This is perhaps the most difficult articles I’ve ever sat down to write – Yorkshire tea firmly gripped in hand. Firstly, I feel obliged to say that London is incredible. It is an exciting place, full of life and of opportunity, full of artistic vibrancy. I love London and loved my time living in the city in that sense. But London is also a commodity that few these days can afford, life there is fraught with money worries, stress and loneliness. I’ve concluded that it is simply no longer worth it.
As 2017 began a contract took me back to my native Yorkshire, where the air is clearer, the stars are visible, and life is lived with less worry. Chances are, and current thought is, I shall not be returning to London once the contract is over.
London’s supremacy is untouchable by other cities, it is the capital of culture – this cannot be disputed. The West End is the envy of the theatrical world, the architecture is stunning, galleries and museums attract great numbers of visitors every year. But over 40% of Londoners don’t have enough income for what the public regards as a “decent standard of living”, according to research.
Sadly, London has become a playground for the super-rich. First-time buyers now need an average of £100,445 just to put a deposit down on a house in the capital. In 2016, the average rent in London was £1,246 PCM. Even people earning a wage way above the national average have been left unable to save money to put towards a deposit and have admitted they will never own their own home in the capital.
Shoreditch and Hackney, not long ago the hip new outposts for musicians and artists, are now home to well-paid city professionals. A draughty three-bedroom Victorian terraced house in what was once a slum now costs more than £1m.
Unless regulation is introduced, then the situation will only get worse. London already has around 20,000 unoccupied residences, if the trend continues then London will become a ghost town, inhabited (or more likely not inhabited) by only the super rich and foreign investment funds. London will continue, but it will cease to be the vibrant, diverse place it once was.
Paying over half of your income in rent, working 50-60 hour weeks just to get by. It’s simply not sustainable. Retail and rent prices are rising further, whilst wages have stagnated. Having spent 9 months of my life living this existence I am not sure I could put myself through it again, especially as things continue to worsen.
No money, no space, no time – 3 things that are bound to kill off any artistic inclination. You get so exhausted by the living situation, you neither have the time or energy to make the connections and build the skills you need to break into or advance in the industry. No wonder the likes of Julie Walters have said that in the current climate they don’t believe they would have been able to make their way in the industry.
The working class are being priced out of London, and the working class are being priced out of the arts (Only 10% of actors are working class) – I consider myself one of these individuals, perhaps just in the in the wrong place at the wrong time, if I’d have been making my way into the industry in the 70s or 80s perhaps things might have been different – but societal design is different now, we have placed profit and wealth on a pedestal above art and culture.
Yes, I could move back to London and I would probably find a way to again just about make ends meet and survive, in the hope of a ‘big break’, but I’ve begun to question if it is worth it, and come to the conclusion that it probably isn’t. You quickly grow tired of paying an arm and a leg to live in a room the size of a cupboard with no time to express yourself and explore your craft. It’s no way to live.
London wears you down. Mentally and physically as well as financially. You feel like a hamster on a wheel trying so hard just to exist. There is no guarantee of reward for your efforts, you just sit and hope. I suppose it gets to a point for everybody where they just can’t afford to romanticise life in the capital anymore.
Of course, things change, and should the right artistic opportunity come along then the truth is that I would likely run back to London quick smart – but as things stand, I won’t put myself through that empty existence again just because London is considered the place you have to be. I consider myself priced out. I feel a sense of pride in myself for those that choose to stay and fight, but I will build my life and explore my passion for the arts elsewhere.
Maybe in time, and perhaps largely by necessity, more people will realise that life doesn’t have to be led in London, boosting creative industries in other cities across the UK. And at London’s loss, the likes of Leeds, Manchester, and Birmingham will thrive because we refused to pay the sacrifice that London demands anymore.