Published on January 22, 2014 | by Caroline Schmitt


Creative graduates face squeeze from London

Student looking at departure boards in station

Increasing costs of living in London, mean students can’t maintain their standard of living after graduating [Francis Wilmer]

Two recent reports about the increasing costs of living in London and the lack of vacancies in the arts have highlighted the difficulty creative students face after graduating.

Expatistan, an online cost of living calculator, estimates that London is the world’s most expensive city to live in, with the average Londoner spending £2,500 a month on rent and £120.60 on a monthly travel card.

Though the number of available graduate jobs increased by 8.7 per cent on average, vacancies in the media sector have decreased by 57.9 per cent in the seven years from 2007, according to the graduate recruitment company, High Fliers.

To maintain their standard of living after graduating, art and media graduates have taken on full-time jobs in the retail or service industry, where the number of vacancies have increased.

Wake up call

Kate Forshaw, a 25-year-old BA Painting graduate from Camberwell took on a full-time job in retail after graduation to continue being able to afford living in London while also benefitting from the arts community of one of the world’s largest creative hubs.

“Graduation was a bit of a wake up call. All of a sudden I couldn’t spend 60 hours a week in the studio and I had to have a monotonous job,” Forshaw told Arts London News.

Although these jobs are a steady source of income, they can often take up the time and energy that is required for expanding portfolios, experimenting with new materials, software, styles of writing or getting on-the-job experience.

Student walking through a london station

Lack of vacancies in the arts, mean students are forced to take jobs in retail and service industries [Francis Wilmer]

“To get a job in a gallery or the arts sector, you nearly always have to do unpaid internships for months and months on end and most people just aren’t in a position to do that,” added Forshaw.

Love and hate

In the recently published book Goodbye to All That, 28 writers from New York expressed their love and hate for the city that is almost unaffordable for a young writer or artist.

The creative collaboration refers to Joan Didion’s famous 1963 essay, where she explained her reasons for leaving the Big Apple at the age of 28.

Didion wrote: “I no longer had any interest in hearing about the advances other people had received from their publishers, about plays which were having second-act trouble in Philadelphia, or about people I would like very much if only I would come out and meet them. I had already met them, always.”

Hannah Jones, a cartoonist and sister of London-based baker Lily Vanilli, made a similar decision by moving to Canada after her graduation in 2007. After moving around the country for several years, she was eventually given the opportunity to work full-time, whilst pursuing her art.

Student with bags in a London station

Unpaid internships force students to reduce living costs, by moving outside of London [Francis Wilmer]

“I was 24-years-old, single, poor, and had nothing but some clothes and an ironing board to my name. My company posted me to a place called Southend, in the province of Saskatchewan, where they send a lot of young, single employees,” Jones said.

She added: “Finally, I was able to breathe. The pace of my life was slow and easy. Work was laid back and enjoyable. I spent probably hundreds of hours cartooning and making animations.”


Jones has now moved on to a busier and more demanding job environment that leaves her little or no time for drawing. “When I was in Southend, the creative part of me couldn’t be happier.”

London’s arts graduates have the option of swapping a buzzing, expensive metropolitan for a more affordable and quieter alternative where the cost of living is so low that even a regular part-time job would allow for more time to build a career in the arts.

Though for Forshaw, London will always remain the place to be: “Maybe living out in the countryside would be easier financially, but it’s much more isolated. Personally, I love London and I’d much rather live here than out in the sticks. Despite the difficulties, London is a really exciting place to be.”

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