As I stand on the tube with my neck craned at a peculiar angle and an unspecified, but spectacularly sharp, bodypart jabbing into my coccyx, I don’t find myself wondering “Why did I leave London?” so much as “Why on Earth am I back here?”
The decision to leave wasn’t an easy one.
My wife and I both had decent jobs in media, which we enjoyed. We were near all our friends (well, never more than 2 hours away via rail-replacement bus, several tube journeys and a quick walk through a strip lit cavalcade of chicken shops).
The trouble was, we had just got married, and I was reaching a point in my life that could comfortably be described as “not young”.
One night the word “baby” was mentioned. All the signs beckoned us towards buying a house.
Excited by our limitless future, we opened our laptops (one each, living the dream), clattered away at the keyboards looking for properties available within our budget for 17 minutes, and then closed them, pale and trembling,
It turned out we could potentially afford:
- A flat above a kebab shop in Zone 9. THAT’S NOT THE DREAM.
- A converted urinal somewhere in somewhere that’s been “up and coming” for 32 years. THAT IS NOT THE DREAM.
- A wicker hamper under a bridge in some sprawling nameless suburb. I repeat, THAT’S NOT THE DREAM.
It was true. We had been priced out of London by oligarchs, Sheiks and baby boomers.
Fair enough. We’d build our future elsewhere. Except we worked in media, an industry that exists solely in WC1 and Old Street (with outliers on the Southbank).
Like a highly evolved species of island-dwelling bird, surely we could only function within the rarified air of the media heartland – Charlotte Street?
How could there possibly be enough to sustain our “London ways” (primarily flat whites, dim sum and cocktails we couldn’t afford) outside of London – a place I personally nicknamed The Big Smoke™ (seems to have caught on).
Well, dear reader, it turns out there’s bloody loads of stuff happening outside of London – and leaving isn’t as hard as you may think.
My wife and I started to explore other thriving cities; Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, as well as other, crapper ones.
We quickly realised we weren’t the only people looking to bail – these cities are buzzing with media and marketing agencies, alive with energy and ideas, and benefitting from a constant exodus of ex-Londoners looking for a better work/life balance and bigger opportunities.
After some (13 minutes) of consideration, we narrowed our search to the West Country – thinking we’d give Bristol a try, enticed by its slightly anarchic spirit and the fact we could probably get flat whites there.
However, very quickly some jobs materialised, based not in Bristol, but in Bath.
In the interests of full disclosure, Bath is where I grew up. By the time I was 17 I hated it; small, stuffy and often locally referred to as “the graveyard of ambition” due to the fact that life there was so easy and nice, so why would anyone ever leave?
Do you hear me, 17-year old me? You thought that was a bad thing! You’re an idiot.
I went to see if the Bath of my youth had changed and found a totally different city shimmering in its place.
Looking through a different lens – the possibility of bringing up a child there, the ability to actually buy a house WITH A SHED, plugging into to an industry and creative community… the city finally started to make sense. And again we weren’t alone – this article claims one in four house buyers in Bath are coming from London.
The jobs we were offered had the same start date – and seeing as we were having conversations about what to do if one of us couldn’t find work for 6 months it seemed like a no-brainer.
We accepted, pull the cord, had a party – and bailed.
And yes, Bath is still a bit stuffy. And you can’t get a truly great cocktail. And if you want to grab some dinner out you have to book 7 months in advance.
And yes, it can’t match London for sheer energy, dynamism, and craziness.
But within a few weeks of living in Bath we met a lady in shop who let us look after her adorable dog at weekends.
In less than 10 minutes we can be in verdant countryside, playing fetch with a ferocious Cockapoo, before returning home to a garden with a shed.
THIS IS THE DREAM.
We also had a baby, which is quite good too.
And now I walk to work – a job I enjoy as much as any I had in London, with just as many challenges, moments of brilliance and opportunities to learn and grow.
In fact the creative community industry in thriving in the West County, as is clear when you look at the works of Bristol Media, the DMA Southwest, the South West Digital Awards, Bath Digital Festival, Bath Life, Creative Bath and TedxBristol.
I still get to work with great people – dynamic, engaged, curious, and full of energy. Occasionally too much energy.
In fact, with less established network agency culture, many regional business harness a start-up mentality, driven by passion, not process, working to deliver brilliance, not to fill time until the boss leaves for a long lunch. They’re excited by their own momentum, and rightly so.
My wife’s career has gone from strength to strength, as she found a company that embraced her drive and dynamism, giving it free reign, rather than locking her in a cupboard labelled “that’s not how we do things here”.
My role has grown and changed, but as I attend events, conferences and seminars around the region, I’m constantly surprised at how full of optimism and, more importantly, great work, great employers and great opportunity the media & marketing industry is when you peer out from the Big Smoke™
And if I occasionally want to pop back for a decent Old Fashioned? Well, after the electrification of the railway line in early 2019, it’s only an hour and a bit. I can be home for bedtime. Probably.
If you’re interested in exploring opportunities with us, we’d love to talk to you. Drop me a line at [email protected]