Escaping the Big Smoke: why startups are opting for green space post-pandemic

Two decades ago, London was the place to be. The bustling environment of city life was a haven of opportunity, both personal and professional. Students, graduates, young professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs had their sights set on the cool bars of Soho and classy ‘lunch and learns’ in the hotspots of the capital while enthusiastically scribing their first business plans on whatever napkin or beer mat happened to be available; it was the only place to be.

However, fast forward to today and things are starting to shift. While still the home to the biggest global tech, finance and retail giants the world has to offer, the view that moving to, or staying in, the likes of London and other major metropolises is a prerequisite to eventual startup success is waning.

Indeed, in 2019 alone, 30,000 people left London - for every nine adults moving to the capital, 10 were moving out - 40% of whom were under 30. The suggestion is that the bright light of opportunity is no longer shining almost exclusively the nation’s capital that perhaps it once was.

This mass migration has been accelerated by the pandemic. One in four wanted to leave the capital pre-COVID, this number has jumped rapidly to one in two. From being locked down in a flat the size of a stamp with no garden, a high infection rate and the new-found ability to work from anywhere and everywhere, it’s no surprise that the greener villages, towns and cities are more of a draw to business leaders and startups than ever before.

This isn’t a fad either, nine in 10 workers would now want to work from home either on a full-time or part-time basis. It is, as they say, beginning to look like a perfect storm for early-stage startups - one's physical location has become less relevant, while the rapid adoption of tele-conferencing platforms such as Teams and Zoom has opened the talent pool to a wider market that is no longer restricted by geography. As workforces adapt to a ‘new normal’ of hybrid working, online networking and better technology, green space will undoubtedly be the preferred living and working option.

Mental health

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, businesses moving to green space are likely to see an improvement of their teams’ mental health. Research suggests that employees exposed to green space are 15% happier than those who aren’t, helping ease common workplace problems such as stress, anxiety and depression. And as mental health absence costs businesses almost £2.4bn per year, there’s certainly a business case for being near to greenery.

While the likes of Google are doing their best to integrate green space in the capital by bringing additions of rooftop terraces and ‘green areas’, not everyone in London will be working for big firms with that much expendable budget.

Additionally, as much as the all-singing, all-dancing bright lights of London are exhilarating, it’s all incredibly exhausting and there’s only so far you can go before you burn-out. A lot of employees are now seeking a much slower way of life to avoid unnecessary mental health problems.

Competitive capabilities

Decades ago, not only was the city scene exuberant and enticing, it was the original home of world-renowned technology capabilities; super-fast internet speeds and futuristic robots could all be found in London and very rarely anywhere else.

However, rural spaces are now as good, if not better, with their technological offerings. From robotics in Bristol to Reading, which has been dubbed the UK’s Silicon Valley, to Cambridge's life sciences hub (aka ‘Silicon Fen), London’s centre isn’t the only hot spot anymore, and so the need to be there has diminished.

It’s cheaper

For all business owners, startups or established, avoiding any unnecessary costs, will always be a top priority. Office space in London, on average, sets businesses back £112 per square foot, the highest average costs across the whole of Europe. For those working alone, or remotely, housing prices aren’t much better value, with the average house costing well over half a million without bills.

There’s no doubt that business leaders and startups have begun, and will continue, to seek a more cost-effective way of working, starting with leaning out the business's overheads.

Embracing changing visions and values

COVID-19 has changed how we work which in turn influences where we choose to work. Against the incredibly uncomfortable backdrop of the pandemic, many businesses have had to re-evaluate what they stand for within their market, and how they benefit the greater good both for their employees and their communities.

In a recent study we undertook which explored brand purpose post-pandemic, 70% of the 502 senior leaders surveyed believe that the pandemic has accelerated a move to a more purpose-led society, with businesses focusing heavily on meaningful internal and external relationships, actions and partnerships over money-driven decisions.

From adding value to the rural economy through the creation of jobs or supporting independent businesses to providing employees and consumers with an environment that is good for both body and soul; from more environmentally friendly ways of living and working to being a catalyst for change in rural infrastructure, there's no doubt that, post-pandemic, brands will fulfil their new-found purpose in much greener, more rural areas of the country.

While we’re not expecting London to become a derelict ghost-town anytime soon, it’s more than likely that the usual trend to rent out a small, incredibly expensive flat to seek out the high-life and the big-wig opportunities of London will no longer be as important to startups and business leaders as it once was. Instead, with the experience of the pandemic tucked away in the back of their minds, leaders will be looking for a much more sustainable, healthy and happy way of living and working.

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Startup Details


Clearly PR

Clearly PR & Marketing Communications is based in Bath and London. The company help organisations build their brands, enhance their reputations, engage with their publics, and position themselves as the go-to providers of choice in their sector.

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    Bath, UK
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    Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
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