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Leaving London during the pandemic
Illustration Callum Abbott

Why are people fleeing London amid the pandemic?

Lockdown, extortionate rents, redundancy: seven people on why they’ve left the capital during the coronavirus crisis

TextBrit DawsonIllustrationCallum Abbott

As someone who’s lived in London for almost a decade and currently has no intention of leaving, let me tell you: it’s shit here right now. Everything that made London great is closed – apart from my pals, who are very much open for (socially distanced) business – namely: pubs and clubs, galleries and museums, the Dazed office (sob), the clothes donation bins in Asda car park, Winter Wonderland, your mum’s legs. You get the idea.

London is also the central hangout of one of the world’s worst governments, and, in case you didn’t know, is situated in the UK, which recently Brexited the EU. This week, it was revealed that almost 700,000 London residents left the city to return to their home countries, leading to an eight per cent drop in the capital’s population – that doesn’t even take into account the Britain-born people who’ve scarpered.

With the UK in a seemingly never-ending circle of lockdowns, London rent at an all-time high, and economists asserting the city is no longer “fun” nor “cool”, more and more people are fleeing London. To find out why – because the aforementioned reasons are too vague – Dazed asked some people where they’ve gone, what they now think of London, and whether they’ll come back.


“Myself and my girlfriend made the decision to move out of London at the end of June, and back down to Southampton where both of our families live. Our tenancy was up in our Balham flat, and as we were both on furlough – with one of us also facing redundancy – it didn’t make sense to find somewhere new while everything was so up in the air. We were starting to think about buying our first place in London just before COVID hit, and thought that even for a couple of months, we may as well save that rent money while we didn’t need to be in London for work.

Eight months later, though, and I’m itching to get back. It’s been brilliant to see family and have a break from city life, but it’s made me realise how much I love living in London. We’re now hoping to move back late spring/early summer. As soon as we can do the things we love doing again – eating out, going to gigs and galleries, meeting friends – we’ll be back.”


“I moved to the UK in 2014 for my studies, and had been living in London for the last three years before I left in July. I found out I was at risk of losing my job, so I moved back to Cyprus. In a weird turn of events I was kept on, and have been working remotely from Cyprus ever since. I’d been approved for settled status pre-Brexit and was planning to stay in the UK for at least five or six years, but now I’m finding it really hard to make the decision to return. I was able to have a carefree summer here in Cyprus, but now we’re under a strict lockdown too. I do feel more hopeful about the situation here, though, than I do in the UK – mostly because of the government’s handling of the virus so far.

Whenever anyone asks if I miss London, the only thing I can say is: I miss how it was pre-pandemic. Although, looking back at my lifestyle, the pressure I was under because of rent, and how my mental health had been over the last three years, it will definitely take a lot for me to decide to return.”

“Looking back at my lifestyle, the pressure I was under because of rent, and how my mental health had been over the last three years, it will definitely take a lot for me to decide to return” – Andrea Spyropoulou


“I moved to London in 2012 for university and until this year, I hadn’t looked back – although leaving London wasn’t actually a conscious choice until later on into the pandemic. In March, I came to Glasgow to visit my boyfriend for a long weekend, but (as soon as we arrived, national lockdown was announced). At the time, I was working for an entertainment PR company; we had loads of clients on tour, and were gearing up for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – of course, this all fell into uncertainty. (I was put on furlough), but we were all made redundant after the scheme ended in July.

With all that going on, it made no sense to travel back to London. When restrictions opened, I went back to get some more clothes and to speak to my flatmates about keeping my room until it made sense for me to come back for good. But the vibe in the flat had changed, and (after my fourth night there), I decided to pack up my room and drive back to Glasgow. 

My boyfriend and I had been in a long-distance relationship for two years before lockdown, so we’ve had to adjust to being with each other all the time. My friendships, however, feel digital now. A lot of my social life was based around going out, and that’s not possible at the moment. There’s some people I don’t speak to so much anymore, and I think that’s natural. I’m just grateful to have people I can be on the phone to for hours.

I do adore London, but the effects of the pandemic made staying there so hard to justify. I miss the last minute plans, and the spontaneous opportunities that came with London being ‘open’, but I’d still be missing those even if I was (in London). I am happy in Glasgow, but I don’t imagine a London-less future for myself.”


“I’d been living in London for nine years before I left in September – I went there to study and never left. As I had no job – my flow of paid freelance jobs abruptly stopped in March – I decided to temporarily come back to Riga, my hometown. It was more an opportunity than an escape – switching to remote working has meant I now have more space to pursue my own, long-overdue projects. Since being in Riga, I’ve started a residency researching local LGBTQ+ history, which led to an Open Studio event and a series of other contacts and opportunities – a great boost for my art practice!

Riga is a place for me to restart, reconnect, and develop. It’s given me more physical space too – for a fraction of my London rent, I live with far fewer people and have far more space. Being away from London has made me realise how much I love it – the scale, the openness, and the urgency of it. London is a very progressive, unique place. I am coming back, but not for a while.”


“I moved to London in 2019 to complete my masters at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I was just finishing my third term and heading into my thesis-writing term in April 2020 when the pandemic hit and the UK went into lockdown. At that time, I left to go to Spain with my partner – partly due to space and partly due to finances. I was living in Spain for three months, and then in November, I made the move back to my home country of Taiwan. In Spain, I was quite lonely as I didn’t have many friends and the country was also in lockdown. I relied heavily on technology to keep in contact with my friends and family.

London is a great city and there’s lots to offer, but we left because the rent we were paying wasn’t worth the quality of life we were living. I know now that London is not the city I want to live in long-term – for me, it’s more suitable for passing by and completing a degree, as opposed to working there full-time.”

“London is a great city and there’s lots to offer, but we left because the rent we were paying wasn’t worth the quality of life we were living” – Elana Shyong


“I’ve just this week moved out of London after four years down there. During the first lockdown, I kept my room, and was adamant that I wasn’t moving out of London because that’s where my life was. However, a year down the line, it’s become harder to justify London rent when there are none of the benefits of London. I now live in Sheffield with my parents and there are definite pros and cons – one being the huge savings. Also, although it’s a city, it’s also close to the countryside, and being able to go for walks and runs in the clean air has been a saviour during lockdown. Being able to drive and get around the city without having to factor in an hour travel time and COVID exposure is also great. However, I’m yet to find a good cup of coffee locally, and at the age of 29, living in my parents’ spare room wasn’t really in my plan.

I don’t hate London at all, and I know when we go back to normal, I’m going to pine after it, but my priorities have recalibrated this year. Yes, I want to work hard on my career, but trying to fit in a two hour commute, a gym class, and social activities in one day (on six hours sleep) seems mad now! The perfect equilibrium for me would be to live where I want outside of London and travel in when I need to for meetings and to touch base – the best of both worlds.”


“Last year, I spent half my year in London, and half at my parents in Paris. I stayed the whole summer in Paris, then went back to London for uni in October. I left again in December and was meant to return mid-January, but lockdown happened, so I thought there was no point in going back. It’s better for me to stay in Paris for now financially, as I don’t pay rent and I’m subletting my flat – I’ve actually been able to buy all the stuff I’ve been wanting for ages, but couldn’t afford because of London rent and expenses! 

If I went back to London, I’d be alone, which would only make me more depressed than I am already. Paris isn’t locked down at the moment, so at least I can see my friends and have a bit of fun. I do miss London, though – I miss my friends, my dance crew, raves, uni, and the opportunities. (When I want to go back, I don’t think I’ll be affected by Brexit) – my only worries are what it means for my student finance.”