Affording to live in the capital can be tough for everyone, but for those in the arts it can be impossible. Still, if you’ve won an Olivier Award, you must be OK, right? Wrong, says Lucy Trodd.
‘We won an Olivier! Next week I am moving to Folkestone because I can’t afford the London rent.’
Recently, I put this photo and statement on Facebook. It got an overwhelming response; sympathy, solidarity, excitement and congratulatory messages.
I first realised I wasn’t alone in the housing crisis when a German lady who had been living in London since the 1950s, approached me at a party for some seasonal chat. We cooed over florentines and Marmite swirls and I awaited pearls of wisdom which never came.
“When I was your age” she pitied, “everybody could afford a little something. Now there is no hope. I feel sorry for your generation”.
And there it was. No solution. Only problems and pity.
For years I’d contemplated leaving London. I moved to this great city in 1997 to study Performing Arts. I loved drama. Diana had just died, Tony was telling us things could only get better and London seemed like the most perfect place to be and to grow.
“It’s reckoned that it would take a first time buyer under 30, on a typical wage, up to 46 years to save up for a deposit. By which time you won’t be able to get a mortgage – you’ll be too near to death.”
I paid £50 a week in rent to share a six-bed flat with five lads in Arnos Grove. We lived above a betting shop and my room smelled of the cigarette smoke that came up through the cracks in the floorboards. I worked in a dodgy nightclub across the road, saw people’s ears ripped off and made £30 a night (a bottle of Bud was £2.50). I worked hard but everything was possible and exciting.
Nineteen years later, the novelty of drama has mostly worn off and that smokin’ room has more than doubled in price. The flat which I lived in with my partner and five-year-old son was dark, damp and had a serious mould problem (I know how to pick them!).
When we moved in it cost us £1,200 a month, three years later they were asking £1,400. It’s essentially a one-bed flat that had a garden with six-feet-high weeds when we moved in. (We put in a lawn, which the landlord will now benefit from.)
I buy clothes mostly from charity shops, we eat on a budget, we have no car and my computer is an eight-year-old laptop with missing keys. But we really loved living in the city. My son and I would go on many great adventures, involving bus rides, free museums and grassland areas.
We did not leave by choice. And we are not alone in doing it. As a recent drama graduate said to me, “for such a diverse city, it doesn’t half punish lower earners and force them out further, even though all the work is central.”
“The number of homeless has more than doubled in the last five years, yet it’s estimated that 900,000 residential properties and 600,000 commercial buildings are empty in the UK.”
We’re also in a situation where mortgages are cheaper to pay, yet impossible to afford, as high rents mean you can’t save for a deposit. It’s reckoned that it would take a first time buyer under 30, on a typical wage, up to 46 years to save up for a deposit. By which time you won’t be able to get a mortgage, you’ll be too near to death. Young professionals with good jobs cannot afford to get on the property ladder.
Dare single people try to live a life alone? An actor friend, who’s done a lot of telly, can’t get a mortgage because, as well as being an untrustworthy freelancer, he’s got no chance without a combined salary. And what about Londoners born and bred, as they are inched out from the boroughs they grew up in? Where is home for them now?
This may seem trivial when you see that the number of homeless has more than doubled in the last five years, yet it’s estimated that 900,000 residential properties and 600,000 commercial buildings are empty in the UK.
Two friends of mine moved abroad last year. One went to Berlin, where she says rent is half and sometimes a third of London prices. Hardly anyone owns but people are protected by rent-control laws. The other friend moved to a Greek island where she pays £200 a month.
And what about life elsewhere in the UK? A dancer friend reminded me recently that there are amazing places outside of London, where life is cheaper, the air is cleaner and you can still work in the arts.
“So what can we do? Don’t write to your local MP – I tried.”
If you are in the arts, it’s not just the cost of living that causes problems. London has lost half of its clubs in the last decade due to high rents and people complaining about noise. It is also hard to find cheap rehearsal spaces. It’s so expensive to put on a night, too. Where will all the culture go?
But it’s not just me and other artists leaving. Families seeking a better quality of air; people who want pets and a life that involves things other than working to keep rent are heading out of the capital too.
So what can we do? Don’t write to your local MP – I tried. I think we can all agree that we should just move to Folkestone: 54 mins on the high-speed to St Pancras, great air, and a two-bedroom house with a garden cost £150,000. Great, that’s sorted then.
Meet you in the Creative Quarter at the Steep Street Coffee Shop.
Lucy Trodd is part of Showstoppers, which won the best entertainment and family category at the Olivier Awards this year. You can find out more here.7776 Views
Lucy Trodd is an improviser, comedian, actor, writer and the long half of double act Trodd en Bratt (series two airing in November). As mother to Albert, she has developed a new knowledge of dinosaurs and Tintin, which will one day be useful.