Wall Street workers have flocked to Miami during the past year, and Texas has drawn thousands from Silicon Valley. But London is also seeing an exodus of its professionals as the newly empowered work-from-anywhere crowd head west.
You cannot get any further west in the U.K. than Cornwall. Here, where the Atlantic Ocean crashes against the county’s rugged cliffs, there is a real estate boom.
Last week, data from Rightmove, a property portal, revealed that Cornwall had overtaken London as the most-searched-for location for real estate in the entire U.K.
Millions in London are now searching for a base in Cornwall. Rightmove clocked five million searches for Cornwall in February alone.
“If we only have to be in the office one day a week, or one week a month, then it makes sense,” says Johnny Urban, who, before the pandemic, worked from an office in central London. Now he trades equities from a 200-year-old house near the Newquay, a popular surf spot. “Man, the surf here can be amazing in the winter!’’
With many firms in the City of London no longer requiring their employees in the office daily, if at all, there is a whole wave of newly empowered digital workers following suit.
Cornwall is around five hours from London, the weather is warmer thanks to the gulf stream, and its 420 miles of coastline is littered with beaches.
Anybody who has been watching British television is already well aware of this: Cornwall has been featured in countless documentaries and dramas recently, including Poldark.
But with no major cities and poor infrastructure, many young professionals would leave Cornwall in order to find work. But the pandemic has reversed that movement with over half of those in London looking for property searching for places outside the capital, according to Rightmove.
That movement is palatable at a new food market near Falmouth. Formerly a cattle barn, Tregew Food Barn is now stocked with artisan foodstuffs, like handmade pasta and fresh sourdough bread. The car park, previously littered with farm machinery, is now occupied by smart SUVs. I spot several friends I know from London in the coffee queue.
Food is a major draw for the affluent London crowd. Rick Stein, a TV chef who owns several restaurants in Cornwall, says he has received 30,000 table bookings since the U.K.’s roadmap out of lockdown was announced on 22 February.
With so many moving to Cornwall real estate firms say they have never been busier. But therein lies the inevitable conflict.
Real estate prices have been driven sky-high, meaning that few locals can afford to buy in their own towns and villages.
Woodfield House, a semi-dilapidated cottage occupied by squatters with few functioning utilities, sold in auction last week for £612,000 ($843, 900), a third more than its estimate.
“Detached homes, which are around the £500,000-£700,000 ($689,500-$965,300) mark here, have been flying off the shelves, we’ve none left!” says Emma Ward, director at Goundrys Estate Agents in Cornwall.
The same is happening in the lettings market: There is simply no room available.
James, who recently returned to Cornwall from London is trying to find somewhere to rent on the Lizard but has failed to find anywhere. And it’s not just because there are not many houses in this remote southern tip of Cornwall. The Sunday Times recently named the Lizard Peninsula one of the best places to live in the U.K.
The G7 Summit Descends on Cornwall
Things in Cornwall are only due to get busier: In June the G7 summit will be hosted at Carbis Bay, near St Ives, on Cornwall’s north coast.
During a call with President Biden on Friday (26 March), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he looked forward to welcoming the him to Cornwall for the summit. It will be the first time Biden meets major world leaders since he was elected president.
Cornwall is keen to cash in on its moment in the limelight. Despite its beauty the county is poor, with its economy dependent on tourism following the demise of fishing, farming and mining over the last two centuries.
But a new generation of entrepreneurial Cornishmen and women want to use the event to showcase their county’s thriving new green-tech sector.
Cornwall is seeing something of a green-tech boom. A pioneering project in United Downs is experimenting with a new way to tap geothermal energy. Two companies, Cornish Lithium and British Lithium, are racing to develop batteries made from local and sustainably sourced lithium. And a new wave-hub in Hayle will soon start generating electricity from the surf that otherwise pound cliffs and surfers alike.
The technology is there but entrepreneurs just need the investment, and many are hoping the G7 can provide the platform they need as 1,000s of journalists descend on the county. Some are already here.