There comes a point in many a London family’s life when they pose the inevitable question: “Should we move out of the capital?” Many have laid down roots and choose to stay put, but others take the plunge, spreading the #nomumleftbehind mantra up and down the country. In this new blog series, we’ll be profiling a wide range of different areas in case you’re at a similar crossroads in your lives. From Cornwall villages to rural Wales, from the Kent coast to the Surrey suburbs, there are endless options to consider if you’re on the lookout for pastures new.
Where have you moved to?
Not far actually! Orpington in Kent – we’re theoretically still in London, just scraping into zone 6.
Where did you move from?
We lived in Blackheath (on the heath itself!) for six years.
Why did you leave London?
My oldest son was almost 18 months old when we moved out of our wonderful, but titchy, two-bed flat. We knew we wanted a house and a garden where we could settle with our kids and they would have the space to grow, and in London that wasn’t going to happen without selling some of our body parts. Or our child.
How did you choose your new location?
As with any major decision in our lives (and a number of the minor ones), my husband made a spreadsheet. We didn’t want to be far from the Blackheath area as I’d made some wonderful mum friends there, but we knew we needed to move far enough for property prices to become affordable. We also needed easy access to Tunbridge Wells for my in-laws, Sussex for my dad and the M25 for my mum in Cardiff. So darling hubby gauged distances to all of those places from a number of different locations near the M25, as well as factoring in his commute time and cost. He also added a column with distance to Bluewater for me. Not that I spend a lot of time there. Ahem. Orpington gave us the best driving distances everywhere, so we caught the train over to have a walk around; before that we’d known absolutely nothing about it. Thankfully, when we went to look around the town, we knew we were home.
How long before moving did you start looking?
After we decided on Orpington we put our flat on the market around August 2014. We had several failed sales and several purchases that fell through as a result, so we completed on our new home in July 2015.
At what point did you think about schools and childcare?
We already knew of a few of Orpington’s local schools simply by reputation, but it was an immediate consideration for us after looking around the town for the first time. Thankfully the area is brimming with wonderful primary schools for my boys, and we live in the catchment area for at least four of them!
What did you do about work?
My husband works in the City, and actually his commute time has barely changed. He can get door-to-door in just over an hour, which is mere minutes more than when we were in Blackheath. I have worked from home for a number of years, which has been very convenient. Although my work now primarily involves being climbed upon by children for hours on end, and you can do that from anywhere…
What’s the best thing about where you live now?
The community feel in Orpington is amazing. I have met so many lovely people through nursery, doing Pilates and singing, and when I go into town I almost always bump into someone I know. Within a week of moving six of our neighbours had introduced themselves and bought us a new home card, and one neighbour has also become a very close mum friend as our kids are similar ages. I love that we can walk to pre-school and school, whereas in Blackheath we barely knew our neighbours (except to complain about their noise), and there were no schools at all within walking distance.
What’s the most surprising thing about where you live now?
I grew up in a fairly large town in Surrey, which always felt very removed from London. But I was really surprised to find that Orpington feels just like that town in so many ways, despite being on London’s doorstep. I love that about it, because I can give my kids the kind of childhood I remember loving. Except with added smartphones and fidget spinners.
What do you miss about living in London?
Strangely I miss my access to green space in London! Because we lived on Blackheath itself, with Greenwich Park on our doorstep, it was so easy to just pop out and sit on the grass or go for a walk in a beautiful urban garden. Orpington of course has many such spaces, but from my house it usually requires a drive. We do have a few lovely playgrounds nearby, but Greenwich Park was effectively my back garden for a while and that was wonderful!
Have there been any downsides to the move?
Almost nothing. The only real problem was the compromise we had to make on the house we bought, simply because there wasn’t anything suitable on the market. As a result we’re actually currently living in a rental house while we have a two-storey extension built on ours! Once that’s done we’ll be in the ideal house in the ideal town. Just with no money.
What are your top three tips for moving with children?
- Once you know the area you want to live (maybe pinpointing a selection of roads), take the kids over there and wander around. Find out what’s nearby – shops, schools, play areas – and if you have easy enough access to all the facilities you need when saddled with children and all the stuff that accompanies them.
- Show the children around your new home before you move in, if they’re old enough to understand. Involving them as much as possible in the excitement of it all, and showing what the move will mean for them (more space, bigger bedrooms, a garden, etc) will help alleviate any distress they might feel at the upheaval.
- We shipped the boys off to our in-laws on moving day itself. That way, when they were returned at the end of the day, there may still have been boxes everywhere but they had fully unpacked bedrooms that looked and felt like theirs. Toys had been put in the right place, beds made and they were so excited they forgot to be stressed by the change!
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone considering a similar change?
I love a list. Write everything down, whenever it comes to you, that relates to the move. What you want to gain from it, how far you need to be from various places (maybe, like me, you also need frequent easy access to Bluewater?). And talk, talk, talk to everyone whom it will affect (partners, parents, kids) so you are all on the same page about your plan.
Where can people find out more about life in your new location?
There are a few Facebook groups and pages that frequently give useful information about local events and business: Orpington Mums and BR6 Life are my favourites. Towards the end of 2016 Londonist also published a great article called Why You Should Go To Orpington.
Not for a second.
Orpington: the basics
- House Prices in Orpington
- Schools in and around Orpington
- Nearest A&E: Princess Royal University Hospital
- MP: Jo Johnson, Conservative