Escape to the country in search of clean air

The pandemic radically changed everyone’s life. Lockdown, social distancing and hygiene measures had a significant impact on the way we conduct ourselves daily, and many of these changes are set to persist. Will we ever see a full office again? Will people continue to wear face coverings indoors? And will international travel recover?

Some of these shifts have also had a dramatic effect on people’s personal lives. For instance, Australian maternity wards claim to be struggling under the pressure of a lockdown ‘baby boom’. Meanwhile, as many wonder if they’ll ever return to the office, some have decided to move from our cities in search of cleaner, fresher air. As, of course, clean air is one of our favourite topics, we’ll look at this phenomenon a little closer.

The rural property boom

Arguably, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a major shift: city dwellers are moving in their droves to rural areas. This is perhaps because the pandemic exposed the challenges associated with city life, namely, a lack of space. As people moved to the home office, they found small apartments or flat shares unsuitable workspaces.

In summer last year, the number of inquiries on Rightmove from people living in the UK’s ten largest cities increased by a remarkable 78%. Meanwhile, there was a 126% rise in searches for property in villages. This is a national average; in Birmingham, residents looking to move to villages were up 186%. In Edinburgh and Liverpool, searches were up by 205% and 275% respectively.

These are certainly remarkable statistics. What’s more, these aren’t just search queries – people are following through. According to data gathered by Hamptons estate agents, 63% of new homes in Sevenoaks in Kent have been bought by Londoners looking to escape to the country.  

Is the pandemic the biggest driving force?

The Guardian newspaper conducted a small survey of readers moving to the country to find out what was fuelling the migration. Half of respondents cited more greenspace as a significant reason, which you would think even before lockdown would be common. Equally, some wanted to be closer to family or where they grew up, another fairly commonplace reason people choose to move from cities. 

However, the survey revealed it was lockdown that really made people reassess their values. Respondents cited prioritising a garden or access to more greenspace as something triggered by lockdown, as they craved freedom from the indoors. More indoor space was also a popular reason, as working from home in cramped spaces proved untenable.

Some reasons were rather more sombre; many wanted to be closer to elderly relatives as the pandemic brought mortality into sharp focus. For some, the pandemic made them feel afraid of living in close quarters with other people. Either way, room to breathe was considered essential.

Making urban spaces healthier

As we (hopefully) emerge from the worst of the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if this great escape to the country continues. Meanwhile, for those that aren’t lucky enough to make the move, we have to think about how to make our urban spaces safer and healthier. From investment in parks to improving air quality – outdoors and in – companies and government bodies need to maintain focus on making our environment healthier.