I'm happy to share Rachel's story of her move out of London.
We moved from Stoke Newington to Exeter in mid-August 2015 and I’m writing this from a train back from a brief visit to London with not an ounce of regret at our relocation.
The move had been a long time coming. We talked about moving away for several years and the prospect of living somewhere with space, fresh air and a dog; a little house rather than a small flat in the shabby end of N16. For us, the suburbs/commuter belt were never really an option. I’d always had a reasonably easy commute and didn’t want to face the prospect of being crammed twice each day into an overcrowded train. My partner was born in London, had never lived anywhere else and wanted to live in London or properly out of it. As a train driver he was in a job that offered flexibility of location with no real drop in salary. We thought first about Oxford which would enable me to commute into my job in London until I could find something local. But Oxford has the same major problem that foxed us in London – how does an ordinary couple without banking bonuses or family wealth afford to live somewhere nice? Oxford wouldn’t give us the space and calmer life we craved.
About 2 years ago we visited Exeter for a tentative look around. It seemed to have everything we wanted: a lively little city with culture, restaurants, history, shopping but a neatly packaged one with less than half the number of inhabitants of the London borough we wanted to leave. To the south the English Riviera and Jurassic coastline and to the north and west the rolling moors and countryside of Devon. 2 and a bit hours from London meant that family and friends would be easily reachable. It’s not cheap but vastly more affordable than London. Heads and hearts said this was the place.
When a call for voluntary redundancy came out at my place of work, it was a sign that this was the time to make the change. My partner requested a transfer to Exeter St Davids and I put my name forward for the exit programme.
Now we are living in a little house 10 minutes walk from a vast country park, 20 minutes drive from beautiful beaches and sharing it with a Labrador puppy. For now we are renting in the centre of the city, deciding what our more permanent move should be. We are probably too urban to live in a little village but wanted to take some time to get to know the area before making any decisions. We love the sense of space we have here – everything is less of a rush. The city is friendly and we have settled in and made friends pretty quickly. We like going to the pub and seeing young and old socialising together rather than the North London 30-something ghettos we used to reluctantly inhabit. We can walk to John Lewis in 12 minutes! There is free live music everywhere. We’re excited about how much there is to explore and how many layers of this lovely city and county we still have to discover. I thought I would miss London's galleries and museums where I spent many spare hours but now the spare hours are spent out walking with the dog and I feel much healthier for it.
London is a great city but the cost of living, its brutality and the competitiveness became too much. I’m still shaking off some of my London toughness and adapting to the slower pace of the South West. I’m still a little surprised when the postman says hello and shopkeepers want to chat. As I travel back from 36 hours in the capital, I’m reflecting that I really don’t miss it. But what’s more, I actually expected to feel something special going back there – like Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in On The Town coming off their warship for shore leave to a bin fanfare and song & dance routine. I didn’t get goosebumps. It just felt ordinary, crowded, polluted and noisy and I looked forward to getting home: to Devon.