The great London exodus: or is it?

By Laura Sears

Almost a year ago today, I moved from Essex to south west London, bucking the trend that saw Londoners leaving the city in droves after the onset of the pandemic. People were surprised when I told them I was doing this, as news outlet after news outlet was reporting on people making the long-distance moves they’d “always been dreaming of” with the rise in flexible working.

Like many Londoners, the multiple lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 left several wondering if a shoe box in zone 2, with no balcony was really worth the rent when compared to a house with a garden in the home counties. The premium afforded with these city pads was to be close to the action, but with everything shut, this, of course, became null and void.

Early last year, Rightmove reported that Cornwall had overtaken London as the most searched for location on its platform. Sales in rural areas were lifting at a much faster rate once the market reopened in May 2020 and have remained popular ever since, with a 126% rise in searches in village locations in 2021. People’s appetites were now for gardens with enough room for chickens and vegetable patches, and spare bedrooms (gosh what a concept) in which to put a home office. 

“The popularity of a rural or coastal life, confidence in improving broadband, and the attraction of indoor and outdoor space are linked directly to the lifestyle lockdowns have forced upon most people in the last year”, reported the BBC in March 2021.

But (we hope) the pandemic won’t last forever, and all those initial draws of the city are returning to the fore. Work is not the only reason we choose to be in the capital – there’s the social life, the amenities, the transport options, to name but a few. In her column for The Guardian, Laura Barton wrote that she was “hungry for all its glorious chaos”, and that she missed London’s “galleries and gigs and theatres, city parks, city trees, architecture, friends, restaurants, 24-hour grocery shops”.

Jonn Elledge’s love letter to London in this weekend’s New Statesman summarises one of the key reasons I personally wanted to be here: “it’s easier to create and maintain a large social network in a place of 9 million than one of 20,000”. I have family in all four corners of the city, and many outside of it with whom I love being able to arrange dinners without having to dedicate entire weekends and/or hours of driving. I’ve made endless new friends and discovered new hobbies – yes, all within the last year, and no, I’m not just talking about baking banana bread.

Reading recent news now, I’m feeling quite smug that I made that choice when I did, as it seems the grass isn’t always greener, and swathes of people are seemingly moving back closer to cities and main towns. The realities of not having a cafe and a shop within a short walk are setting in, and muddy wellies are not as fashion-forward as one would have perhaps hoped!

I say this with the full understanding that I will too, one day, more than likely want (aka: need, given property prices) to escape city life, but for now I’m happy where I am – and enjoying having an indie coffee shop opposite my flat and a Sainsbury’s local just a few doors down. I’m in no rush to leave right now thanks – welcome back.