Thinking about settling down? You’d better scarper from the big smoke. Once your raving days are over there’s nothing left for you in London. Honestly, it’s hard to think what you saw in the city in the first place. What with the crime rates, pollution and claustrophobic living conditions, newlyweds and young families are running for the shires. Or are they?
There’s a narrative being peddled that anyone with kids, or thinking about starting a family, has outgrown London both literally and figuratively. Come 5pm, the capital’s married office workers depart for their hour and a half commute to the countryside, where they will get home to little Toby and Tatianna frolicking in their acre of luscious green garden. But, despite the idyll, there are some couples who can’t imagine anything worse. We spoke with those resisting the exodus to find out why they still have a London postcode.
Magin Trewhella works in PR and lives with his wife Claire, a primary school teacher, and their two children. When I catch him on the phone one morning, he’s just cycled from his home in Streatham to the office in Shoreditch. It’s a 50 minute cycle. Not close, but a healthy door-to-door option you only get if you’re an inner city dweller.
We moved to Streatham to buy a house we couldn’t afford to buy in Camberwell. We’d had a kid and the flat we were living in wasn’t big enough for us. It sounds crazy to say we couldn’t afford to buy in Camberwell so we went to Streatham, because it’s still fucking expensive, but it is marginally more affordable.
Magin’s love affair with London started when he was 10, and he was taken to Arsenal matches by a family friend. "Ever since then, I made it my mission to be close to Arsenal." That draw to London continued into his teens. "When I was about 16 I started to go to big clubs and raves in east London. This was the late 90s, I was really into drum and bass music so all my personal passions were in London."
When picking a uni, he chose what is now London Met. It’s in Holloway, around the corner from The Gunners. Despite dropping out of his uni course, he’s never moved out of London since.
But he admits "no doubt, there is a trend for people from the home counties to move to London after uni. They think their twenties are their London days and then 10 years later move back to Berkshire." But as someone who’s always aspired to live in London, rather than ending up there because of job opportunities out of uni, he doesn’t feel a draw back to the shires.
It’s a view shared by pharmacist Shabnam. She lives in Southgate with her husband and two month old daughter, Sophia. Despite growing up in a rural village in India she doesn’t feel a pull to the countryside.
Maybe for a holiday, but I don’t want to live my whole life in a holiday destination, I want to be somewhere vibrant.
The stereotype of Londoners being the antithesis of close rural communities, never talking to their neighbours, is also firmly rebutted. "We’ve got a little garden and I was able to grow a veg patch last summer. We had loads of marrows and courgettes and we went round and gave them to our neighbours. So it feels like a small village within a large city."
Since having her daughter, she’s found that the friendly side of Londoners is more obvious than ever:
I go for walks in the morning and there are loads of really friendly dog walkers, they talk to me a lot more, I feel, now that I have the baby.
Fashion journalist Polly Sayer married her husband Matt in August, and they’ve just bought their first home together.
When we were looking at houses we could afford, I did briefly consider locations further away, like Guildford. It’s tempting to move out because you can buy so much more with your money. But the added commuting time doesn’t make it worth the extra space.
Plus, Matt grew up in London so couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, and Polly would hate to be far from her friends. So they’ve reached a middle-ground, finding a three bedroom Victorian terrace in Surbiton that was within their budget and isn’t as compact as buying in Zone 2. It’s a little bit further from the centre but, they hope, will have a stronger community feel.
But does the prospect of raising kids in the city put any of these London lovers in any doubt?
"I expect we’ll be in our property for the next 30 or 40 years. We can’t afford to buy anywhere bigger in London on our salaries, but we might be able to consider extending if we need more space," says Magin. "I think the positives of growing up somewhere so cosmopolitan outweigh the negatives for kids."
Shabnam agrees. 'The only thing I worry about is the pollution. My husband has asthma, it definitely flares up when he’s spent extended periods in central."
But both are keen to highlight how great London’s green spaces are. "I don’t miss the noisy bars and clubs," adds Magin. "Instead, I know every park in south London like the back of my hand. My favourite hidden gem is Morden Hall Park which I never would have dreamed of going to unless I needed a place to push a buggy round and it’s actually one of the most beautiful places in London."
See, those acres of fresh air are accessible nearer than Kent.
There’s a common theme for the Londoners we chat to. The reason they stay isn’t the museums, theatres or galleries ("I wish I could say I went all the time, but I just don’t," Magin admits) — it’s the people. When Shabnam moved to London from her small village in India 10 years ago she was apprehensive whether she would fit in.
Although I have a different background to most Londoners I don’t feel I stick out. For the first few months when I rode the tube I noticed how many different languages were being spoken...I could dye my hair purple and no one would stare!
"It’s the people, the culture and the diversity of interests," concurs Magin. "The humour as well. When I go back to where I grew up [in Didcot, near Reading] I don’t think, yes I’ve come home now. I feel bored. If you go to the pub or interact with people it doesn’t have the same buzz, the people don’t have the same crackle."