what it’s really like to try and make it in london
The capital is a big behemoth that doesn’t stop to welcome its newcomers. We look at the reality of moving to the big city and trying to make it.
As a young creative experiencing living and working in London for the first time, I arrived in the big city like Lily Allen in LDN and the rose-tinted glow has yet to wear off. It's a sensory overload, and can be a case of jumping in the deep end and hoping for the best. London is brimming with opportunity for eager young creatives, but you're also joining the rat race alongside thousands of other bright-young things that are just as prepared to work night and day to fight for it as you are. Tough skin and persistence is key and it can take some time to adjust to the frenetic lifestyle that the city thrives on.
Although this survival of the fittest mentality seems harsh, often this is the energy you need to push yourself creatively. Jason O'Regan, a 23 year old from Manchester has first hand experience of this, splitting his time between working at Rinse FM in London and for the Warehouse Project back home in Manchester. "The reason I work in both Manchester and London is I love doing both jobs and they fit well together. With the Warehouse Project being weekend work and Rinse being office based on weekdays I'm able to balance the two. Commuting is time consuming and I spend around 5 hours per week on trains, but I use the time wisely to complete work as I always have my MacBook with me. Eventually I will move permanently, but I think commuting for a few days a week is a great way to ease yourself in."
Once you've decided to make the move, the first challenge is finding somewhere to live. There's been article after article on London's housing crisis, horror stories of a shed in someone's living room for £530 a month. As an outsider you think, surely it can't be that bad. It's all click-bait spurred on by a quiet news week, right? You imagine yourself in a warehouse space in London Fields, surrounded by plants and art students... but scrolling through ten pages of Gumtree listings, all naiveties begin to slip away and reality kicks in that trying to find a place that isn't described as 'cosy' for £800pcm plus bills, or 'not really a room, you can't stand up in there' is a task greater than trying to getting home from Hackney Wick at 4am. "What you pay a week in London to rent a spare room, you would pay a month to rent an apartment in Manchester" Jason explains. "This is definitely one of the hardest parts for young people in the industry, especially if you come from far away and don't have family or close friends to help you out."
Unfortunately, other than burning a pizza in food tech and being shoved a handful of free condoms, school doesn't do much to prepare you for adult life. It's an emotional roller coaster when you were expecting a merry-go-round. Finding your feet as a freelancer is no exception and includes the highs, lows and a whole lot of 'what the hell am I doing' in between. It can be uncertain and leave you in limbo, never knowing if/when the next work opportunity is going to drop into your inbox. Georgie Wright, 22, is a former i-D intern and freelance writer who moved to London from New Zealand earlier this year. "As any fledgling freelancer knows, in the early career stages you don't have a steady stream of reliable and lucrative jobs to pay the bills. Freelancing in London is hard. It's expensive. It's screeds of unanswered emails. Uncountable shots in the dark. Immeasurable blind faith that those invoices will be paid and that pitch will come off and your card won't decline and it'll all work out in the end."
Despite the erratic nature of freelancing, you're able to experience what it's like to work with a range of different people on a variety of projects. You learn that your competition can also be your collaborators, and making friends with a network of other freelancers works to your advantage. Your peers become your educators and there's something you can learn from every person on every job you work on. You have to take the rough with the smooth, and for those like Georgie, the end result is better because of it. "I don't think I've ever been more fulfilled. Because I have the extraordinary privilege and freedom to be doing things I love, and to mould the career that I want in the way that I want to do it. And though the competitiveness and expensiveness of London makes the hustle all that much harder, the opportunities are that much greater."
One of the best things about London for a creative, is that you could go to an exhibition opening, zine launch or panel discussion every night of the week if you wanted to. Even if you just turn up, get a free drink and network for an hour. You never know, the person you find yourself chatting to in the queue for the toilet could be the one who gives you your lucky break.
Sometimes Londoners take for granted the abundance of inspiration that the city provides, which is a rush of excitement when new to those such as Florie Harding, a 19-year-old from a small village in Devon who has moved study Fashion Journalism at CSM. "Although Devon is beautiful, you live and breath the same air everyday and diversity is an issue. Inspiration didn't come easy, so now being planted in London, I never know where to fixate my eyes. Everyone wants to make an impact on the world by showcasing their creativity, it is so different to anything I have ever experienced and that's what makes it so thrilling and engaging."
Like every major city, London has its pitfalls and quirks but it's also home to an exciting petri dish of creative culture, driven forward by talented, outspoken young people striving to make change for the better. Through the decades, subcultures and creative movements have continued to emerge, from Punk to Garage and Grime. This rich, diverse and inclusive atmosphere is something unique, and although other big cities have their attributes too, London has that special something that draws young creatives towards it, and that's worth sticking it out for.
Text Lula Ososki
Photography Garry Knight