When LouLou Storey lived in London, there were two things out of her grasp: getting on the property ladder and launching the start-up she’d long dreamed of. The solution? “Semigrating” to another UK city.
“I lived in London for 12 years, renting a flat and working as a retail manager at Anthropologie. At the same time, I was building up my coaching business, but it wasn’t something I could focus on 100 per cent, as London is such an expensive place to live and I couldn’t afford to give up my day job. Eventually, we decided to move to Brighton. I’ve now set up my business full-time and bought a flat. I used to be totally London-centric, but my move has made me realise other UK cities have just as much vibrancy, culture and opportunities.”
LouLou is not the only one to realise moving out of London to another city is a smart career move. The term “semigration”, first used in 2010 to describe the talent exodus of people working abroad to escape the economic downturn, has now taken on a new meaning, with more people than ever moving to different cities in the UK for better career – and life – opportunities.
Latest research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) backs this up. Around 77,500 people left London in between June 2014 and June 2015, a thirteen per cent increase on the previous year. Many headed to the East of England, which saw a four per cent increase, with incoming Londoners, and Birmingham topped the most popular city on the list.
Dominic Harrison, content director at Future Foundation, a trendspotters’ agency that analyses consumer behaviour and predicts future trends, says, “I think the trend suggests there is a move away from viewing London as the UK’s epicentre for career-building and building social connections. While it’s true that internal migration towards the capital is still high for people in their twenties, millennials form part of a generation that are also attracted by more than a location’s career-building potential. They value many other things in life – social life, entertainment, arts and culture – and the ONS figures point to a beginning of that shift.
There is a move away from viewing London as the UK’s epicentre for career-building and building social connections
And business figures show that the job market is also spreading out from the capital. Thanks to the government’s regional growth fund, an initiative to promote the private sector in areas feeling the effects of a shrinking public sector, regional cities are currently benefiting from an influx of investment of around £3.2bn. Added to this, the digital revolution has allowed specialist hubs to pop up around the UK – from the Techcube co-working space for start-ups in Edinburgh to the online banking hub in Durham. “Many cities are taking steps to build start-up cultures of their own,” says Harrison. “Take Northampton and its iCon Innovation Centre, which is seen as the equivalent to London’s Silicon Roundabout. There’s a similar buzz around MediaCityUK in Manchester.”
Harrison also points to the growing trend of freelancing: “It frees you from the conventional office set-up and opens the possibility of long-term remote working that requires only the occasional visit to a central hub office environment. The cities with great transport connections will win, as they’re places where people can easily come together.”
Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management, who specialise in career coaching for those considering a career change, is also a strong advocate of semigrating, citing lower living costs and, for some, an improved sense of wellbeing as motivation: “If you’re geographically unadventurous, then you could miss out on improving your quality of life.” Plus, if you’re prepared to move for a role within your current company, then you get much wider exposure to the business and can build new relationships. Showing that you are willing to put yourself forward also demonstrates an ambition that you want to get ahead."
Which is definitely true for Saskia Hawkins, a partner at EY. She moved from London to Newcastle in August after growing tired of her three-hour daily commute, which meant she barely saw her kids. She says, “The main driver for me was family. I have two small children, aged seven and three, and was living in Kent, but working in London. The commute had become unsustainable. At the time, I was running a team across three locations, with people in London, Leeds and Newcastle. We have expanded significantly in Newcastle in recent years, so the move north made sense from a work perspective as well as addressing the personal issues.”
For Saskia, semigration has been quite literally life-changing. “Some people might have been surprised at my decision to move, but now many of them think that I’ve got the best of both worlds: I have a really good job and I live in a much smaller city, where I can drive to work and park at the office. And I don’t have to go on the sweaty Tube every day! I used to get up at 6am and then had a 90-minute commute. I still get up at 6am, but now I get my children up and take them to school. I have more time to do the other things that are important. The number of working hours I do is no different, but it feels less hectic.”
She is keen to point out that semigrating away from London does not mean taking a backwards step in your career: “Some people probably see the move as being put out to pasture – as a partner in Newcastle, am I going to be as relevant? I see it as the opposite of that. The managed services business, of which I am a part, is new and feels really exciting.”
“We’ve got people who are just as smart in Newcastle, who maybe want something slightly different out of life, but still want a rewarding career with a global firm. Sometimes, people are a bit narrow-minded about the regions, assuming it’s only people in London who have ambition. Having worked here, I know that there are people with great ideas and grand plans for their careers sat in regional offices. I don’t think we should be as London-focused as we are.”
It’s not only your career that can get a boost from semigrating. With house prices in central London now some of the most expensive in Europe, for many it’s the only way of getting on the property ladder in your thirties. According to the latest figures from the house-price index, the average London property is £485,000 compared with £178,000 in the West Midlands and £127,000 in the North East..
“It’s the hard economic truth that it’s house prices that are causing people to consider leaving for more affordable locations,” says Dominic. “But, with every single region across the UK now having a great tourism offering and a website and an app showcasing their culture, food and nature, I think people are becoming more aware of travel around the UK. What follows that is acceptance and acknowledgement that there is a life outside of London.”
Which is certainly the case for LouLou, who says, “Moving out was the best thing I did for my business and my home life. You don’t need to be in London to boost your career.”