Commuter watch: swapping London for Brighton

How would a girl who loved her London life and the cocktail hour survive on the south coast? Brilliantly
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Brighton Pier
© Barry Phillips
Catherine Davis (below left with her family) has swapped evenings in London's cocktail bars for barbecues on the Brighton's beach
Eighteen months ago Catherine Davis's gut reaction to the idea of leaving her cool, open-plan Shoreditch loft for Brighton was a resounding "thanks but no thanks".

Ms Davis, 41, has a high-octane job as marketing director of advertising agency Grey London, and could walk to work in half an hour. Her friends and family were in London, and her idea of a night out was drinks at a private club followed by dinner.

'Brighton has a completely different vibe to London, and despite the train fares, I think I have saved money because my social costs are so much lower'

But then she became pregnant with her son Arran, now 16 months, and her apartment was wildly unsuitable for a family. Her partner, Ewan King, 40, co-director of a film production company, Content is King, had been living in Brighton for several years and wanted her to join him.

"He promised that if I hated it we could move back to London. But it was the best thing I ever did," said Ms Davis. Her preconceived idea of Brighton was that it was a place for hen and stag weekends and retirees, and anyway she didn't want to leave her friends and family.

Catherine Davis with her son Arran and her partner Ewan King
© Andrew Hasson
Catherine Davis with her son Arran and her partner Ewan King
"I didn't know anybody at all when I moved here — 18 months on and I think I know more people than Ewan does. I started by making friends with the guy who owns the café up the road, and the guy at the bookshop, and then I joined a National Childbirth Trust and got to know six girls there."

Now evenings drinking cocktails in London bars have been swapped for beach barbecues at dusk. The South Downs are just up the road — "so we can go for a walk without having to get in the car", and gym membership has been replaced with runs along the prom.

She is learning to surf and to fish, and is staggered by the amount of free children's activities — from singing groups to playgroups. And neighbours are a friendly bunch. "It is just a completely different vibe to London, and despite the train fares, and £1,000 for parking at the station a year, I think I have saved money because my social costs are so much lower."

Ms Davis sold her loft for just under £700,000 and the family now lives in the three-storey townhouse Mr King already owned in Hove.

A big hurdle came last September when Ms Davis returned to work in London, for four days a week. On a good day the commute takes her two hours door to door. A bad day can take twice that. "At first I was like, 'Aaargh!' But then I realised I had to embrace it. I suppose what I wanted was to be part yummy mummy and part career girl, and if I have to get up at 5.30am to have both then that's fine."

She works on the train journey and has made friends with other regular commuters. And while she sees London friends and family less, she feels the time she spends with them is of better quality. "People are always coming down to stay and we make an event of it, have a dinner party or a barbecue for them, rather than just go to a bar after work."

London-by-the-sea: fact file

Brighton to Victoria can take as little as 51 minutes and an annual season ticket costs from £3,392. Average house prices stand at £273,165, down 1.3 per cent year on year, according to the Land Registry.

However, according to new research from asking prices increased by £11,715 in January 2012.

Wade family
© Andrew Hasson
Roger and Jenny Wade, with daughter Tess and son Louie

A Georgian townhouse was reason enough to make the move to Brighton

Roger Wade, founder of the fashion label Boxfresh, is planning the world’s first “pop up” shopping centre in 60 shipping containers being set up in Shoreditch as a showcase for young brands.

Like Davis his decision to move to Brighton from London was made by the birth of his daughter, Tess, now 12. He and his wife Jenny, 40, who also have a son, Louie, eight, swapped a three-bedroom house in Blackheath for a Georgian townhouse in the seaside city.

Then six years ago they moved to a six-bedroom Edwardian semi close to the sea at Hove. The property swap made financial sense. They sold their London house for about £500,000 and, while their current home cost £600,000 (and required a complete overhaul), it is large, and worth around £1.25m. “If it was in London it would easily cost twice as much,” said Mr Wade, 46.

He thinks that when the market revives London prices will start to outstrip Brighton’s, and admits: “Once you're out of London it is hard to move back in.” But the family loves the seaside and Brighton's “non-threatening” environment. “Especially when you see something like the London riots."

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