According to a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, nearly a fifth of Londoners (18%) report currently being away from London, due to the coronavirus pandemic or for another reason.
It is likely that many of these respondents left London before, or just as, the country started to shut down, to spend their lockdown out of the city. However, many may also be on a holiday (it is August). Nevertheless, if this proportion of respondents is translated onto London’s population as a whole, it would represent about 1.8 million people being outside of the capital compared to normal times.
Indeed, the result does not even capture the foreign tourists who would usually be in London, or the commuters who would be coming into London from outside every day prior to the pandemic. Both groups are also likely to absent from London’s interior in the present circumstances, explaining why many businesses in London continue to struggle despite the easing of social distancing rules in early July.
By far the most popular destinations for those away from London are the South East (31%) and South West (31%). Londoners with second homes are most likely to own in these two regions, and it is therefore likely that these regions have seen their populations swell in recent months. It is also likely that the summer months would have seen an influx of holidaymakers into these regions regardless of the pandemic, but this trend may have been enlarged by Londoners looking to spend lockdown outside the capital, despite Government advice to the contrary.
The South West contains many popular rural and coastal spots in Cornwall, Somerset and Devon. Respondents who moved away for lockdown are likely to have considered the area’s lower population density and access to green space a more comfortable location for lockdown than a busy city. For holidaymakers, the South West has long been one of the most popular staycation destinations in the UK for its temperate climate and dramatic scenery. The South East has similar benefits while maintaining a close proximity to the capital.
A plurality of respondents away (44%) say they are most likely to return to London in September, while 22% say they will do so in August. Families with children may want to be back in London in time for the new school year, and some office workers may need to work a couple of days a week from an office towards the end of the year. 26% of respondents say they will return in October and only 11% say they will return after October, suggesting the vast majority of respondents are bringing an end to their current living situation.
The fact that a plurality of respondents anticipates returning in September rather than August perhaps suggests that for many their time away from London has been a little longer than a usual summer holiday. Some respondents will have been able to have stayed away from London longer because they can work remotely from their second property or holiday rental. In pre-COVID times this ability to stay away from the city for longer may not have been possible as they needed to be in the office physically.
It does seem that most of these Londoners intend to return to the city eventually, especially as their work and schooling routines begin to return to normal. For businesses relying on the patronage of London residents to stay afloat, the proportion of the city that left will have been a strain but there are signs that some of this clientele will soon be returning. However, if the present stretches on beyond September, many of these Londoners may more seriously consider permanently moving away.