The received wisdom is that young, creative people should move to London.
It’s got the best jobs, the networking opportunities, the inspiring history, the emerging talent, the arts universities, the collectives, the cliques and the clichés to propel any young artist to the top of their chosen industry. But this well trodden route is starting to falter. People aren’t moving to London as quickly as they used to and they are reluctant to stay once they get there.
More of us than ever are leaving the Big Smoke for other UK cities. So why is this – and should you be thinking about leaving London?
“London is a brilliant place for accessing everything you could possibly wish for, including amazing art, culture and creative people from all over the world, but for me, it wasn't sustainable,” says Jane Bradley, writer and founder of literary charity For Books’ Sake, who left London for Manchester in 2011. “I needed space – physical, mental, financial – and I just wasn't getting that in London.”
Maybe this thinking isn’t new. Patrick Snape, a Newcastle-based artist and musician, recalls completing his degree in the 80s and being offered a place the Royal College of Arts: “Was I flattered? Yes. Did I have any intention of moving down to London? No.” Despite his resolve, Snape remembers the feeling among his contemporaries that if you didn’t move, “As both a visual artist and musician you are made to feel as though you're an underachiever and not serious about what you do”.
For every person who leaves home for London, there are two or three more who decided to stay and invest in their local community. This is what motivated Faye O, an Arts Developer Worker, to stay in Newcastle. “Working in your own community and seeing local people benefit from art projects is a great thing and very important to me,” she says. As a result of this ongoing dedication more venues are opening outside London, developed by local artists who are used to working with the support of a community.
These collectives are also able to take advantage of a fairer distribution of arts funding. There will always be some controversy over the way funding is awarded but outside London smaller venues have less competition from the big name organisations currently camped out along the river and in Trafalgar Square.
David Steans, an artist and writer based in Leeds, describes the boost that a smaller community and great amount of resources can give an artist: “Creatively, outside of London it seems easier to reshape and reimagine what's around you, to make surprising connections and to forge things. You're not always trying to plug in to some pre-validated thing.”
Leaving London and travelling to one of its many urban rivals, there is a palpable excitement around the arts. Creative professionals in Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool describe an influx of ex-Londoners; victims of rent hikes and high living costs who realised they could pay £800 for a room in a shared house, or half that in their home town. Rent is arguably the biggest financial drain on a young artist and as a result many of us work “real jobs” to pay for it.
But creatives like Tiffany Imogen have found that leaving the high living costs of London behind makes an immediate, monetary difference. “You can afford to work fewer hours in a 'boring' job and invest more time in your creative work,” she says. “I've managed to easily find work to suit my skillset, and I don't waste hours of my day wading through clogged transport systems. My life is clearer, happier and more productive.”
Leaving London is not a failsafe solution but for the artists who’ve gone in search of alternatives it seems to have offered a cheaper cost of living, supportive community and more opportunities to make connections. And London is f**king horrible anyway.
What do you think? Is London all that?
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Image by drinks machine, on a Creative Commons license