Why we think it's grim down south

Every year, scores of young Jews from the north settle in London. Three newcomers talk about adapting to the capital, homesickness and why the bagels aren’t the same


By Jessica Elgot, September 7, 2010
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James Blakey
A 24-year-old who is training to be a theatre director. Originally from Gatley, south Manchester, he has been living in Finsbury Park for a year, but will shortly be returning to the north to do a six-month placement in Leeds.

"Before I moved to London it seemed like such a glamorous place. My sister is 10 years older than me and I used to go and stay with her in London as a teenager.

"I loved the idea of the city culturally - in terms of people and in terms of the kinds of theatre I could go and see. The reality is very different - people are in London for a purpose, they're very busy and the social life is not what I expected.

"I'm the only person on my course who's lived north of London - and that has made me become very conscious of preserving my northern identity. I'm extremely proud of where I'm from. I think, consciously or not, people adopt a perception of you as the comedy northerner, the northern monkey. I'm fine with that most of the time, but it can become tiresome.

"I know it's a cliché, but London can be very unfriendly. It's the little things - when you're driving in Manchester people smile and wave you through at a junction. It's different here. I think if you move to London with a chip on your shoulder that people are unfriendly, you'll almost inevitably find that to be true. But London can certainly be a really lonely place.

"Although there are probably more opportunities to lead a more Jewish lifestyle here, I associate being Jewish totally with Manchester – with being with my family and my community.

"Football is the first thing that springs to mind when I think about missing home, apart from family – I miss Manchester City. I also miss knowing the tiny backstreets of a city, the underground music scene, the record shops, the best cocktail bars, the vintage shops. Unless you've got a pretty sterling guide, you're lucky to stumble across places like that in London. But I definitely appreciate London culture – being able to go to three shows a week is invaluable.

"I am not planning to stay here long term; I want to make connections in Leeds, Manchester and Bolton. Maybe I will go away and come back to London again, who can say? But I love northern audiences. There's a perception that a Manchester audience is more uneducated, less valid that a London one. That's nonsense. I think Manchester people are more vocal and more engaged."

Michelle Ghatan

Actress, aged 23, from Cheadle, Cheshire, now living in Fulham. She has been in London for 18 months.

"I always expect that people won't know where I'm from. So I say Manchester. And then I say south Manchester. I'm always really pleased if the person I'm talking to knows Cheadle. Some people have never set foot out of London.

"I love going home, and going back to Manchester, and the more I go back, the more I appreciate it. It's the comforting feeling of really knowing somewhere, knowing every street.

"By the time I went to university, I was ready to try somewhere new, but I wanted to be able to come home easily. Edinburgh was my choice for university, but it was too far away from home. Nottingham University was the perfect fit. You always felt sure that you could come back. I remember being dropped off on the first day, that's when it hits you that it's a big deal. It feels like for ever but I was actually back home pretty soon. That made Nottingham feel safer.

"I'd been to London before but it was a holiday destination. We did little weekends there - going to Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Madame Tussauds. When I thought of London people, in my head they looked like posh businessmen in suits, saying: 'Oh yah, dahling' or they were proper East End barrowboys, like on EastEnders.

"Living here, it is unbelievably noisy all the time, and people shout and make noise all night long. I change my whole mindset when I go home - now Cheadle feels like holiday time, I have more time, but people seem more relaxed.

"There are things that you can never replace about home - bagels on a Sunday lunchtime with my family from Hyman's Deli. The bakeries in London might taste as good, but they aren't the same.

"I do feel settled in London now - but people definitely know me as northern. I do like that, I like the positive connotations that has. At drama school, I like being the girl from Manchester - although people have started saying how well-spoken I am.

"I certainly haven't resigned myself to staying in London for ever, although you never know what might happen. I'm open to it. My brother spent a lot of time here, but he's moved back to Manchester now. But I want to live in lots of different cities, maybe even different countries. Eventually, I would like to move back to Manchester, and I do think it would be possible to still work there as an actress. There's so much going on in the north now."

Daniel Sevitt

From Alwoodley, Leeds, he moved to London two years ago and now lives in Borehamwood. He is 24 and works in Insurance.

"I never really used to visit London. I had a few friends here I met at summer camp, and we came on some family holidays - we visited the London Eye and the Tower of London. But London was very unfamiliar.

"The thing that struck me most was the kind of Jewish life you can lead here. I had never been surrounded by some many Jewish people before.

"I keep kosher, and when I moved down I lived in Hendon, there was a shwarma place next door which I used to go to at least once a week. That was so good, it was such a novelty.

"I still feel like a northerner - I obviously don't have the same emotional attachment to the place as my London friends have. It's different if you grow up here, you see it in a different way.

"I think London Jews think northerners are a bit backward - like they see on soaps. Maybe they think we aren't as clever, or that we are more uncultured, less worldly.

"When I first moved here, I was meeting some friends. I looked up where it was and it was a 20-minute drive away. I could get to the other side of Leeds in that time. I'm used to just walking to people's houses in Alwoodley.

"I do look at Leeds with a rose-tinted view. I love being so close to town and being close to the countryside. When I moved, I did spend the first year thinking about going back to Leeds. It is really hard being away from my family.

"But the longer I stay in the London, the harder it is to leave. I am here for the short term at least, and who can say what will happen in the long term? My career is here, my friends are here, and even friends back in Leeds, most are making plans to move."

    Last updated: 1:24pm, September 7 2010