By John Livesey
When we talk about a country’s culture, there’s a tendency to only really talk about its capital city. Berlin, London, New York, Lisbon, Tokyo: brands and agencies alike are guilty of mistaking one city for a whole nation. In our Beyond series we want to look further afield, focusing on untapped regions, local hotspots, and trending areas. We want to know what young people think about their culture, wherever they’re based.
In 2023, London is still the biggest cultural hub of the UK. But with the cost-of-living crisis hitting Londoners particularly hard, more and more young people are looking to other parts of the country. A recent survey by YouGov showed that 47% of 18-24 year olds living in London plan to upsticks within the decade. (Source: YouGov)
So where next? In the latest installment of our ‘Beyond’ series, we seek to uncover the other hubs of youth culture around the UK.
Birmingham is the second-largest city in the UK. It has a budding tech industry and, in 2022, played host to the Commonwealth games. With a median age of 40 and 56% of residents aged between 25-39, Birmingham has the youngest population of any city in Europe. (Source: Birmingham Live)
But what makes Birmingham special? And why might Gen Zs and young millennials want to live here?
‘Birmingham doesn’t have a ‘see me culture’,’ 27-year-old Joe told us, ‘everyone is just out for a good time.’ For Joe, the reasons to relocate to Birmingham are clear: ‘people tend to leave their cities to come to Birmingham because it has a certain level of freedom that most cities don't have, especially London. Compared to London you don’t have to fit in to enjoy it.’
One of Birmingham’s prime hotspots, Joe tells us, is Digbeth. Digbeth is an area in the City centre known for its old industrial buildings. Digbeth’s recent redevelopment, however, has made it home to hundreds of converted apartments, shops, and venues with a creative and bohemian edge. Located just 10 minutes walk from Birmingham New Street Station, what makes Digbeth stand out is the range it has to offer.
At the heart of Digbeth is the Custard Factory, a converted factory containing hundreds of start-ups, shops and places to eat and drink. Other Digbeth highlights include the legendary Mockingbird cinema, Red Brick Market, the Roller Jam skate arena, and even a Go-karting track.
“Digbeth caters to a lot of people which makes it so diverse,’ Masuma (26) explains, ‘there’s a variety of things to do from food, drinks, ghetto golf, arcade games’. And if none of those pique your fancy, the Digbeth area is full of clubs and music venues that offer the best of Brummy nightlife, from 7SVN to XOYO.
Like Birmingham, Manchester is defined by its young population. It’s the city with the largest number of students in the EU, with over 500,000 people studying at its 5 Universities. As the fastest growing economy outside London (currently estimated at £62.8 billion) many brands are now also making Manchester their UK home, including Amazon, Boohoo, and Jaguar. (Source: Manchester.Gov)
The city is particularly infamous for its hundreds of music and nightlife venues, from Warehouse Project, to the Depot, to the Gay Village. It ranks #1 in the UK for number of nighlight events and venues: a real party city. As Emily, 25, told our research team, ‘Manchester nightlife is vibrant and has a diverse cultural scene that I personally don’t feel I always experience when I'm in London. Although it's still a big city, we have a central place we all go out to, so you can meet so many different people in one place on one night!’
Alongside its one-of-a-kind nightlife scene, Manchester is host to the annual Parklife festival, which takes place in Heaton Park. Featuring an exciting and diverse line-up, Parklife is a favourite amongst students and residents alike. In the last couple of years its seen performances from huge acts, including the likes of Frank Ocean, Stormzy, Tyler the Creator, and Meghan Thee Stallion.
And if going out isn’t your thing, we’d recommend the Northern Quarter, The Northern Quarter is a creative neighbourhood in central Manchester, known for its street art, record shops, trendy bars and restaurants, and the world famous Affleck’s Palace.
Unsurprising for a capital, Cardiff is the largest city in Wales and one of the largest in the UK as a whole. It is a cultural hub with several key arts venues including the Millennium Centre, the International Arena and New Theatre.
Cardiff is particularly well known as a major centre for TV and film production with several major TV shows filmed in or around the city. It is the home of BBC Cymru Wales and Bad Wolf TV, creators of His Dark Materials. With a thriving economy and average costs a whopping 38% lower than London, it’s no surprise that many young professionals are now moving to the Welsh Capital to reap the benefits.
Whilst it may be smaller than Birmingham or Manchester, this is to its advantage. “I love how accessible everything is once you're there,” explains 24 year old Jamie. “Essentially it just being a smaller city, you know that if you're going out and meeting a friend it's never going to take you long to get there, and you can mostly walk.”
For Jamie, that means that a night out can be played out across several bars and clubs in Cardiff's city centre: whether that's at the Depot, the Tramshed or the historic Welsh nightclub Clwb Ifor Bach. And the morning after? Well you’ve got a whole range of options from easy countryside access, a historic Castle, or a trip around the scenic and creative neighbourhood of Roath.