Perspectives is a 3-part series co-created with giffgaff, exploring the most important issues affecting young people today. We meet the individuals on the frontline and highlight the self-made solutions they're using to deal these challenges.
As a young adult in 2016, it's difficult to keep a roof over your own head. With house prices higher than ever, we are stuck on the lowest rung of the ladder, dubbed "generation rent". And, because no one has the money to buy houses outright, rent prices have soared: earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics published figures that showed that tenants were paying a 2.6% rent increase in February 2016 on the previous year. But in a sink or swim world, people are finding interesting ways around some pretty shit economic circumstances.
In Perspectives on the Economy, a new film by VICE and the mobile network giffgaff, alternative ways of working and living are explored in an optimistic light. In it, we meet artist Amy Redmond, a central figure in the rising art scene in Margate, forced out of yuppie prioritised London by unfavourable economics and gentrification, and Jordan Hassell, a married man supporting a family with his pizza business in Crewe – where he's spent his entire life.
For many young people, getting together enough money for a deposit on a rented house is near on impossible. Most landlords will ask for six weeks rent upfront by way of a deposit, so for a property costing £700 a month (which sadly is about average for flats and houses in London's zones 1-2 rented by those in their mid-20s), that's over a grand. Emma Cope, studio junior at Tag, an in-house studio at creative agency Mother, tells me how she found her way around this problem. After being offered a two-week internship in London, she shared a bed at a friend's house in Clapton. The internship was extended from two weeks to two months but her friend's boyfriend moved in and she was forced to find somewhere else to sleep.
"The housemates didn't want me to leave and I don't want to leave. I wanted to live with all my friends and it had been working so well," she explains. "So I made use of the landing space and set up my very own bedroom, without any doors. I slept on a futon mattress and I made myself a hanging rail for my clothes. Surrounding me were doors to four of the bedrooms. The experience suited me as it was just a place to sleep. The girls would leave their doors open and we would all hang out chatting before bed. The downside was parties, there was no escaping the noise as I had no door!" After seven months on the landing, Emma had saved up enough money, and when one of the other housemates moved out, she got her first London bedroom.
All very well for a woman with a young, closely-knit friendship group, but obviously Emma's make-do situation wouldn't suit many. In a quest for space, senior designer and mother Sophie O'Connor tells me that she recently decided to move further away from her job in London. After ten years of renting in London, and five months living in the country with her family to save money, Sophie and her husband have bought a house in Wilmslow, Cheshire. "We couldn't afford a decent sized family home in a decent area [in London]," she tells me. Although further from friends and work, Sophie sees major benefits sides to her new countryside home: "quality of life, more money to save as cheaper cost of living, fresh air, good schools, and being close to family after having no family support in London."
After three years as an editor and journalist, Amelia Abraham is also leaving London, where she has lived since starting university in 2009, to live for the first time with her girlfriend in Reykjavik, Iceland. "I've been here eight years, and while the novelty has faded, the city has become increasingly expensive," she says. "I feel like rent prices, travel costs and the cost of living had become excessive to me – and meant that while I was earning more, I had nothing to show for it. On a more emotional level, I wanted to explore the world a little more before I became truly fixed in a work/housing/ family situation that would be tougher to leave behind. 25 feels like a really good age to give another lifestyle and another city a try. I might find out I prefer it, or I might come back to London with a new-found appreciation." Working freelance while having a full time job has meant that Amelia has an excellent network of contacts, allowing her to work remotely part-time as a commissioning editor and write on a freelance basis.
Jobs don't have to mean a 9-to-5 (okay, 7) shift in a strobe-lit office. Figures published by IPSE earlier this year shown that the freelance contribution to the UK economy stacked up to an estimated £109 billion a year, despite only accounting for 6% of the UK workforce. Meanwhile, Scandi-style flexible working is increasingly being considered by UK companies as a more holistic alternative to traditional work structures. Fitness brand Sweaty Betty allows its workforce to leave work early provided they make up the hours earlier in the day, while Microsoft uses an "Anywhere Working" initiative which means that employees can dictate their working terms.
But then again, why not step out the office altogether? 2015 saw the highest number of new businesses on record, with the number of start-ups rising by 4.6% on 2014. Entrepreneur Amber Atherton has a lifetime of experience in the art of setting up businesses. "I was one of those annoying children that was always setting up businesses. By age nine I learnt to code and set up a website called Kidsdome selling CDs and books. There were numerous other ventures — from a cuddly toy venture to a dim sum company on Brick Lane —but my first proper business, which I set up in 2009 was myflashtrash.com." Thanks to Amber's hard work, myflashtrash became a global success. "We raised money and scaled to become the largest E-commerce jewellery marketplace in Europe before selling earlier this year. I'm now consulting to start-ups and venture capitals and working as entrepreneur-in-residence at whalar.com." For Amber, the positives of working in this way include "having a sense of freedom with how you spend your time. Time is the most valuable currency so whilst you end up working 24/7 you can choose when, how and where."
Anika Simon recently left her job at a marketing agency to start at 06:PM, along with her friend Annelise. She describes her business as "a marketing agency that nurtures millennial start-ups in the fashion and lifestyle retail sectors". "We realised that we're constantly crushing on new designers – but there are hardly any agencies that are looking after those brands, and even less catering to their budget," Anika explains. She admits that starting out on her own can be intimidating, but that is part of the reason why she enjoys it: "You have to get outside of your comfort zone and expose yourself. There's really never a dull moment. On the flip side, you constantly need to evaluate what you're doing and how you're doing it, always going back in order to go forward, which is emotionally draining. Oh and yes, you'll find yourself sitting at home dwelling over a bottle of wine asking yourself 'Why did I do this again?' But I do like to think that if you're devoted to what you do, and if you have your head screwed on and really listen to what people and the universe is telling you and learn from it, then you'll get there eventually."
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Watch the rest of the Perspectives series here