My latest article for Flisolo deals with the perils and pitfalls of moving to London post-graduation. Among my interviewees was Graphic Designer Owen Winn, who has worked with the likes of Oxfam and The Designers Republic
*edit* 11.11.09 – the online version of this article has since disappeared. Below is the text
The Big Smoke. The Empire. The City. What draws so many people to London? How do they establish themselves there, and why do they stay? The cost of living in London (http://www.workgateways.com/working-cost-of-living.html) can run you into quadruple figures every month, so is it realistic for a graduate to aspire to live there?
A lot of planning needs to take place whenever you move – anywhere. Luckily, most students are prepared for this. Housing, bills, appliances all need to be taken into account once again when you make the big post-university move. The settling in costs will rise, however, due to the addition of council tax, deposits, and the start of paying off your loan.
There’s no doubting that London is an expensive city, where money just seems to walk out of the door, so things will be a lot easier if you’ve already found work prior to moving. Anoop Aggarwal, who graduated from Warwick and now works for Citigroup agrees – “everything is considerably more expensive than anywhere else in England. Drinks, food, travel etc… But then salaries are higher also”. If you work in a service sector, you will likely be eligeable for the “higher cost of living rate” – a surplus payment for anyone living in Greater London. When I was working as a secretary, this came to an extra £1.88 an hour, purely because I was a Londoner.
If you’re after a more artistic career, on the other hand, things can be very different. Art organisations will be more than happy to take on an extra pair of hands on a voluntary basis, but most will struggle to find well-paid permanent employment. Expect to work for free, perhaps moonlighting somewhere more conventional – for the first few years of your career, particularly if you are an artist. Don’t be disheartened by this – Owen Winn, now a successful designer with companies such as Oxfam and the Designers Republic in his portfolio, is proof that the hard labour can pay off. “As an aspiring designer, finding any work was quite tough. Despite promises of a 100% job placement record what wasn’t made quite clear is that it was 100% EVENTUALLY and not necessarily in the job you trained for, which is the case for pretty much everyone I know who has graduated…there really is no luck at all but a lot of hard work which includes networking and often unpaid work to build up a reputation and portfolio…patience, perseverance and a positive attitude towards achieving the final goal of landing your dream job after graduation is key.”
Ideally, you should start looking before you finish your final year, but if this doesn’t work out, there are alternative options. Don’t be ashamed to live at home for a few months before making the big move, and make sure that you have enough money saved up to start with, especially if you don’t have a job set up for you already. Also, don’t rule out commuting. Several locations surrounding London – Bromley, Romford, even Brighton, can allow you to enjoy the fun of London while living on a budget. Anoop says that living in London is “generally pretty expensive and you really need to have secured yourself a job before making the move. The further out of london you go the cheaper it gets, so if you can handle a bit of a commute you can save a truck load.”. I’ve chosen a combination of these options – living at home on the cusp of London and Surrey – despite being in a graduate media role, as it will allow me to afford somewhere better after I’ve saved up some money*.
Don’t expect to dive straight into the lap of luxury when you’re looking for accomodation either. Dave Robson, who moved to London with friends after being offered a well-paid graduate place with L’Oreal found that “It did take 3 days of intensive searching but we found somewhere in our price bracket in an area we liked. In the eventuality it wasn’t the best of choices – the landlord was very dodgy, there were leaks in the ceiling, rising damp by the front door and the occasional cockroach – but despite it all, we were happy there. It cost £109 a week”.
Remember that with the Olympics coming up, the cost of living will only escalate in this area for the next couple of years. Even if you’ve lived in London all your life, things can be tough. Owen says “My next step is to look for affordable accommodation – it doesn’t look promising for a first time buyer”. Findaproperty.com is great for comparing information on crime rates, council tax, and amenities, and allow you to make an informed decision before you settle in. There are nice and affordable places to live in the city – often not where you’d expect to find them – so take your time to find the right home, and don’t be afraid to slum it in the meantime.
Making friends can be hard in a new city when you don’t have things like Societies and a Student Union bar to fall back on. If you’re not lucky enough to already have friends in London, or are moving down with friends, there are a variety of things to do in London by yourself (incidentally, London is the ideal city for the flaneur) or to meet new people. Nobody will judge you for eating alone or going to gigs by yourself, and there’s always 100 things to do www.londonist.com. With work comes networking opportunities, and Londoners aren’t as inward-looking as you’d think, so you’re bound to make friends in no time!
Just because you’re all grown up and living in London doesn’t mean that you have to let go of your student lifestyle compeltely. You can still take advantage of several student perks and freebies, even in the capital. Don’t forget that you can use your young persons railcard (renewable until you’re 26) on travelcards around the citty – saving you up to £90 a month. Additionally, Lastminute.com, land London free lists such as http://www.londonisfree.com/ are great resources for cheap nights out in the city.
All of our interviewees agree that London is full of life, interest, and opportunity. As Owen concludes, “London is expensive but I feel you do pay for what you get when you avoid the tourist trap areas of the capital. It is a great city full of opportunity and fun as well as being rich in its history. I can’t imagine living and working anywhere else”.
*Did I mention that Income Tax shaves off up to 20% of your salary? Beware!