London relocation in the Digital Age: If relocating to London seems a daunting task, it is worth considering how much easier it has become in the digital age to make such a capital move. In The Baron’s heyday, back in the shadows of time, finding the best place to live in London was a question of sucking your finger and holding it to the wind. Even twenty years ago, upping sticks and searching for a home in the capital could feel like a leap in the dark.
Just imagine. In 1994, only 0.5% of the UK population had access to the Internet, Yahoo had just been founded, and WebCrawler became the first Internet search engine to search web pages not just by their names but by their content. The first phone with Internet connectivity would not be launched for another two years, and Google not for another two years after that. So, researching your new London location was largely a question of reading books, making telephone calls, talking to friends and contacting estate agents.
Fast forward to 2014, and relocation still involves the same basic considerations: geography, property, transport, schooling, crime, community, and culture and leisure opportunities. But today we have an online community to help us find our ideal real-life community in the city.
Google Maps With Street View came into service only as recently as 2007, with views of four US cities, yet we already take its global reach for granted. Today, not only can we familiarise ourselves with the geography of London’s 33 boroughs, we can explore its 1,500 square kilometres of streets from our desktops. In an age of data visualisation, there are online maps that plot the city by everything from politics and second languages to housing and occupation. Property prices and trends can be researched and monitored through websites such as RightMove and Zoopla, and mapped by affordability, Tube stop or postcode.
In terms of transport, an essential accessory remains the iconic A-Z mapbook of London, clutched in numerous sticky palms since it was first produced in 1936 by Phyllis Pearsall. Today, it can be ordered online in both print and digital forms (http://www.az.co.uk/). A more recent essential is the distinctive blue, credit-card sized Oyster Card. This was launched in 2003 as an electronic ticketing system for London’s Underground and Overground trains, buses, Dockland Light Railway (DLR), trams and some riverboats. By 2012, over 43 million had been issued and it was being used for over 80% of journeys on public transport. Transport For London (http://www.tfl.gov.uk) carries information on everything from the Tube and the Oyster Card to the Congestion Charge (introduced in 2003) and Barclay’s Cycle Hire (launched in 2010). It is amazing to think that Apple’s App Store opened as recently as 2008, but by 2012 had seen 30 billion downloads. Apps have revolutionised travel around London, and your mobile phone can now become your planner, navigator, booking service and timetable www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information/getting-around-london/london-maps-and-guides/apps. Ninety per cent of Londoners live within 400 metres of one of the capital’s 19,500 bus stops, and the once bewildering array of red buses can now be tamed with a touch of the wonderful Citymapper app (https://citymapper.com/apps/). They are the perfect way to explore the city.
To prepare for your relocation, there is still no substitute for talking to people who live in the area. And there is no shortage of London voices. Facebook, founded in 2004, had a billion users by 2012. Twitter, launched in 2006, now chatters with 400 million daily tweets. You can use social media as your scouting party, follow people who have the inside view, and build up a social network long before embarking for your new home. You should network for a new home just as you would for a new job. If you are considering moving to the area around 20TheBarons, for example, there are online forums where you can discuss essentials like schools with local mums (http://local.mumsnet.com/richmond-upon-thames). You can browse the local newspaper (www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk/) and engage with informed bloggers (http://twickerati.wordpress.com/).
The world is suddenly more visible, and the Internet can help you scout your location, make a checklist of your essentials, and meet people both before and after you arrive. MeetUp (2002) (http://www.meetup.com/) now has over 13 million members, offering an online mechanism for spreading your social net quickly and safely. There are online communities (www.internations.org/) who organise social events specifically for ex-pats, as well as established experts like Time Out (www.timeout.com/london/area-guides) to help you navigate the mind-boggling array of cultural institutions and events that make London such an exciting city to live in. And if you want to know the crime figures, ask a policeman. At the Metropolitan Police website, you can compare the crime statistics for each borough of London (www.met.police.uk/crimefigures/) and see if they are improving. The Baron is delighted to note an 8% fall in crimes in the Richmond Borough from 2013 to 2014. And there weren’t many to start with – we’re not that kind of folk in Richmond!
Of course, however much you outline your priorities, research your location, and talk to relocation experts, there is still no substitute for actually living somewhere. Renting a place for a few months will allow you to have a trial run without a long-term commitment. Even better, in The Baron’s opinionated humbleness, you could try staying in a serviced apartment such as 20TheBarons (http://20thebarons.co.uk/): where you can enjoy all your home comforts in stunning apartments while also having experts on hand to welcome you, deal with the practicalities, answer all your many questions, and pass on the local knowledge that helps to make a new location feel like home.