From London with love: Meet the new Sheffielders
‘My life is infinitely better now’
By Dan Hayes
The outside world’s view of Sheffield is evolving. It currently feels like not a week goes by without us being the focus of another gushing feature in the national press or entry on a “top ten coolest places to live” list. But while flattery is one thing, voting with your feet is quite another. However, here things seem to be changing too, and it’s led to a shift that people are beginning to notice: that Londoners are moving to Sheffield in their droves.
If you have detected this change, it turns out you’re not alone. I should stress at this point that our evidence for this trend is purely anecdotal, since the latest data won’t be out until September (and we’ll re-visit our theory about a mass migration from London closer to that time). However, it’s said that so many people have recently moved from the capital to Meersbrook that the middle-class suburb is now openly referred to as “Little London”. And it’s not just Meersbrook, either. Crookes, Walkley and even Hillsborough are all attracting increased interest from out of town house buyers.
Why this might be happening is an interesting question. Covid is thought to be a factor, with an increase in remote working meaning people aren’t tied to the capital in the way they used to be. But why are people choosing Sheffield? House prices here are significantly lower than in Manchester and Leeds, and having the Peak District on our doorstep can’t hurt either.
Of course this is something of a double-edged sword. More people means more council tax receipts and more money coming into the pockets of shopkeepers and tradesmen across the city. But it also means that in some parts of Sheffield houses are rapidly increasing in price, putting more and more properties out of the reach of local people.
At this point, I felt I needed to get out and about and meet some of these “new Sheffielders”. As it happened, they were pretty easy to find.
‘The best decision I’ve ever made’: John Higgins, 33
John Higgins moved to Sheffield from London with his wife Kirsten last October. He’s a civil servant with the Department for Work and Pensions, and transferred to the department’s Sheffield office. His wife is an editor, and can work anywhere she likes. The couple used to live in East London, while he used to work in Westminster — a commute of at least an hour on a good day. Now, his work is a 20 minute walk away from where he lives in Nether Edge, and he has a national park basically on his doorstep.
“It’s the best decision I've ever made,” he tells me. “I absolutely love it here.” Both he and his wife are “outdoor fanatics” and like nothing more than to spend their time hiking and climbing in the hills. The turmoil of the pandemic prompted them to consider whether prioritising work over their hobbies, as they had throughout their 20s, was the best thing to do.
Neither of them had any previous connections with Sheffield, making the decision something of a risk. However, they now have much more property for their money, and a much better quality of life. And while he’s aware that the move from London might one day affect their career prospects, he doesn't seem overly concerned about it. “I'm not going to look back in 20 years and wish I'd worked more,” he tells me.
Is there anything you miss, I ask. Yes, he tells me, but not so much the place, more the people. He and his wife have both lived in London for more than 10 years and as such had developed a strong circle of friends there. But they have met some people who have made the same move they have since they came to Sheffield, including one who even lives on the same road in Nether Edge. And he tells me that other oft-stated benefits of living in London such as the choice in terms of restaurants and bars can sometimes be overstated.
“In London you can have any cuisine you want, but it’s probably an hour or 40 minutes on the train to get there,” he says. “Here I have everything on my doorstep and it’s a 10-minute walk away.”
‘Sheffield has so much potential’: Chris Bainbridge, 73
Now 73, former transport planner Chris Bainbridge was born in Sheffield and grew up in Hoyland Common — but lived in London for more than 40 years. He made the move from a one-bedroom flat in Chiswick to a house in Carter Knowle two years ago when he retired. “You get a lot more house for your money in Sheffield,” he tells me.
His daughter, who was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, has since followed him to Sheffield and now lives in Hillsborough. What is causing this exodus of people coming to Sheffield from London, I ask. For Chris, the city just seems to tick a lot of boxes — both for him and for many other people as well. It’s central, and only two hours away from London if he ever has to visit the capital. And its mix of both big city culture and natural beauty isn’t something that too many other places have.
“If I turn right out of my door I’m only minutes away from Millhouses Park and a few miles away from the Peak District,” he tells me. “If I turn left I’m just a few minutes away from more cosmopolitan Sheffield with all the ethnic restaurants of Abbeydale Road and the city centre.” He says when he lived in London, lots of people used to tell him Sheffield was the only place “up North” that they wouldn’t mind living.
Any problems? Sheffield is much quieter than London, he says, particularly compared with where he last worked in Hammersmith and Fulham. If someone wanted a buzzier 24/7 city they might find Sheffield a bit sedate at times, he suggests. But at his time of life this is less of an issue. There’s also lots of unused space in the city centre, something which is unheard of in London. However, as more and more people keep coming here, those spaces will increasingly be filled in and developed. “Sheffield has so much potential,” says Chris.
‘It’s life changing’: Tommo Fowler, 33
Tommo Fowler and his partner originally moved from London to Crookes in September 2019. They initially moved into the house of some of their friends who were going away for a year, but no firm decision had been made to relocate to Sheffield. However, they had only been here three weeks when they had an epiphany, realising they wanted to stay. “We immediately fell in love with Sheffield,” he tells me. A year later they found a place of their own in Walkley.
The different pace of life in Sheffield and the city’s wide open spaces were a factor in their decision. But it wasn’t just the city’s beautiful natural environment that attracted them. An equally big part of their decision was the city’s cultural offer. Tommo works in theatre and his partner is an arts journalist and novelist. The pandemic provided an ideal opportunity to relocate as the entire theatre industry stopped for the best part of a year.
“Being closer to nature has been so good because both of us need to think creatively,” he tells me. “But in Sheffield we’re also surrounded by really great culture as well. It’s been a game changer.”
Were house prices also a factor in their decision, I ask. He accepts unaffordable housing was a factor in them leaving London, but says they didn’t “shop around” different cities to see where house prices were better. “We really loved the city and it happened to be that we could afford it,” he tells me. “Of course it makes a difference but I equally wouldn't say that we were financial offer tourists.”
Tommo does confess to missing London’s art galleries, and things like dance as well (“the niche arts,” as he calls them). And a lot of his work is still in London, meaning he’s up and down on the train quite a lot. But other than that there hasn’t been much downside to their move so far. “I lived in London for six or seven years and it felt like a home of sorts,” he tells me. Sheffield, he says, feels like the real thing.
‘The people here are so friendly’: Kaja Charlesworth, 39
Kaja Charlesworth and her husband James moved from Surrey Quays to Nether Edge in June 2020, but had been thinking about it for around two years before that. They wanted to start a family and their two-bedroom flat in south London obviously wasn’t the best place to do that.
Kaja is originally from Poland, and her husband is from Kent. But he went to university in Sheffield and had long harboured dreams of returning. When they began thinking of moving out of London she originally preferred Halifax after spending an enjoyable day at the West Yorkshire town’s beautiful Piece Hall. However, they had been here just six months when she realised she never wanted to live anywhere else.
The move started well when on their first day they had a welcome card from their new neighbours, while several more people stopped by to say hello. “The people here are so friendly and we feel part of a community,” she tells me. “In London it felt like we were staying at a hotel. The only time we ever met one of our neighbours was when she flooded our flat.”
Inevitably there are some negatives. One is shopping. Kaja is currently pregnant and has found buying maternity clothes impossible in Sheffield. “The high street is half dead,” she says. “I know there’s been a lot of effort to bring it back to life but it’s not going very well.”
The other is public transport, which is a completely different experience in London compared to Sheffield. “In London it works, it’s fast, it’s frequent and reliable,” she tells me. Needless to say, our public transport system has a lot of catching up to do.
However, other things she had expected to miss, like food, haven’t been a problem at all. “I’ve had some of the best curries I’ve ever had in Sheffield,” she says. “For half the price.”
‘My life is infinitely better now’: Farrah Frost, 30
Farrah Frost moved from Twickenham in south west London to a house off Ecclesall Road on Valentine’s Day last year. At the time they moved she had been married to her husband Jonathan for about a year and they had been intending to go travelling, but all that was put on hold due to Covid. On their state-sanctioned exercise walks they began to talk about moving closer to their families so they could start one themselves.
Neither of them had any previous connection to Sheffield, and they did consider moving to other cities. However, Manchester felt a bit too similar to the “mayhem” of London while Leeds just didn’t feel like them. One bank holiday weekend they stayed at Brocco on the Park in Endcliffe and decided to start looking in Sheffield.
But deciding to move here was the easy bit. At the time there was a mad rush of people trying to buy here. Sometimes by the time they had made the journey up to look at a property the estate agent had already accepted an offer. Other times they were one of five or six couples looking round a house at the same time. To make things even more complicated, Farrah was also heavily pregnant.
In their current house they were shown round by the owner rather than a disinterested estate agent. “They sold us the Sheffield dream of the nursery being up the road and all the places we could walk our future dogs,” she tells me. “We asked them to take it off the market that day.”
Has that dream worked out, I ask. “For sure — my life is infinitely better now,” she says. She previously worked as a digital manager in the alcohol industry, but the move to Sheffield allowed her to take an extended maternity leave and go freelance. While she does admit to missing some aspects of her old life, she says that the benefits of Sheffield life far outweigh them. “Here I have more space — I feel calmer,” she says. “I just feel better in myself.”