Why Everyone I Know is Leaving London

Below is a post I wrote last summer, before I'd left London myself (or even knew I was about to). It's on why most of my friends decided to leave London.

London, 13 July - After eight years in London, perhaps one would think I've found a family of sorts in this beloved city of mine. And I have. The problem is just they keep leaving. Over the past 18 months almost every single one of my close friends has packed up and left. For greener or seemingly less neoliberal pastures. And the few ones that haven't left are planning their departure. Brits, Americans, Spaniards, Swedes, Finns... The list goes on. Well, actually, my own list ends there, but the point still stands - in spite of former PM Cameron talking about "swarm of migrants" coming to Britain, all my mates are leaving.

To capture this odd moment in time, where I actually find myself being quite lonely in one of the world's largest cities, I decided to ask three of my friends why they've all left me in post-Brexit Britain.

Harry might not be the best one to start out with as he was never too keen on London or Britain in the first place. He did his undergrad at Oxford before moving down to London for his post-grad, and said being in London was a necessary evil of sorts. He stayed on for another two years after finishing uni, and, as per most people I know, did 80 hour work weeks with little time do much else.

Harry and his wife Natasha, here in Wales, moved from London to Sweden in 2016

He links Britain's lacking work/life balance to the country's ongoing productivity crisis"It's as though it's never occurred to people that we don't get more stuff done just because we spend more time in the office. The whole 9-5 culture is frowned upon, but I don't want my life to be dominated by work. I could make a whole lot more money in Britain, but a lot of the things I want from life aren't compatible with finishing up at 8pm every night. Back in Sweden most of my mates finish work at 5pm. It just leaves us enough time to get out and do something in the evenings as well."

So is there anything he misses about London? Pubs. And that it's sort of dirty. "Walking around the streets of Malmö you almost feel as though you're in someone's flat with shoes on as everything's so clean", which is ironic of course, since people in London tend to keep their shoes on indoors. 

Kirsty McKie, apart from being one of my first friends in London, is a videographer who had been a London resident for about a decade when she packed her bags for Bali. She's been there for eight months and has abandoned her Britishness to the extent where she now actually calls herself a #digitalnomad without a slightest hint of sarcasm (IKR).

Kirsty left for Bali in 2015

Like Harry, Kirsty wasn't too keen on the busy-ness of London: "Being busy is like wearing a badge of honour in London. Everyone takes part in it, but because everyone's so busy no one gets anything done. And to be honest, the weather doesn't help."

She didn't intend on leaving London though. She was only meant to go to Bali for a two month break to hang out in the tropics with Escape the City, a company that's a bit more like a movement or a community for people who are hoping to - you guessed it - escape the city. And there's a fair bit of them - they have over 250k users and more than 500 people have done one of their Tribes, the 12 week 101 on setting up your own company and/or escaping the city.

"Obviously it's different in Bali. But it's not that people don't work or work hard, they're just not overworked in the same way which means they have more time to discuss and pursue new, creative ideas. Stuff gets done as there's a lot fewer restrictions in terms of time, money and weather."

On the idea of leaving London, Kirsty said this: "I remember when I was younger and people from back home would leave London to go back up north. I always thought they were weak for not being able to keep up with the pressures of London, but now that I've stepped out of the bubble myself I totally get it. They all think people are mad to live in London and pay London prices, not just in money but in time as well. And they're right."


A former colleague of mine, James, recently left London for NYC and was the first one to mention Brexit as a big reason.

"I'd made my mind up before Brexit, but the reality of it made me a lot less comfortable in the UK. I was born and bred in London, but the Brexit vote made me genuinely feel that I understood the country less well, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I disagree quite fundamentally with 17 million people. So yeah, the Brexit vote made me less worried about leaving."

James. He's about as British and sarcastic as they make them. 

Clearly this made me wonder about his concerns about the prospects of a potential Trump presidency.

"Trump is different. To me at least. If he does win the election it'd be part of the adventure, and I think a lot of interesting conversation would come from it. People in NYC are interested in hearing each other's stories, even if it's just a 20-minute chat, no strings attached."

"I'll meet people out and about and strangers will invite me to all sorts of things, whether that's gigs or parties. That sort of openness doesn't exist in London, which makes it feel like a lot smaller, quieter and slower than New York is. Could you imagine a stranger starting to talk to you on the tube? That sort of thing happens all the time on the subway in New York." 

So there you have it. Rising living costs, shit work/life balance and Brexit. And as more of my mates are planning to pack up, it's becoming increasingly lonely in a place where strangers won't talk to you on the tube. Though truth to be told, I've become British enough to be pretty happy that they don't - but that's probably another blog post in the making... I might end up leaving London myself, or Brexit might literally force me to - who knows. It's a sad state of affairs. Until then, I suppose I'll have to make use of my mates leaving and go on holidays to Sweden/Bali/NYC/all the above.