I'm one of thousands of people who have left London for a more affordable city — and I don't regret it

Birmingham isn't the best city in the UK, but it wants to be, and I love that

Tom Cullen
Wednesday 03 December 2014 17:52
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Spiceal Street in Birmingham
Spiceal Street in Birmingham

Brace yourself for you are about to be hit with a volley of stats. Ready? According to figures produced by the Office for National Statistics, 58,220 people aged between 30 and 39 left London between June 2012 and June 2013. It is the highest number on record. The peak London-leaving age for men is 36 and for women it is 34.

Where are they headed? Where could possibly be better? Birmingham. Yes, Birmingham (please, stop smirking).

In the space of just one year, some 5,480 people, including me, moved to Brum from the capital, making it the most attractive city for Londoners. Next was Bristol, some way off at 3,290, followed by Manchester with 3,260, Nottingham with 2,990 and Oxford with 2,720.

I should say, right away, that I’m from Birmingham originally. I was tempted to leave that out because I know exactly what impression it gives. You think I’ve just moved home, right? That it was a simple switch. Wrong.

I lived in London for 12 years - it was home. Moreover it remains home for all of my friends. I loved London, and still do. Birmingham was one of three cities my wife and I considered (alongside Bristol and Cardiff). If anything, it felt like a huge step backwards.

But in the end it won through on merit, and not because I felt any sense of loyalty or belonging. Birmingham made me the best offer. There was no promise of a better paid job. I didn’t have a job to go to. Birmingham won through house prices, culture, restaurants and bars. It also offered good schools (well, nurseries), space, and low start up costs for new companies. Most importantly, though, it did it through aspiration. It’s not the best city in the UK, but it wants to be. And I love that. It’s a city on the move and I get to contribute.

The push factors were equally pressing. With a child on the way we needed to get on the ladder. We were viewing half decent London flats in terrible areas, or terrible flats in half decent areas and we realised that, actually, we didn’t have to compromise.

The average price of a house in London is a depressing £400,000, but in Brum it’s just £133,000. On top of that I think we realised that a dozen years of jousting with just over 8m Londoners day in, night out, at work, on the Tube and at the bar, just wasn’t right for us any more. It was fun while it lasted, but fun doesn’t give my daughter a garden.

I tell you what the really difficult part was: telling people. I’m a magazine editor and in the media world the lure of London and the blind allegiance that media types show the capital is strong, verging on the insane.

The looks of bafflement on many faces when I told them I was cashing my chips in and heading to Brum were, sometimes, excruciating. But do you know what’s even more insane? Staying in a city based on its reputation instead of what it actually offers you.

Tom Cullen runs ichoosebirmingham.com a free e-magazine about the best things to do in Birmingham.

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