Belfast Telegraph

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What's it like giving up home comforts for a new life in London


Northern Ireland-born journalists Laura Abernethy and Kylie Noble both moved to live and work in the city in the past year. They reveal what they miss about NI, their friendship and where they get soda bread and Tayto crisps.

'I soon realised living here isn't like visiting, it's very expensive'

Former Belfast Telegragh journalist Laura Abernethy (25) now works in London. She grew up in Dromara, Co Down, and moved to London in September last year. She says:

Growing up in the Dromara hills, I always longed for the big city. I'd first toyed with the idea of moving to London when I was applying to university but was frightened by the idea of jumping straight from a tiny village to one of the world's biggest cities, I ended up at St Andrews in Scotland first.

In my final year, I was news editor of my student paper, which helped me secure an internship at the Sunday Times.

For two weeks in January 2014, I spent the day in a office and as I didn't know a soul, I would spend my evenings just walking around, exploring what London had to offer.

In the same week as my graduation, I secured a scholarship from the Scott Trust, the owners of the Guardian, to study for a masters in journalism at the University of Sheffield, including six weeks of placements with the newspaper, so by the time that I had finished my studies, I was reasonably well acquainted with London.

A job offer from the Belfast Telegraph came the week after classes finished at Sheffield and I was delighted to return home but with most of my friends ending up in London after graduation, I found myself visiting every few months.

In August 2016, I was offered a job writing features with the Press Association and within weeks, I'd found a flat in Clapham, south London, with my friend Elliot, packed my life into boxes and finally moved in September.

I quickly discovered living here isn't like visiting - it's very expensive and my commute, which usually involves pressing my face into a stranger's armpit, almost makes me miss the M1 traffic jams I faced in Belfast.

My weekends aren't always filled with trips to Oxford Street, Buckingham Palace and the theatre like I imagined, but just having those places on my doorstep is exciting. I love being able to get anywhere at any time of day and quirky experiences like a night drinking cocktails in a converted underground station.

There are plenty of things that I miss. One of the best moments of the past year was finally finding soda bread in a local supermarket. I wish I could have found a Dale Farm ice lolly in the summer though. I was heartbroken when I realised they don't exist outside Northern Ireland.

I've been incredibly lucky to have some of my best friends just a few tube stops away. Some people find London to be isolating but one of the main reasons I moved here was to be closer to all the friends I had made throughout my university years and I've made even more friends through events like journalism meet-ups and university alumni nights. I miss my family a lot, especially my parents Allison and Will, but I feel like I have a London family now too so I've never felt lonely.

Recently, Kylie Noble, another female journo from Northern Ireland, has been added into that pool. We met through Twitter when we were student journalists and have kept in touch ever since. She moved to Sheffield just weeks after I left and then moved back to Belfast just as I moved to London.

Now, we're in the same city for the first time and it's so nice to have her around, mainly because at least I know she'll never struggle to understand my accent. I never thought my accent was particularly strong, but I do find myself being met with blank looks from time to time.

Being a year ahead of her, I've been able to give her lots of advice about things like which Oyster card is best and where to get a haircut without breaking the bank.

I think someday I might grow tired of London - it's busy, polluted and very far from the green fields that I looked at through my bedroom window for the first 18 years of my, life but for now it feels like I've found a new home."

'I've never felt more tired, but I've also never felt more alive'

Kylie Noble (23) works in marketing in London. She grew up in Co Fermanagh and moved to London last month. She says:

I recently asked some friends who have lived here longer, when does the perpetually tired stage of London pass? One said never, and I laughed, assuming they were joking, until several others backed them up.

The paradox of living here, is that while I have never felt more tired, I have also never felt more alive. The red buses, the rhythm of 'please mind the gap', the lit-up rainbow coloured Electric Avenue sign in Brixton, which I see at night when commuting home out of central London - I have 'pinch me, I'm really living here' moments often. Maybe it's due to moving just over a month ago, but I am still in awe of London.

Growing up on a farm in Co Fermanagh, London is probably as opposite as you can imagine. From my teenage years, I felt drawn to cities because of how different they were to my quiet, if beautiful roots. I have lived in Belfast, Washington DC and Sheffield but London has got under my skin in a unique way. I think the diversity of the city is a big factor. I live in south London, where I also work, as a digital marketing intern for a charity, while continuing to freelance in journalism on the side.

My work is in Kingston upon Thames, a leafy borough on the edges of the city in zone six. I commute from Peckham, in zone two, which takes just over an hour each way (you can see why I feel so tired). In contrast, my commute from east Belfast to the city centre in my last job, took me 10 minutes via bus.

Peckham is most famed perhaps for being the home of Del Boy and Co in TV's Only Fools and Horses. Historically, a multi-cultural and working-class area, parts are becoming more middle-class and trendy, with many art studios, wine bars and hipster pubs on the south side.

I live in north Peckham, which I've been told is also known as Little Nigeria, as it has the highest population of Nigerians in the UK. Other sizeable communities in the area have origins in Bangladesh, the Caribbean, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Vietnam.

With London being so different to Northern Ireland, it is a blessing that I have many friends from home living here. Most I know from Queen's, who moved like myself, for job opportunities that were difficult to find in Belfast. I know Laura via my postgraduate degree at the University of Sheffield, where we were both awarded the Scott Trust bursary from The Guardian newspaper to study journalism.

Laura was a year ahead of me, and has often given me advice on applying for the funding and the interview, to the ups and downs of the course, the post-uni job market and finding my feet in London. When moving to somewhere as daunting and fast-paced as this city, it is invaluable to have the wisdom of those who have gone before. Laura has been a great help and helped me save money on travel, food and getting my hair cut.

I was delighted to find an Irish section in the world foods section of my local Morrisons last week, selling Tayto, Mikado and Club Orange - the tastes of childhood, that are special to us Northern Ireland natives. My strongest aches for Belfast so far have been through cravings for Boojum, a proper pint of Guinness, potato and soda bread.

I miss the humour and banter, but with friends like Laura, I can link into the best of home, while enjoying the cultural melting pot that is London life.

In my first visit to the city aged 18, someone offered me a seat on the tube. That's not happened since, but I did have an incident of heading for a seat at the same time as a man, and each of us insisting the other take it for a few minutes. I try to do little things like hold the door, let people out in front of me on trains, give train time info if I know it, and overhear people despairing at the many platforms flashing orange. These small acts, are a way I like to think, of bringing a bit of Fermanagh to London."

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