds very backwards and not like me (since I'm quite extravert) but it took a while to get used to.
When it comes to bars, restaurants, coffee shops, social venues, theatre's etc, there is absolutely no question about it, London wins. I just think London does it best and there is still nowhere I'd rather be if I was having a fun get-together. I can't even argue the opposite on this one. The social vibe is totally dead in Chichester, where I have lived for a few years. I wouldn't initiate a social get together at a bar here for the fear of it being completely empty on arrival. There's nothing worse than forced fun, and that's kind of what it feels like in the smaller town venues for me. Especially if it's quiet. Those kinds of businesses just don't thrive down here as it's mostly a family area and also a favourite retired people, since it's close to the beach.
So, would I ever move back?
I think if I had a lot of money, and I mean stupid amounts of money, I would buy a London town house or cute little mews house as a second home. It'd be in Notting Hill or Hampstead Heath and I'd use it as a base as and when work / social life called. I would live out a London version of Sex in the City in my 40's and lap up everything the city had to offer.
On a more serious note, living in a city vs. living in a small town is such a lively debate and will depend most on your priorities and also your financial situation. If you want to climb the ladder in your career, then it's likely that the city is where that's gonna happen for you. If you are someone who doesn't need the headache, perhaps a calmer slower pace of life speaks to you more, then a small town is ideal. There's nothing to say that your career can't prosper if you don't live in a city, because with everything being online-first right now I can't see that going anywhere.
For me, I don't think i'll ever be able to forget the amazing years I had in London, if anything, it just feels extra special when I visit now because it's no longer 'home'. Post covid, If I plan at least one London trip per month, preferably with an overnight stay (in a hotel or airbnb or friend's house) then i'd be the happiest lady of leisure.