Well, my decision this year definitely isn’t revolutionary. I’m joining the likes of Ecocult, who left New York at the end of 2017 for a year of travel, and Leotie Lovely, who will soon be living life on the road in a beautiful van, in moving out of the big city for something new. These gals left New York and Paris respectively, and now it’s my turn to leave London.
I’ve been thinking about leaving London for about a year now. This isn’t a knee jerk decision, but one that has taken months of consideration and planning to come into action. After living here for just shy of seven years, I currently feel as though London doesn’t have much left to give me, at least not enough for me to be here full time. I also felt like I didn’t want to go back to my home in the North East of England, although I visit often because I do still love it. I wanted to start somewhere completely new, a clean slate.
I first moved to London to train at dance school, and then to stay on for my masters degree at King’s College London. It seemed obvious to stay at that point; I wanted to work in the arts and this was the place to make that happen.
But my life started turning is some unexpected directions, and the more it went on, the less vital London became.
I finished up my masters and went on my first tour in 2015. Since then that has led to two group tours and two solo ones, multiple collaborations, and an art residency where I made my own work for 8 months. When I moved to London I planned to pursue the path of auditions and trying to join a dance company like everyone else, but in these 7 years I haven’t auditioned for one company. I didn’t originally consider working for myself to be plausible, so I never entertained the idea, but now here I am. I occupy this weird space I’ve carved out for myself as a dancer mainly operating in the poetry world, and most of my work happens abroad and on tour. The practical need that leaves me with is being able to train regularly to keep my technique up, and access to space to choreograph, neither of which require me to be in London. I don’t need to network, because I’m happily in an incredibly open and sharing community of global poetry, which I don’t feel inclined to leave any time soon. And even if that wasn’t the case, I no longer think the artistic opportunities I’m most interested in are in London. It may be a change in my taste, or perhaps the shift in the Arts Council to put more funding outside of London, but nowadays the majority of the work and opportunities I think are most interesting aren’t even going on in the capital anyway. In London there’s often so much going on at once that whole artistic events that I would love just get swallowed up, swept away by the deluge of other things happening, and I never get to engage with them. In smaller cities, that’s just less likely to happen.
At the same time, I started Ethical Unicorn in 2016. It was a total hobby, I knew that people made money on the internet but I didn’t launch into this with any kind of business plan or grand dreams. I had an idea and two days later I started my website, there wasn’t any time for thinking. As time has gone on I’ve learned and grown so much. I moved from writing mainly about zero waste and fashion to a whole world of topics. I was able to implement the cultural studies I’d done into writing about social justice, and I was able to find a space where I could talk about a variety of things that mattered to me, and hopefully help some others in the process. But again, none of this requires London.
The more I learned about sustainable living alongside becoming more financially and mentally stable (I do not miss the panicked days after coming back from my first tour and trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life), the more I started to desire a slightly slower pace of life. I wanted to be able to get to my friends quickly, not spend an hour hustling to their flat with a guarantee that I wouldn’t be home before midnight. I wanted to be able to walk to a coffee shop to work, I wanted to breathe in less air pollution. As I grew up, my priorities began to shift.
I always thought that more financial stability would enable me to feel free and happier in my London life. That I’d have the money to see and do more, and pay rent, without feeling stretched at the end of the month. But the funny thing is, the opposite happened. I realised that more money actually freed me from London. I’ve always been so incredibly ridiculously lucky with the rent I’ve paid (I’ve never paid over £500 a month which is basically a miracle), so why leave when everywhere else costs the same? I’d be going away from all the art, theatre, music, food… you name it. But having more money actually enables me to enjoy these London cultural experiences on my terms. I’d always loved knowing that if any musician I liked was going to do a gig, they’d definitely come to London. Well now I have the ability to still buy that ticket and come back for the weekend. I still have some wonderful friends here, and coming back to visit will probably guarantee that I actually see them more than I currently do living here. It forces a kind of intentionality that it’s easy to let go of when you’re in the world of work here, and you’ve accidentally let three months go by without seeing people you love. The things I love here; the shows, experiences and events, I’m still going to do them. I’m just then going to head home somewhere else when those experiences are over.
At the same time, I’ve really done a lot in my time here. I’ve had friends living all over, so I haven’t been confined to one part of the city, I know a lot of areas really well. I’ve seen a lot of art and a lot of shows and had a lot of experiences. I’m so grateful, and I’m actually amazed when I look back and realise how much I managed to fit in, despite being a student with very little money.
But leaving London allows more room to prioritise obligations too. I’m going to steal something from Ecocult that resonated with me:
‘My days are filled with running from meetings to events to conferences, and I don’t ever have time to let things marinate. NYC doesn’t want you to sit still and think. NYC fills your life with commitments and chatter and things that may or may not actually provide value and purpose… The solution came to me when I started putting up autoresponders for all my travel this year. I was having way too much fun telling people, “Sorry! I can’t. I’ll be in Stockholm/India/Burning Man/Hawaii.” That’s a bad sign, when you don’t even appreciate invitations to fun, fancy parties and panels anymore. Talk about cynicism. I don’t want to be cynical. I want to be filled with wonder and hope and excitement. If I’m not in New York City anymore, then I don’t even have to say no. Everything is cleared off the calendar for me, so I might finally have a full three days of heads-down working. I might get into the flow of a project, without being interrupted. I might finish a book!’
I remember reading this in December last year and finding it resonating so deeply with me. Being in London means I’m invited to so many ethical and sustainable events. Pop ups, panels, conventions… the works. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are so great and so encouraging to see. But when you feel obligated to go to all of them? It’s exhausting. And you don’t want to turn some people down and not others, so you do go to all of them. And this isn’t where I’m able to be at my best, most helpful role in this movement. I remember reading something about activism, about how each person can be the best activist when they align their skills with need. Not every person needs to be a public speaker, activism needs administrators and social media people and organisers, it needs all kinds of roles. And I’m not playing the best part when I’m networking, or showing my face at an event. I’m at my best when I’m writing, creating art or speaking. So I want to dedicate more time to that. Being out of London clears my calendar, and allows me to come into London for things where I’m best able to make a tangible contribution. (If you have something going on do still contact me, but only if you think I can really contribute something by being there)
So where am I going instead? Somewhere completely new.
I’m moving to Falmouth, in Cornwall. For this time in my life it has all the things I prioritise. A strong creative community, it’s right by the sea, a lot of independent businesses (there isn’t a Pret a Manger for 100 miles which is truly revolutionary compared to London), tons of new places to explore, aesthetics. Ethical and sustainable living is really popular, in fact their first zero waste bulk store is set to open soon, and of course everything is cheaper. I can also walk nearly everywhere, I can breathe cleaner air, I can hopefully live on my own by the end of the year (I’m taking a summer sublet then searching for my own place for Autumn onwards). I’ll have more space and more time, all the hours wasted on commuting can be filled with new hobbies. I can finally learn Japanese properly, and British Sign Language. There’s a poetry scene that I can get involved with.
I know a lot of my online following is based in London, but I hope that you’ll stick with me through this change. I’ve always tried to create content that keeps city living in mind, trying to talk about solutions at varying price and convenience levels, because living sustainably in a city is inevitably more challenging than the countryside due to the pace of life. I’m not going to forget that, I’m still going to write about things that are useful for whatever type of lifestyle you lead. I’ve spent a hugely formative chunk of my life here, so I’m not about to easily forget how that looks.
And hey, this is where I’m going for now, but who knows what will happen. I’ve only ever lived in Newcastle and London, so this is new territory for me. I’m going to try and give it a year, but there’s also every possibility I’ll find myself back in London. What I do know is that you can’t stay somewhere you aren’t happy just because you’ve grown comfortable in your discomfort. London gets to you like a kind of Stockholm Syndrone, so it’s worth it to take a risk and say that you tried. After all, how can you really fail? I’m entering into this as a question: is living here the right option for me? I can’t answer that question without actually taking the plunge and doing it, but whether the answer is yes or no I won’t have failed, because I’ll have answered the question. There’s a chance moving away might highlight exactly why I do love London and what I need to change in order to more happily live in the capital. Right now I just don’t know either way.
So, I guess we’ll see what happens next.
Photos by Nonki Azariah