SEVENTEEN years ago, I moved out of London. I’d been in London since leaving university and in the 1990s, in my twenties and early thirties, London seemed the place to be.
This was the era of Britpop, of Euro 96, of Cool Britannia, of Tony Blair telling the world that things could only get better (insert your own joke here).
The capital seemed at the epicentre of that: London Swings Again! as the front cover of Vanity Fair had it in 1997.
In demographic terms, my move out of London was fairly predictable. In my thirties, wanting to get married, settle down, buy a house and have children, London started seeming less attractive.
My publishing salary stretched only as far as a shoebox. We’d started going walking at weekends – I had a well-thumbed copy of the Time Out Book of Country Walks, and life in the country increasingly appealed.
And so we moved. To begin with, I carried on working in London – five long years of getting up at the crack of dawn to sit on a cramped commuter train for several hours a day.
Then the credit crunch hit. I lost my job and rather than looking for another, cut the umbilical cord with London completely. London now became a different place – one to visit for concerts or to see friends, but my life, now, was firmly out of the capital.
That life journey, as I say, is fairly unexceptional. Thousands do it every year. But what has shifted in the last couple of years is just how many people have been making that journey.
Figures for 2017 and 2018 showed that 336,000 and 340,000 left London respectively. At the same time, the number of people coming in to London started to shift a well. High property prices made the city less affordable: other cities, such as Bristol and Manchester began to seem a more attractive option. The movement out of organisations such as the BBC and Channel 4 helped to solidify this shift.
Then came Covid. It’s far too early for any official figures, but all the anecdotal evidence suggests that the pandemic has seen an accelerated move from the capital.
The number of London people registering with estate agents outside London doubled in April alone. The freezing of stamp duty has increased interest again.
What does this mean for the rest of us? In recent years, there have been, understandably, concerns about the decline of the high street, with cities across the region seeing shops close.
But with an influx of new arrivals, not to mention people working from home rather than commuting, maybe all this will change.
Is an unexpected regional resurgence on the cards?