In defence of moving to zone 4

Redbridge station. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

As a hip young millennial, by rights me and my housemate should be living in a £900 per month loft in Shoreditch/Dalston/Stoke Newington, where he has the bed and I have a “mezzanine floor” which is really just a large shelf with a mattress on, fearing for my life every time I get up in the dark. Alternatively, we could go for an artsy flat with cacti growing out of the wall but also no hot water (I’ve been there) for a mere £520 per month.

It’s not often, as a young person, that you get advised to shed the shackles of coolness, nightlife, bars and even a Sainsbury’s Local in favour of your friendly Zone 4 location nearly in Essex. But that is what I am here to do.

About October last year, me and my current housemate decided we would finally live together because 1) we were both sick of our current housing situations and 2) we knew we’d get on. The only problem was we were both poor and flats in London are expensive. So we had three choices – compromise on location, on price, or on quality.

We decided to do the first.

When we found a flat in the suburbs, we both started desperately justifying it. It’s right by Redbridge tube. It’s a short commute to work for us both. It’s £50 cheaper than any flat we’ve seen and actually under our budget. It even has nice parquet floors.

After a fair bit of wrangling with the landlord needing a double deposit lest all our references be fake, despite the fact neither of us have ever been late on rent in our lives, we got it: The Flat Of Dreams right out in Zone 4.

And it’s perfect.

So, here is my defence of Zone 4 And Not Living In The Hippest Places.

It’s cheap and large AND we have double rooms each

As mentioned, for £575 a month in rent, we each have double rooms, there’s a lot of hallway and a big living room, bathroom, small kitchen, and a lot of cupboards. The best bit, though, is the bay window and balcony with a panoramic view of the Redbridge roundabout and the tube station, which is excellent for people watching.

It’s not expensive and neither of us have to sleep in a hallway in lieu of a room. I’d say this was a stereotype of many hipper more central locations, but seeing horror stories about airing cupboards/under the stairs cupboards/an actual shelf, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.


We have Wanstead right next door

I have come to think of Wanstead as a sweet, quiet oasis, in which, on Saturday mornings, I can see green grass and people with small dogs, hear a bird sing and breathe air that is probably only 45 per cent saturated with pollution. Seriously, it’s really good.

There are a lot of places in the suburbs of the capital where you can reap the rewards of swapping the hip stuff for things a bit further out. This one has one of the best high streets in the country, and loads of nice pubs that could almost be in the countryside. It’s great.

Big supermarkets are few and far between in London

Having moved around a lot in London I am always craving a big supermarket. I feel soothed in their large cathedral like aisles where I can browse for hours, buying things I don’t need.

But you don’t really get many big old Tesco Extras in the middle zones of London. In sweet Zone 4, however, we have a big Tesco,  medium Tesco, medium Sainsbury’s, another medium Sainsbury’s, many Lidl and a Co-op. Like – yes you may think that is mundane, but when you need a baking tin at short notice on a Tuesday night it’s ideal.

It takes literally 20 minutes to get into central London

I mean it’s on the Central Line. It’s not exactly two hours on a pacer train away (yes, friends who live in south west, it takes 45 minutes to get from yours to mine so you can definitely manage it).

The night tube is a thing

We have two things on our high street open after 9pm – a Spar in the petrol station and also the Beefeater pub. If neither of these things tickle your fancy on a night out, the night tube now does run and calls at our very Zone 4 station. Even going out in Brixton only takes an hour home, with enough time to eat a Maccies in the station before you get on the train.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t go to bed at 10pm every night, but the network of night busses is also good, along with Uber. 

It’s nice.

I like where I live, it’s a good flat and it’s a cheaper location than everywhere else. Yes, even though Wanstead is recommended for families who don’t quite want to leave London yet, there’s literally nothing around Redbridge station – but for sacrificing a postcode, we got somewhere pleasant we can afford between just the two of us without too much hassle, which is saying a lot in London. Loads of good stuff is in walking distance and to be honest I can’t even be bothered trying to be hip enough to have cool clubs and pubs on my doorstep.

Living in Zone Four is just more like living in a normal non-Londoney place – it takes 20 minutes to get into the city centre. It’s reduced my stress levels a lot because there aren’t always people around . And come on, it’s London, there’s a tube every four minutes.

I just think it’s something we all need to consider, rather than turning it into the only-being-able-to-afford-a-zone-four-flat joke.

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.