Helping others settle into London life
A Donegal woman is running workshops for recent arrivals on job hunting, finding accommodation and the London social scene
As I walked past Pizza Hut in Piccadilly Circus, I smiled to myself when I noticed that the afternoon special has gone up by £3 in the last three years. During my first month in London in early 2010, the afternoon special at Pizza Hut was a regular event for me, mainly due to the lack of cooking facilities in my temporary accommodation and a quickly-shrinking budget.
I had always wanted to live in London and, after spending a year at home paying back the loans I accumulated while travelling, I decided to take the plunge. I failed to persuade any of my friends to join me and had only a few acquaintances here, so from the outset it was pretty daunting. London is a big city and although I instantly loved the buzz and vibrancy of the place, I was lonely.
While the people I knew were extremely good, constantly inviting me to different events, I still struggled. I wanted a night out with my own friends where I didn’t have to introduce myself to new people, talk about how long I’d been in London or seek advice on where I should look for accommodation. But that’s what you have to do – make an effort and help yourself.
The search for accommodation was very different to what I’d experienced in Galway or Dublin. I had no idea what area I wanted to live in and got so much conflicting advice. The competition and cost was also amazing – some viewings were almost as stressful as a job interview. Eventually I moved into a flat in Clapham with an English girl who proved to be a godsend.
Once I settled into a routine with work and accommodation, I began to explore the city. Although I loved it more and more with every new discovery, I still wasn’t settled. I missed the familiarity of home, bumping into people you know or just calling into a friend or cousin on the way home from work. I was used to having someone to go places with and was particularly distraught when I had no one to join me in the pub to watch the GAA and other big games – but, I went on my own.
It took me about a year before I built a proper social network and really started to settle into London life. Now, I truly love the city and am still overwhelmed by the possibilities it offers. You can be anyone and do anything in London, but in my experience, it doesn’t happen overnight.
In early 2011, I started training as a life coach and began to think about the type of people I would like to work with, once qualified. I was also working with the London Irish Centre in Camden, teaching Irish among other things. I realised that I was constantly having the same conversations with the Irish people I met about the challenges they faced when moving to London and how long it took them to feel settled here. Lots of people had the same experiences as I’d had – loneliness, lack of awareness regarding accommodation and the cost of living and the desire to feel like part of a community. So, I decided to use my experience to help other Irish people settle into life in London and really make the most of their time here.
I designed a service which takes the stress out of moving to London by providing people with all the practical information they will need. I wasted so much time searching for information when I first arrived. I also felt it was important to provide people with the opportunity to build an instant social network – this is how my group sessions evolved. They are designed for people who have just moved over or who have been living in London for a while but want to feel more settled and make the most of their time here. I also provide a one-to-one service for people who really want to focus on getting the life they dream of in London.
London really is a fantastic city and I’m glad I made the move. I love the new experiences that life here has given me, from Sunday mornings rollerblading with friends in Hyde Park, to cycling along the Regent’s Canal or spending a summer’s evening at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. And I love the fact that I still have the connection to home because it’s close enough for me to travel back for all the big events. I hope I can help others enjoy London life as much as I do.