When a man is tired of London…well, you know the rest. That historical nugget from Samuel Johnson has always annoyed me – in part because it is trotted out by every person who has ever lived inside the M25, but mainly because it is simply untrue. It does not even remotely stand up to scrutiny.
At the start of last year, I was dog tired of London. Fifteen years of commutes, £7 pints (seriously) and living in an attic flat that was hotter than the sun between May and October had taken its toll. I loved the city and all it had given me, but I was well and truly done with it.
Did that mean I was tired of life? This is when the vein in my temple starts to pulse. The idea that your intellectual curiosity expires the moment you decide to leave London is offensively patronising. The implication is clear: All the clever people, all the action, all the stimulation you could ever need is found in one city. And outside that city? Well, it’s just suburbia and a few yokels.
Happily, I knew otherwise. In September, I moved back to my hometown of Plymouth and have not regretted it for a second.
The South West is a different place to the one I left behind in 2005 when I headed off for university. As a centre for business and innovation, it is more comfortable in its own skin and far more confident. Where once the region struggled to differentiate itself from many others, a clear identity is now emerging.
At the heart of that transformation is technology. Clusters have sprung up across the South West, showcasing opportunity, success and world-beating innovation. Crucially, these clusters have developed their own specialisms, which, when blended together, create the identity the South West as a business hub lacked for so long.
Think of cyber security in Gloucestershire; aerospace and artificial intelligence in Bristol; climate science in Exeter; marine tech in Plymouth; game development in Falmouth. All these places are at the cutting edge of their chosen field in the UK and beyond. And there are many more besides.
Add to this the South West’s natural advantages – the lifestyle factors such as stunning beaches and countryside, great people, great food – and the future looks bright. Who wouldn’t want to work for a tech business in the South West, or start one of their own? Many are already doing just that. There are around 14,000 digital tech companies in the South West, generating £2.44bn in revenue. Only the South East and the East of England received more investment in start-ups last year, according to a report by Tech Nation published this week.
Part of my reason for moving back to the South West was to become part of the tech transformation. In doing so, I get to prove Samuel Johnson was wrong all along.
Peter Evans is a former reporter and editor at The Sunday Times and Wall Street Journal