Articles - 22nd October 2020

Is it time for freelancers to give up on city living?

Words by Elizabeth Bennett
Illustration by Will Francis

When we were forced to stay indoors for much of the spring, it quickly became apparent just how important home really is. For those with large gardens it meant sunbathing, BBQs and picnics while those in cramped city accommodation stayed mainly inside. The one hour of exercise was very different for the people with fields on their doorstep compared to the people who only had the packed urban park to plod around. Suddenly, the benefits of city living – buzzing pubs, endless restaurants and a plethora of cultural activity – were stripped away.

2020 has driven people to crave green space more than ever and subsequently an increasing number of people are considering a relocation to secure it. In fact, research from estate agent Savills found that four in ten people now consider a village or countryside location more appealing than prior to the pandemic.

For the self-employed community, often one of the biggest draws of being freelance is the location-independent lifestyle that comes with it. With the flexibility to work where and how you want, moving to a more rural area is seeming increasingly appealing.

Setting up a base outside a city comes with many benefits. Firstly, it makes more financial sense with property and cost of living nearly always cheaper in rural areas. This is something DeAna D’Monte, a freelance web designer and founder of Word Craft Design, found when she moved from London to a small village in Kent. “I am more relaxed without a hefty mortgage to worry about. This gives me more freedom to be able to pick and choose work projects that I do or don’t want to do,” D’Monte explained.

Jenny Stallard has benefited financially too. A freelance journalist and founder of Freelance Feels, a blog and podcast for freelancers, moved from London to Oxfordshire with her partner earlier this summer. “In London I did a lot of in-house shifts as a freelance journalist. Often this was for low pay and I was treated more like a junior. Moving meant those shifts are now a no for me. I’ve been doing more copywriting as well as articles on small business and freelance life instead,” she explains. Moving has helped her change her mindset and work offering too. “I’m also now trading as a business coach. This was something I’d previously talked about but I’ve put into action since moving,” she added. While Stallard’s move had been on the cards pre Covid, lockdown in London cemented her choice. “It proved to us our decision was the right one,” she said.

The added space and slower pace offered by living in the countryside has benefits for freelancers too. “My life and work routine has changed. I start my day with a coffee and feeding the seagulls in my garden. Workwise, I find I get more done as I have a larger more comfortable space to work in and it’s quieter so less distractions such as a neighbour noise,” D’Monte said.

Moving to the countryside can drive creativity too. For Andrew Thomas, a freelance creative director, nature is his biggest source of inspiration and the drive behind his business, On The Run. Originally based in London’s Crouch End, Thomas’ move to Epping Forest allowed him to create a business where nature is at the core of his creative process. “Instead of brainstorms, forced deadlines, forced collaborations, politics, I now go for a long run, and come up with original ideas, without googling and being on Pinterest, where everyone else would get inspired. My favourite place to work at the moment is around The Henry Moore Foundation. I go for a long run on Hertfordshire way, come up with ideas, then sit in the cafe writing them up surrounded by Henry Moore pieces.”

Of course, it is not always plain sailing and relocating comes with challenges. “The biggest wrench and compromise is leaving behind lots of friends in London,” Stallard said. “The hardest challenge was not knowing anyone, the area or the roads. That felt overwhelming at first but I soon found a favourite coffee shop, pub, restaurant, music venues and nice neighbours which has helped to make it feel like home,” D’Monte said.

For some, country living doesn’t always suit. Clio Wood, a freelance women’s health advocate and founder of &BreatheWellbeing, moved with her husband and young daughter from a canal boat in East London to East Hertfordshire around five years ago but struggled to integrate. “We found it very hard to make friends in a place that had only really just started to become popular with non-locals. There wasn’t enough creativity and there weren’t any places that we wanted to visit, hang out or be inspired by,” Wood explained. After trying countrylife for four years, they moved back to London. “I felt immediately embraced by the warmth of Londoners again. I’ve found that because London is no-one’s ‘patch’ we’re all pretty welcoming to everyone else, especially newbies. We also loved being surrounded by new ventures and cool cafes again. That energy is catching!”

Like any lifestyle choice, country living has its upsides and downsides. However, the joy of being location independent means you have the option to try it out and always return to the city if it doesn’t work for you. After all, the best thing about being freelance is the freedom and flexibility it brings.

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