The problem, though, is that too many people want to live in this glamorous location. It can be a real ambition, with little thought of the financial implications or the day-to-day existence. London is experiencing a housing crisis. Ridiculous prices abound for cramped, barely hospitable properties, both to buy and rent (for evidence of the latter consider those who choose to rent a shed in Hackney for £250 a week).
And that causes displeasure. Consider this recent survey of the happiest and least happy places to live in Britain, according to property portal Rightmove. Residents were asked how they felt about their home town, across 12 criteria such as space, value, safety and area upkeep. Poor Barking and Dagenham finished bottom in five out of the nine categories, while another four were taken by other parts of London including Hounslow and Islington. No-one who has ever watched Eastenders, the least happy environment on the planet, will be surprised that the East End took a hammering in the survey.
If you’ve never lived in London you might wonder how people actually pay to live there, and the simple answer is that many don’t. They commute, travelling in, usually via eye-wateringly expensive (but more enjoyable than sex) train journeys, from more affordable parts of the country. In fact some have taken the commute to the continent; Sam Cookney recently made the news for working out that it would be cheaper to live in Barcelona and fly daily to London – and then went through with the plan. It could also be done from Madrid.
The implication for those who do live there is that they surely have to get a job that justifies the means. But what if you like London and can’t find employment, or just want to reside but not work there? What if the perfect job comes up in Hertfordshire, or Cambridge, or even further afield? Is it possible?
The answer is the ‘reverse commute’, a real thing that comes with caveats. For the move to work generally one of three factors has to come into play: the pay has to be excellent; your bosses agree to contribute to the commute; your work relocates; or you have so much money that it doesn’t actually matter where you live or work.
Ignoring the latter option and concentrating on real people shows that more people do the journey than one might suspect. According to Govia Thameslink, data released in the Cambridge News shows that 2,320 passengers made the trip from London to the university city every day in 2014-15. It’s believed much of the work is centred on Cambridge’s Microsoft office near the station. In America as much as 9% of the population are city dwellers unwilling to leave the hubbub of mega-cites such as New York and San Francisco, and journey to work in the suburbs instead.
One of the thousands of people who make the commute is Joy Ejaria, an editorial assistant who lives in south-east London and journeys daily to Witham in Essex.
Joy, who also blogs on lifestyle and parenting, said: “I tried to get a similar job in London beforehand, but there seems to be too much competition. It would definitely pay more due to London living wage.
“There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to the reverse commute.
I am not affected by the tube strikes and crowded trains. However, the disadvantages are that there are sometimes delays, and the cost of travel.
“Because I am not paid the London living wage, a huge chunk of my salary goes to travel expenses.”
Joy’s 90-minute journey (on a good day) is a relatively short one, compared to some of her fellow travellers. The phenomenon of the super-commuter, travelling more than three hours a day, is real. And then there are those who use one or more of London’s several international airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick, for the long-range commuters and travellers.
She added: “I love commuting. It actually takes the same amount of time for me to get to work as it would if I worked in Central London.
“The commute when everything works on my favour is amazing – the 30-minute train ride is peaceful and an ideal time for me to catch up on the news, browse social media or even take a quick nap because I am always guaranteed a seat.”
Despite the advantages, the reverse commute is not the norm. Some even equate it to the entrepreneur blazing their own trail and taking their own journey, pushing against accepted wisdom. For that reason, taking the reverse commute to work might benefit someone who is a free thinker, and perhaps willing to think differently to the crowd. They’re likely to include IT work, in design and creative industries, and you can assume that if they’re trying to attract city slickers they have to make it worth their while.
For those who would decry this, believing that no opportunities exist outside the confines of the M25, then take this on-board: just under three-quarters of UK digital businesses are now based outside London.
These are commonly arranged into clusters, which include Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Edinburgh and Liverpool. These are surely too far from London for commuting, but several other clusters are more viable. Oxford is 52 minutes away, Reading is around half an hour, and Brighton is about an hour away. All three are thriving hotspots in the British digital economy, according to the first Tech Nation report. Other likely destinations could include the aforementioned Cambridge and its county neighbour Peterborough, which itself boasts jobs in communication, data and software engineering at CompareTheMarket, for example.
Living and working in London is certainly an achievement, but the stereotypical view is of people living in the capital tending to lead busier, more frenetic lives in an insular pressure cooker environment. There is a life and a world outside, and some exciting opportunities through the reverse commute – for brave and talented people.