After spending lockdown watching the kids run around the small patch of grass overlooked by the neighbours, whom they smile at, but whose names they may not know, and home-schooling, while carving out a corner of the kitchen table from which to work from home, many millennials are having a rethink. They’ve been maintaining their family days during the pandemic, by riding their bikes round the local city park, while spotting birds (mostly pigeons, seagulls). And, they didn’t miss out on their veggies; the boxed, organic selection was delivered as usual. They didn’t risk lives by going shopping. They clapped on the doorstep every Thursday at eight and decorated their windows with painted rainbows.

But like most of us, during those three isolated months, city-dwelling millennials, now in their late-twenties to late thirties, have had time to reflect and many have concluded that they want a more authentic version of this lifestyle. Not wanting, of course, to stereotype an entire generation, but trends and research suggest this is a group defined by an interest in wellness (clean eating, food provenance, outdoor fitness) among other culturally-aware concerns such as social justice and environmental issues, they’re urgently prioritising their families’ health and wellbeing and are moving from city to country — including Dorset.
‘This is the busiest I’ve known it in 26 years,’ says search agent Greta Hillier, whose business, Rustic Moves, helps people relocate to the South West. ‘The number of enquiries has been constant and I’m spending all day, every day, on the phone or seeing houses. Before lockdown eased, if you offered the guide-price, that would probably be accepted; now it’s much more competitive.’

According to national estate agency figures, reported in The Sunday Telegraph at the end of June, there’s been a 90% increase in demand from house-hunters for country locations, compared with the same time last year. In the same period, 41% of city-based buyers bought a home in a town, suburb or countryside location – up from 17% in 2019.

Young families make up a significant number of those stats. ‘Although we have clients from all age groups, we’ve a large number with a younger profile looking to relocate,’ says Lodestone Property’s Simon Neville-Jones. ‘They’re looking for properties with bigger gardens, a home office, good broadband, great local walks, yet with excellent commuting access, which the A303 provides,’ he explains, ‘not forgetting the direct train links to London Waterloo via Sherborne, Gillingham and Templecombe. ‘During the last recession,’ continues Simon, ‘people moved into cities because they felt it to be financially safer. This time, they are moving out because of their wellbeing.’

30-year-old James West, who works in cyber-security, agrees. Along with his wife and young child, they sold their flat in Finsbury Park, North London, a few months ago, and were due to complete on their new Somerset home during lockdown. When it came unstuck, they decided to leave the city anyway and rent a holiday home in the South West, until their purchase goes through in a few weeks. ‘We moved to London after university,’ he explains, ‘because that’s where the jobs were, but we gradually realised we wanted a better quality of life; more space around us, more space at home, fresh air and locally-produced food. I’m keen on fitness too, so I wanted more access to nature, especially now we have a young child.’ He’s not alone either as many of his friends are considering the same shift, after their companies seem more open to home-working since lockdown.

But while all this is good news for Dorset-folk looking to sell, what about those who might have reservations about an influx of new residents? ‘There will always be a small number of people resistant to change,’ admits 28 year old Amalia Pothecary, owner of Shaftesbury’s successful Botanical Candle Company. ‘I think that younger people moving here, and setting up new businesses, is great for the county. I actually think most of the population would be very receptive to younger blood coming in and revitalising the high street, after all, everyone wants to see it thriving, not boarded-up.’

Contributing to community spirit doesn’t just extend to spending in shops though (although that has to be welcome right now.) Search agent Greta Hillier has seen clients throw themselves into village life, like joining Parish Councils or fete committees, and thinks fresh voices are essential to their continuation. James West hasn’t joined any clubs as of yet, but has been socially connecting and describes how his family have been treating an elderly neighbour to a shared meal of fish and chips, eaten together (at a social distance) in the garden. He also enjoys the simplicity of saying ‘hello’ to people – to food producers and customers at a local market, to fellow customers at his local café and on dog walks – whereas in London people rarely meet your eye.

Throwing yourself into a new community seems to be the best chance of smooth social integration. ‘If city dwellers have researched their chosen location and lifestyle well,’ says psychologist Emily Hooper from Riverside Psychology Services near Sherborne, ‘I would hope they would seek to embrace their new environment. This is key to integration into local communities. If all value their locality and community then there is potential for newcomers to become good neighbours and friends.’

So, this latest social shift has to be a good thing on many levels. What’s the view from those left living in the capital though? ‘Millennials tend to idealise the country as a blissful, relaxing haven,’ says cultural commentator and The Telegraph’s TV critic, Michael Hogan. ‘With the rise in anxiety, mindfulness… cycling and wild swimming, they’re doubtless drawn to the potential health benefits too. Fresh air and organic veg ahoy. The transition might be bumpy, though. Can they cope without the urban bustle and easy access to their extended friendship group? How about the less diverse population? Quite possibly. On the upside, they’ll lower the average age, bring new energy, fresh ideas and business ventures, money too, not least when their friends come and visit for weekends.’ Well, we can’t see anything wrong with that.

Cath Rapley, Lodestone Property

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