They say the grass is greener on the other side – and never has there been a better time to find out, as masses of people have moved out of cities due to the pandemic.
Rents have dropped by as much as 45% in cities and one of the most common conversations during our socially distant walks and Zoom catch-ups is how people are uprooting their life to find solace elsewhere – some are heading to the countryside, others are simply seeking bigger homes with outdoor space.
“We’ve got a three-bedroom house in Rye, near the sea, for half the cost of our one-bedroom rented flat in London,” says Julia Leyland, 30.
HuffPost UK spoke to those who have ditched city life in London this year to find out how they’re getting on: is it all it’s cracked up to be?
‘I’ve saved so much money’
Linda, 26, who preferred not to share her surname, is an analyst and podcaster. She moved from London to the smaller city of Southampton for more space.
“I moved to Southampton in April because I wanted more outdoor space. I lived in a flat with no shared garden – and I was living alone, so I decided to stay with my family. Also, with everything shut down, the city doesn’t have much to offer.
“I’ve really enjoyed the change in pace that’s come with the move, and I think it will be permanent. I don’t live far from London so I can still access the best bits when things go back to normal (even if it takes a bit more planning) without the living costs! It helps that the pandemic has made it easier to work remotely.
“Pros to moving include saving money – eliminating London living, commute, and eating out costs – as well as being able to spend more time with my family. Nature is also more accessible and I have a lot more space in general than when I lived in London. On top of that, since I’ve been here it’s allowed me to focus on myself a lot more. I’ve made time to start a lifestyle podcast.
“The cons include less options for activities and dining for spontaneous catch-ups, and networking and socialising has become harder, even in the context were things are back to normal, as most of my friends live in the city.”
‘There’s a total lack of diversity’
Julia Leyland, 30, works in international development. She moved from London to Rye, East Sussex, during the pandemic.
“My partner and I decided to temporarily leave London to save money and experience a new place – making the best out of a bad situation. Having visited Rye in East Sussex, we made the decision to move to ‘hipster countryside’ as one of my colleagues put it. We moved two days after the national lockdown, and I quickly realised it was more countryside, less hipster! I’ve spent the past eight years in London, and I’m a neurotic stress-head with a high-pressure job. I quickly learned no-one really cares about that here.
“Something I hadn’t considered (and that I miss considerably) is my anonymity. In London, there are so many people. You can walk around your neighbourhood and most of the people you see, you’ll never see again. In Rye, however, I was on first name terms with the postman after a few weeks! My desk is set-up is by the window and every other person stops and waves at me. They peer in and smile, so I look up from a call to acknowledge them. If I ignore them, will word get around that I am heartless? Another con is the total lack of diversity.
“Having said that, the people are lovely. On move-in day, a woman appeared offering cups of tea for us and the moving men. No one would do something so kind in London! Plus, there’s a brilliant local dog scene. It is beautiful here, but we quickly realised we still have some London years in us yet.” up here, but the Covid restrictions have put a pin in that for now.”
‘I’ve driven an hour through the countryside to track down a Starbucks’
Lauren Lunn Farrow, 33, PR Expert, moved from London to West Berkshire during the pandemic.
“After 16 years living in London, I knew moving to the country would be a big change. I thought I’d miss Ubers into town last minute to meet friends, or having Oxford Street’s Topshop only 20 minutes from home. But in fact, it has been neither of those I’ve missed. I’ve been in West Berkshire a few weeks now, having left a two-bed flat for a five-bedroom house with half an acre.
“The move has exposed my serious coffee addiction to Starbucks. Seven days into, I drove through the hills on a mission to track down a Starbucks coffee. The hour-round trip was to pick up a large skinny sugar free vanilla latte – part of my daily London diet for 16 years. I was so excited to see the Starbucks sign, I picked up two knowing one would just not be enough. The city girl in me is going to take some time to adapt.
“But, the pandemic has solidified the move for me. The farm shops are open, I’ve located a drive-thru Costa and my lunch break is used to take the dogs out on the downs for a walk. It’s been great to have the slower pace out of London – it makes lockdown easier to navigate. It’s taken a while to get my head around things not being on our doorstep (it’s a 40-minute round trip for a takeaway) but I’ve had enough Deliveroo in London to last me a lifetime so I think I’ll cope!”
‘Remote working has got me reconsidering my original plan of going back to the city’
Amina, 22, who preferred not to share her surname, is a software engineer. She moved from London to Ipswich before lockdown.
“I moved out of the city earlier this year. I had the option to move back to London during the first lockdown, but chose not to – simply because of the rules and case spikes there.
“When I moved out of London, I wanted a break from city life and had the opportunity to switch careers. The job was outside of London and while I could commute to work and back, I felt that this was my opportunity to move away from the city and be able to save money regularly for the first time. I wanted to settle into a new industry in a new environment and moving out allowed for that transition to happen successfully and improved my quality of life.
“Remote working has got me reconsidering my original plan of going back to the city, especially given the political climate.”
‘The array of boring chain restaurants here will always be clear’
Sam Kelley, 28, works in commercial partnerships and moved from London to Milton Keynes just before the pandemic.
“I moved from London to Milton Keynes just before the pandemic because I wanted to buy a house whilst staying within touching distance of London. I’ve loved not having to listen to an ambulance, a police car or a club closing outside my window at 3am, which is what my nights consisted of in zone 2.
“My room in London used to cost me £800 a month, now my mortgage is less than that for a two-bed house. Since the move, the lack of social aspects to town life have surprised me. London had that ‘always something to do’ feel to it that you don’t have in a town. With everything closed, it’s 10-times harder.
“Even when lockdown ends, the array of boring chain restaurants in Milton Keynes will always be clear compared to London. It hasn’t changed my feelings about the move, but I certainly miss commuting a few days a week to enjoy London with my colleagues. Plus, pre-pandemic, if you wanted to see your favourite band, they’d always have a gig in London soon. I can guarantee you my favourite band from South Africa won’t be playing in Milton Keynes.”
“I doubt I’ll go back to a full-time commute to London – but I can’t wait for the balance that can be struck with best of both worlds.”