Why did we even leave London?
We made the move from Stoke Newington in London to Lewes, East Sussex two years ago now. Ours isn’t a story of growing tired of London, of finding it too busy or feeling fed-up with the grime, crime, noise or air quality. I loved London – and I still do.
Addicted to London
I’m sure I was addicted to the capital, stepping out of the front door was just like getting a top-up of that buzz, the amazing energy of a place that is always changing - new faces, new places popping up (and closing down), constantly feeling like things were ‘happening’ all the time and that we were right there.
In fact, I have to admit that I was once one of those people who would wrinkle my nose up about the idea of leaving London… why would anyone want to leave one of the best cities in the world?
I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be. I often used Stewart Lee’s brilliant sketch about moving to the countryside as validation for my feelings, but of course, I’m so ashamed of those feelings now – of being so dismissive of something I frankly had no idea about.
When two became three
My partner Will and I lived in a two bedroom apartment with our two daughters (at that time aged 6 and 3) We knew we wanted a third child but soon realised we just couldn’t afford a bigger place in Hackney. We had a choice - move our children out of school to another cheaper area of London or just throw in the towel – after 17 years in London. Maybe our time enjoying the bright lights of the city was up?
After a simple but life-changing glamping trip in Herefordshire, where we all felt so relaxed and happy we realised that it was time to say goodbye to our magical city.
Literally from that moment, we began to see things in London differently, (Lily Allen’s music video for her song LDN springs to mind). Also, how much of the greatness of London were we really experiencing? Despite there being lots of great things going on, when it came to the weekends we often found ourselves wanting to ‘get out of London’, we just weren’t getting the most out of the capital – and our children certainly weren’t.
We decided to move to Lewes, a beautiful, historic town 15 minutes from Brighton, an hour from London and nestled on the South Downs National Park. It seemed to tick all of the boxes and I knew the town from having grown-up in nearby Haywards Heath (not so beautiful). I was really happy to move close to Brighton– the music scene, the attitudes and the atmosphere of the city – had been formative for me as a teenager and I liked the idea of our children having the same access to Brighton that I had had.
The next step was to book ourselves into a B&B just outside of Lewes for a weekend to view houses and also to get a sense of the town. whilst there we went to a candlelit night market – it was amazing. Children were running around in the dark with glow sticks, there was such a strong sense of a warm and relaxed community spirit, it was an amazing thing - people huddled together, walking and laughing, the interconnectedness of it all was wonderful. Our minds were made up.
Anxiety before the off
Just before we made the move there were real feelings of anxiety in the household – particularly with our eldest daughter who didn’t want to leave her friends and was scared of starting at a new school. I was fully preparing myself for the come-down of my life. I had practically diarised a period of grieving for London and told myself over and over again that I would have to keep positive because I couldn’t move my family out of London and then be miserable about it. I gritted my teeth and told myself it was for the best.
Waiting for the depression
A month after we had moved into our Victorian terraced house in the Lewes conservation area, we had our third child. I waited and waited for the depression, for the intense yearning for the capital, but for me, it just never came. I think being so prepared for the worst made the reality a huge relief.
What are the real pros of life in Lewes?
Honestly, I would say that I’m addicted to my area once again, but now my addiction is to the open space and fresh air, the sky is actually dark at night and the stars are dazzling, we hardly ever hear sirens or air traffic and I love that peace.
Meeting My Tribe
Nearly everyone we have met of our age has moved from London – many from Hackney - we have met so many like-minded people which we definitely weren’t expecting, and everyone I know loves living here. There are an enormous number of creative people - some who work in Lewes or nearby and some who commute to London (I interview some of them in my blog theleweshome.com). There isn’t a cut-throat vibe or a feeling of competition, generally, everyone supports each other and they often work together, it’s a huge strength of the town.
Lewes is a thriving town with a big personality which I only really think you tap in to when you live here. There are a huge amount of events on throughout the year: festivals, parades, lectures, fairs and markets, and of course the annual Lewes Bonfire night which is the best thing that I have ever seen in my life and as with all the festivals here I just love that it really means something to the community.
Our children love it here and tell us so often, it feels safe to them. They love their small nurturing school – as do we - and in Lewes one of my favourite things of the whole year is the Patina Parade where all the Year 6 children from the schools of Lewes and surrounding villages take part in an amazing coming-of-age celebratory parade through the town to celebrate the end of primary school and the beginning of a new chapter. The streets are lined with tearful people waving and wishing the children well – a day my children are looking forward to and will never forget.
There are some great places to get coffee and a bite for lunch, there are regular foodie markets, a great bakery, butchers and fishmongers and there is a good choice of good pubs, although they are rarely crowded and buzzing. There is a brilliant wine shop, a well-known selection of antique shops and an outstanding and award-winning independent cinema.
What do we do with our time?
We spend a lot more time together in the great outdoors - I do still get a high from my home – it is just a totally different kind of high. I love taking fish and chips up on top of the Downs to watch the sunset, I love picking up our hot and sweaty children from school in the summer and taking them down to the beach to cool off, I love lying about in Lewes’ Southover Grange, swimming in the lido, boating along the river Ouse, building dens in the woods, dragging our kids up a huge hill on the weekends and watching them run ahead so far that they are tiny bouncing dots in the distance. We have collected tadpoles from hillside ponds and raised them at home, we have seen a cow moments after giving birth, we have seen a sheep actually give birth, we forage for elderflower and blackberries when the season is right, at Christmas time we chop down our own Christmas tree from Wilderness Woods. Every time we reach a summit of the South Downs, the sight of our children with glowing cheeks collapsing in a pile at the top and watching the paragliders take off nourishes my soul – many, many times my love for our new home, the sheer wonder of it all, has brought tears to my eyes. I was so happy in London but I feel like my happiness is deeper now, I’m happy that my children aren’t streetwise and hardened to the world around them. I love the amount of freedom they have and that they are becoming so connected with nature and to their planet.
What are the downsides?
I really feel that Lewes is not for everyone, I have some London-based friends who I just cannot visualise here and others that I think would love it just as much as I do.
It is quiet in the town - there aren’t herds of people walking up and down outside the shops and crowding into the playgrounds.
Be prepared if you are thinking of moving here - that London buzz is definitely not here - but for me, I realise now that I really don’t need to be buzzing every day.
There are only about two restaurants in Lewes that I would choose to go to of an evening. Really for excellent restaurants you have to go into Brighton, the same goes for gigs and a proper nightlife – we have a little but not a lot of it in Lewes – for these things you need to go into Brighton which is only 15 mins away so not a problem at all but still, you can’t just walk there.
The cultural diversity of London is wonderful and an absolute privilege to be around, and although Lewes is an open minded, tolerant and liberal place, we do miss this.
Commuting - If you are a commuter then it would probably be best to try it out for a week or so before you decide what to do. We have a lot of friends who commute into London, some who don’t like it and others who are fine with it, (I also know people in London who travel for the same amount of time to get to work within the city!)
In Lewes you do always get a seat on the train so if you can use that time as time in the office then I think it is more manageable, but if you can reduce your commute to 3 or 4 days per week I get the impression it can be totally fine.
My love of London hasn’t changed, I still get a buzz from a day trip to the city and I’m so happy it is close enough to know that it will always be a part of my life, the difference is that I just don’t want it to be my life or my kids lives anymore - there is nowhere else I would rather call my home than Lewes right now.
My only regret is that we didn’t move here sooner.
Jo Jackson is an ex-educational consultant and teacher, now-social media manager and a very busy mum to three young children living in the beautiful town of Lewes, East Sussex. She's kindly written her story and we hope you'll enjoy her insights into Life after London and her Life in Lewes. You can read more from Jo at her blog The Lewes Home.