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The Glasgow edge: why newcomers stay

Three stories of moving to the Scottish smoke
9 May 2019
Posted in Featured, Reports

By Ella Thorold

Ella is a freelance copywriter and co-founder of Boon Studio, a socially minded creative studio based in Glasgow’s Southside.

New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Glasgow.

In a list of international destinations, it’s not hard to spot the odd one out. But according to UN projections for 2018 to 2035, Glasgow will soon have more in common with its bigger, chicer urban cousins. The pace of metropolitan population growth in Scotland’s largest city is set to match that of New York, Paris and LA, and outstrip continental hotspots such as Amsterdam and Lisbon

Not long ago, Glasgow was set on the opposite path. Though its arts and music scene has always been lauded, its reputation over the past few decades struggled. An association with drugs, gang violence and low life expectancy marred a city built on the 19th-century shipbuilding industry, once known as the ‘second city of the Empire’. After becoming one of the first cities in Europe to reach 1 million residents, Glasgow’s population started rapidly declining from the 1960s as the effects of deindustrialisation took hold. But investment in infrastructure has paid off, and Glasgow has recently been chosen as the location for new satellite offices by companies such as Channel 4 and Barclays bank.

For young people just starting their careers, the city offers affordable housing, sustainable living and easy access to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain. 

Three newcomers to the city tell us more about why they made Glasgow home.

Glasgow’s Southside. Photo Ilisa Stack; main photo (above), courtesy Anna Hepburn

‘It was a kind of independence I’d never experienced before’: Anna Hepburn, Textiles and Jewellery Maker, 30

I’ve lived in Glasgow for more than three years. I came from London but I’m not originally from there. My dad worked in the military so we moved around a lot, but I guess Winchester is the closest thing to home. 

After studying a fine art degree, I started trying to find work in the creative industries in London. I was doing set design for an immersive production of Macbeth but wasn’t getting paid, even though the show had really taken off. It ran for 9 months and I was having to work on the side in order to pay rent. It all got too much.

I realised that I needed to start making money from the work I was doing, and that meant probably leaving London. My parents had just settled on the Black Isle in the Highlands so I went to live with them for a few months, and then moved to Glasgow.

It took me a while to get settled. I knew no one and I had a string of housing disasters while trying to set up my own jewellery and textiles business. Eventually I just decided to move into my own place, and found myself a flat that could double as a studio. It was a kind of independence I’d never experienced before. If I didn’t live in Glasgow, there’s no way that I’d have got to the point that I’m at now. I wouldn’t have been able to develop my business at the pace which I have done, and I’m so grateful to Scotland for that. The design and craft community up here is really established and well known around the rest of the UK, and there’s loads of funding for people like me, you just need to tap in. It really is brilliant. 

“There are one or two pockets of Glasgow that are culturally diverse… but compared to London it feels less integrated”

Glasgow isn’t perfect though. Where I live in the Southside, there are one or two pockets that are culturally diverse. Things are changing I think but compared to London it feels less integrated. Culturally, London has it down. Different races and cultures live side by side, mostly in harmony. I’m not sure if Glasgow has quite reached that yet.

But saying that, the sense of community here is still hands-down amazing. It’s definitely better than in London. The Facebook community groups for example; people just want to help. And whenever I take my stuff to markets in other cities, I notice the difference. Other people in the industry aren’t as open or welcoming, they don’t share their bible with you. Here it’s the opposite. Glasgow has a support network that I’ve never really experienced anywhere else. 


Kibble Palace. Adam Marikar/Unsplash

‘I was struck by how beautiful Glasgow is’: Laura Conroy, PhD student, 27 

I moved to Scotland to study my PhD a couple of years ago, and got a place at St. Andrews. I’d visited Scotland before and had loved it, but St. Andrews didn’t feel like Scotland. It was a bubble of English and American students and golfers. I started to feel isolated and on a bit of a whim, decided to move to Glasgow over Edinburgh even though I’d have a longer commute to classes. Edinburgh, to me, just felt like a bigger St. Andrews.

Instantly, it felt more like home – it was the vibe that I wanted. I was also struck by how beautiful Glasgow is. It’s funny, I work for a tourist company that organises self-guided tours around Scotland, and people never want to visit Glasgow, it’s always Edinburgh. But I find Glasgow just as striking, it’s much more beautiful than people give it credit for. It’s like people don’t ever look up.

When I moved to Glasgow, the reaction from friends and family back home wasn’t great. All they could think was Trainspotting. I kept having to tell everyone that the film was set in Edinburgh. I was also routinely warned about the football violence and gangs, but I’ve never experienced any threatening behaviour. People mostly just want a chat. Admittedly, someone did try to break into my flat a few weeks after I’d moved in – they rang the door first to see if anyone was in but I don’t usually answer unless I’m expecting someone. So that was maybe the worst, but apart from that, I’ve always felt safe.

“I can have the lifestyle that I want in Glasgow – being sustainable is more accessible and affordable in Glasgow”

I can have the lifestyle that I want in Glasgow, and not just because of cheap rent (though obviously that’s a major bonus). I find it much easier to shop locally here than back home, even though New Zealand is meant to be fairly progressive in terms of the environment. Being sustainable is more accessible and affordable in Glasgow. I had also given up hope of ever buying my own place. In New Zealand, the average house price is about £600,000. It’s outrageous. But here the average house price is around £180,000. If I saved, I could actually get a deposit together.

I do miss having my own outside space. In New Zealand, all the houses are detached – even the thought of semi-detached is weird – so tenement living is totally new for me. But saying that there are three huge parks within walking distance to my flat, so there’s lots of options if you want to be outside. I just like the lifestyle here. I don’t think I could have the same lifestyle anywhere else and depending on my visa, I can’t see myself going anywhere. In Glasgow, you can do what you’re interested in and what you love, and enjoy life a lot more.


The Lighthouse Gallery

‘Art is accessible, which is not always the case in other parts of the country’: Alec McWilliam, graphic designer, 25

I moved to Glasgow a few years ago. I grew up in Bristol, went to university in London, and spent the last few years down in Brighton. My girlfriend and I wanted to move somewhere new but we felt that between us, we’d covered quite a lot of ground in the south. Glasgow, for us, hit the brief.

Its arts scene, its affordability and its location. Glasgow, being so close to the Highlands, felt like somewhere that could bridge culture and nature. And there’s so much amazing green space here anyway. You can see Ben Lomond from Queen’s Park and Pollok Park is completely knockout. It wasn’t what I was expecting.

We live in a two-bed flat by ourselves – there is no way we could do this in the south

The rent prices were also incredibly appealing. We live in a two-bed flat by ourselves – there is no way we could do this in the south and live the same city lifestyle. This level of financial freedom is really important, both to me as a person and to my line of work as a freelancer. I’m not the kind of person that thrives when I’m tied into full-time employment, and I know there are lots of other people who feel the same.

Unfortunately, living costs have become so high in certain parts of the UK that young people, especially creatives, are having to compromise on what’s important to them. That’s why it’s so necessary that Glasgow, and other cities like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, should remain relatively affordable. 

The arts scene was another big draw for me. Obviously the Art School and the museums are already very well-known, but there’s also a lot happening on a community level. Local art spaces that run free workshops and classes seem to be everywhere, and they’re open to everyone. Art is accessible, which is not always the case in other parts of the country. Glasgow is in tune with our generation, and it feels like an exciting place to be right now.