Thanks to “speed-flatmating”, finding a home in London will be more horribly reminiscent of dating than ever

Those were the days. Image: Getty.

If it costs you £800,000 to buy a 10ft wide property in East Dulwich, the chances of being able to afford anything like your own flat in London are so minuscule as to be irrelevant. (Unless you’ve got a lot of money, in which case, lucky you.) And when it costs upwards of £1,000 per month to rent a one bedroom flat in zone 3, the only reasonable option for most is to take a room within a flat-share.

The problem is that everyone else is in the same boat as you, so the competition is ferocious. And it'll still cost you on average a minimum of £600pcm to live in south east London, rising swiftly to a minimum of £800pcm anywhere else in zone 2.

What this means for you, the humble house-hunter, is that the stakes are both high and remarkably personal. While you're competing with hundreds just for the chance to get accepted for a viewing, your prospective new flatmates are looking for something with a bit more sparkle than a simple “hello”.

So when you join one of the wealth of flatmate finding websites  – RoomBuddies, Flatmate.com, SpareRoom – you compose a profile that not only explains what you're looking for, but what you like, what you do, your hopes and dreams. You can even add a photo.

It all feels a bit over-familiar – something that’s highlighted if you’re simultaneously using online dating sites like OKCupid. My potential new housemates, much like my potential lovers, apparently need witty paragraphs of pseudo-ad copy, photos of my pouting face and my vital statistics to get to know the real me. They need me to send an opening message that makes me stand out, and if I am lucky enough to get a shot at a viewing, this stranger is going to let me into their home, and maybe sit me down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, but more than likely just show me round their room then chuck me out the door again. I will spend the next week wondering if I'll ever hear from them again, then chalk it up to experience and move onto the next one.


It's not difficult to see why people might think both dating and house-hunting have lost the soul that was previously at the crux of both processes. It's a lot less romantic to meet someone via a computer screen, just as it’s a lot more utilitarian to meet the person you're going to share a home with through a few message back-and-forths and a ten minute interview-style interaction.

But it seems that this is the future, rather than a temporary state. SpareRoom themselves have noticed the similarity between the two experiences, setting up regular “speed-flatmating” events across London. Now, you don't even have to compose your long-winded self-marketing campaign and send an awkward first message. Just as speed-dating has all of the crushing anxiety of going on multiple dates with none of the intimacy or the opportunity to take your time, speed-flatmating takes away the need to fire off countless, increasingly desperate messages to every room ad in sight, and replaces it with an even colder, even more hurried process.

Is it possible to impress someone enough to make them want to see you every day in five minutes or less? I'm not convinced it works for relationships either, but the continued existence of the process is some kind of evidence that it does.

Flat hunting in today’s London is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Just as my OKCupid inbox is full of strange men propositioning me in as crass a way as possible, so I received unsolicited messages on SpareRom from men in their forties offering me the illustrious opportunity to live in their home – maybe even share a bed! – for reduced rent, or even rent-free, if we “get on”.

And just as this is part and parcel of online dating now, I worry this too is what we must accept whilst house-hunting in 21st century London. It certainly won't be getting any cheaper or less competitive any time soon.

Tilly Grove tweets as @femmenistfatale.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.