Nicola Masters 28th April 2020
I moved to Cornwall three years ago and it’s beautiful. We have stunning beaches, lush countryside and gorgeous little villages (albeit often overrun by tourists). When I moved here I couldn’t believe that I could cycle along the seafront instead of negotiating my way around red double-deckers. I still can’t really believe I basically live on holiday.
But more recently I’ve also begun to miss being able to pop to a free museum for the day. I miss queueing outside theatres at 6am in the hopes of scoring cheap day tickets. And I especially miss having a ton of places I could go to connect with other writers and feel like I’m actually a part of something, instead of just typing away by myself.
The cultural options in most of the UK outside of big cities are nowhere near as extensive as they are for those who are able to live right in the centre of things. Opportunities can be hard to come by, whether you just want some world-class entertainment, or whether you’re aiming for a career in the cultural sector and need access to it in order to progress. A touring show might come to your area for a week every couple of months but, in the main, it feels like a case of “if you can’t get to us that’s your problem”.
Suddenly the activities and events that were once reserved for the people who lived close enough or had enough money to get there are available to everybody
Enter: Lockdown. It seems to need repeating in every single piece of writing anywhere on the internet but a terrifying global pandemic is, objectively, A Very Bad Thing. Nobody is suggesting otherwise. However, it has been a great leveller. Suddenly the activities and events that were once reserved for the people who lived close enough or had enough money to get there are available to everybody. Since being confined to my house I’ve been able to watch live comedy nights, concerts, and West End shows. I can tour galleries and museums. I’ve even experienced my very first literary festival.
Some of these opportunities existed before we all got shut in our homes. Most notably, NT Live has long meant that people could access West End theatre from their local cinema rather than having to get themselves to London. And having theatre screened in cinemas is a great way to make London-based cultural events accessible to people in other parts of the country, but it’s still not a viable option for everybody. Perhaps there’s no cinema close to where somebody lives. Perhaps they have to take public transport that isn’t great in the daytime, and certainly can’t be relied on after a 3-hour National Theatre epic has kicked out. Lots of people simply can’t justify the expense because there’s the pesky issue of wages tending to be lower the further you get outside of cities. There’s no question that being able to stream something online is less of a logistical nightmare.
There’s a sense of sheer out-of-the-loop-ness that comes with being in a more rural area
It’s not just entertainment that’s been easier to access. In the past month, there have been webinars, online courses, and networking opportunities all available online. I’ve personally had the kind of access to career development opportunities I haven’t seen since I left London three years ago. It’s been inspiring and educational. But, perhaps more importantly, for a wonderful few weeks it’s meant I’ve felt a little less isolated. There’s a sense of sheer out-of-the-loop-ness that comes with being in a more rural area. It’s hard to know where to look for opportunities when you’re not able to meet people, make connections, and share tips. But since we’ve all been trapped in our homes it feels like everybody’s gone to extra effort to shout about what’s out there. I can only hope that continues once life gets back to normal.
I suppose it’s a thorny issue. Once upon a time, my London-living self would have argued that if people wanted access to this kind of stuff they should be prepared to move to where the opportunities are. I would have seen someone out in the arse end of nowhere complaining about there being nothing to do and I would have been wholly unsympathetic. But I never thought about the time, the money, or the travel it would take, and the extent to which those things can be blockers. We can’t all afford to survive in cities forever, but should we be penalised for that? Having experienced both sides of the coin, I can only hope that when everything is over this newly-level playing field stays a little bit more level than it was before we all went into Lockdown.
Nicola Masters 28th April 2020