In this second part of a two part feature, Steff Humm talks to three creative professionals who have been priced out of the capital. Sub editor – Amie Filcher
In 2013, an average of 977,000 people were travelling into London by train each day, according to The Department of Transport. Many of these were commuters living outside the city due to lower property prices in neighbouring towns.
After touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012, Matt Sutton decided to give up his room and move home.
“I’d been living back home in my weeks off and enjoyed spending time in Hull,” he says. “It worked out cheaper per month to go down for meetings by train and come back north afterwards than continuing to rent and live in London.”
In 2014, Lee Clotworthy also felt it was time to return to his mum’s house in Liverpool.
“There’s a difference between giving up and knowing you’ve had enough,” he says. “It gives me more freedom to do some more writing and go for more auditions. As soon as I got back I had an audition for a pantomime – I toured it across the UK and I haven’t done anything like that in the seven years I’ve lived in London. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
Interestingly, Liverpool was considered to be the cultural capital of Europe in 2008 and Hull is lined up for the title of City of Culture in 2017. Neither actor feels that their career has suffered the transition to the north or that they would consider a less creative job with more security.
“I haven’t had to turn down any jobs or auditions,” says Sutton. “I’m spending less money by not living there and I’m happy to be living in a city that is experiencing a renaissance. It’s no longer the creative backwater that I had always considered it to be.”
Clotworthy feels that there is an elitist nature to London’s theatre culture that isn’t apparent in his home town:
“It’s based more on talent up north but in London it’s more ‘are you accredited’ and I’m not because I can’t afford thirteen grand a year for drama school.”
For those that stay
Although it’s the most expensive, in May 2014 London was also crowned the best city in the world to live, based on healthcare, transport, intellectual capital and economy. In a world of “you get what you pay for” perhaps this could be seen as a fair exchange.
Dan Gardiner thinks so, for now at least:
“I don’t know what else I can do. I never wanted a boring job. Sure, it’s security but you’ve got to love what you do. Work’s such a big part of life, it’s got to be something you enjoy.”
After being made redundant because of a “surplus” of staff and moving home in early 2014, Gardiner worked hard to return. Eventually finding freelance work at BlueBolt VFX studio, he was able to move back to London, but he doesn’t feel tied to it.
“London’s great… but I definitely agree with Simon Stephens’ point about creative professionals leaving – especially within the VFX industry because of the tax incentives where people are leaving to go where the money is.”
What happens to London?
Although cities outside the capital, such as Hull, Manchester and Cardiff, are developing reputations for their artistic atmosphere, it would take a serious competitor to take over completely.
As of January 2014, London claimed the title of most popular city in the world. Figures from the Office of National Statistics showed 4.9 million visitors between July and September 2013.
Matt Sutton doesn’t believe that the capital’s cultural reputation is going anywhere fast but that people are realising it’s not the only location for a career in the arts.
“I don’t think that London will ever find itself empty of creative professionals. However, the type of people who remain will, to a greater extent, be determined by their ability to find affordable accommodation. If they can’t find cheap enough flats, or places that they don’t have to work long hours to earn rent for, they’ll move to other cities and make their art there.
“There is a great appetite for and interest in what creative people are making outside the South East. They aren’t seen as ‘provincial’ any more and they are not forced to compete for attention in the saturated market that operates within the M25.”
Missed part 1? Find it here.