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'DFLs' share reasons why they moved from London to Kent - and why they plan to stay


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A writer who moved back to London from Kent caused controversy by describing life on the coast as “cliquish, gossipy and parochial”.

Here, four other so-called DFLs - “down from Londons” - tell of their experience of living in Kent, and why they wouldn’t dream of returning to the capital...

‘I won’t be scuttling back to London’

While life in Kent may not be for everyone, tens of thousands of Londoners have relocated to the county in the past year.

The numbers far outweigh those moving in the opposite direction.

In the year up to June 2020, just shy of 12,000 people moved from Kent to London, but more than 24,000 moved into the county from the capital.

The Canterbury district attracted the second-highest number of Londoners, beaten by only Dartford, on the fringes of London.

A view of Canterbury from the air. Picture: Getty Images/iStock/Paul Stevens
A view of Canterbury from the air. Picture: Getty Images/iStock/Paul Stevens

Among those happy to have swapped London for the district is writer Julie Wassmer, author of the popular Whitstable Pearl mystery series.

“I moved to Whitstable with my husband in 1999 - on the cusp of the millennium - and we’ve never once regretted it,” she said.

“At that time, we were living in London and about to buy the flat below us.

“But on my birthday, a strangely sunny day in January, we made a trip to Broadstairs for seaside fish and chips, got lost and found ourselves heading down Borstal Hill with Whitstable’s pewter-grey estuary waters spread before us.

“By the time we had driven to the harbour and had steak and kidney pudding at the Tudor Tea Rooms and a beach walk to the Neppy (the Old Neptune pub) we had forgotten all about Broadstairs and fallen in love - with Whitstable - which was then still largely undiscovered by visitors.

Julie Wassmer has lived in Whitstable since 1999
Julie Wassmer has lived in Whitstable since 1999

“We plumped for Cromwell Road and have lived here ever since.

“I will always be a DFL but having grown up in the East End in the ‘50s and ‘60s I learned the value of living in a close community, something that helped me when I later wrote for BBC’s EastEnders in which all the characters live and work around Albert Square and no one ever commutes to work.

“Since leaving home as a teenager I’ve lived all over the world and in various parts of London, but always within communities where I felt at home and never out of place. It helps to be a people person.

“Whitstable has many things going for it: coastline, nearby countryside and its proximity to the city of Canterbury but its own sense of close community underpins our town which is perhaps why members of that community have come together so many times, like a murmuration of starlings, to support each other and on issues that are important to us.

“It’s clear fellow author and journalist, Laura Barton, failed to discover that same sense of community which she admits she was searching for with her move to Thanet.

“She describes an ‘insularity’ borne of new arrivals tending to ‘cluster together’, or having felt ‘excluded’ and ‘sneered at’ – but importantly that wasn’t by local people, but those who followed her down from the capital.

“Laura applauds many of London’s features: galleries, gigs, theatres, restaurants, ‘grocery shops stocked with everything from za’atar to rambutan’, but that’s all here in Kent too.

“As to multiculturalism – it’s true that Whitstable’s 2011 census shows our town to be much like an old episode of Midsomer Murders with 97% of its population white – but the casting of Whitstable Pearl, the TV series of my books of the same name, has tried very hard to address a lack of local ethnic inclusivity and one can only hope real life will catch up.

“When I’m asked by readers why I didn’t choose a fictional setting for my books I explain how I wanted to pay tribute to Whitstable - the town I fell in love with over two decades ago on the day we got lost – but found a home.

“It’s one I won’t be abandoning to scuttle back to London.”

Emma Smith, owner of The Lady Luck in St Peter's Street, Canterbury. Picture: Emma Smith
Emma Smith, owner of The Lady Luck in St Peter's Street, Canterbury. Picture: Emma Smith

‘It was the perfect place to open my pub’

Emma Smith, 42, moved to Canterbury from London in 2009 to open her high street pub The Lady Luck.

She had studied in the city in the ‘90s, and remembered it as “vibrant, diverse and exciting”.

“What I really love about Canterbury isn’t just the fact that there’s a huge amount going on in the city,” she explained. “It’s that the people who live here seem very encouraging and supportive when they find something that they like and appreciate.

“The Lady Luck has a large number of the most fantastically loyal and generous customers. I feel genuinely humbled at what a safe and welcoming place Canterbury is, and I’ve tried to establish that same sense of welcome into The Lady Luck.”

The Lady Luck in St Peter's Street, Canterbury. Picture: Google Street View
The Lady Luck in St Peter's Street, Canterbury. Picture: Google Street View

Emma says she can see why so many people still choose to move here from London.

“Canterbury is amazingly located not just for London but also for the really beautiful Kent coastline and countryside,” she said.

“But it’s the feel of the city too: if you walk through the town centre on any day you can feel a warmth in the air, even in the depths of winter!

“Canterbury genuinely feels like a very safe city. It's also really beautiful. We have some amazing parks.

“There are some amazing shops, bars and restaurants here too. I feel so proud that The Lady Luck has been a part of Canterbury’s cultural quarter for so long.”

When asked if she would ever consider moving back to London, she responded: “Absolutely never! Why would I? I have everything I need here.”

Chris Cornell, Labour Canterbury city councillor for Gorrell ward. Picture: Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell, Labour Canterbury city councillor for Gorrell ward. Picture: Chris Cornell

‘We love the countryside and community spirit’

City councillor Chris Cornell lives in Whitstable with his wife and children.

Having relocated there from Peterborough, he praises the town’s sense of community spirit. “I was raised in London but moved to Whitstable 12 years ago,” he said.

“I’ve never known [or] lived in a community where people care so passionately about where they live and are so willing to share their skills and talents to make it great.

“It’s got such a wide range of fantastic countryside for the kids to explore, is a stone’s throw from London if you want to see a show and, whatever you hear, is welcoming to all.”

An aerial view of Whitstable harbour and seafront. Picture: Martin Apps
An aerial view of Whitstable harbour and seafront. Picture: Martin Apps

‘We can see the stars and enjoy a calmer pace of life’

Rachel Carnac is deputy leader of Canterbury City Council.

After decades spent living in east London, she and her husband moved to Herne Bay nearly five years ago and have never looked back.

“London is a great city and I enjoyed the 30-odd years I lived there after moving there in the mid-80s to go to university,” she explained.

“But the pace of life is something I found harder as I got older, particularly the twice-daily battle to get on the tube!”

Canterbury city councillor Rachel Carnac
Canterbury city councillor Rachel Carnac

They moved as Mrs Carnac’s husband - who grew up by the sea - prepared to retire, and Mrs Carnac realised she could work from home or commute to London a couple of times a week.

Having herself grown up in the countryside, they had always planned to retire to the coast. “We’ve not really looked back since we moved,” she said.

“The very first thing that struck us here was the quiet and darkness at night. We can see stars and hear the dawn chorus!

“The other major thing is the community spirit, safety and friendliness. In London, you don’t make eye contact and you walk quickly and with purpose!

“Here, everyone says hello and there’s a real feeling that people look out for each other.

“During the pandemic, there has been a lot of support in our community for each other.”

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