VOICES OF THE FUTURE: Will Covid-19 pandemic increase the northern brain drain? - Rory Ellis

In this week’s column, Rory Ellis looks at the Northern Brain Drain and what effect the Covid-19 pandemic is having on graduates moving from the North to London:

Friday, 5th February 2021, 6:00 am
Date: 7th October 2019. Picture James Hardisty. The majestic building City Square, Leeds, soon to be home to Channel 4.

Up-and-coming is one of those clichéd expressions I can’t detach from the near primal need to bloat the reputation of one’s nearest city.

It feels as if Loiners have been labelling Leeds as ‘up-and-coming’ for all eternity; I have been an unofficial publicist myself. Yet, prior to waves of lockdowns and perplexing tier restrictions, I had started to see truth somewhere amidst this local marketing strategy.

Before the pandemic, Leeds City Council was flirting with Santander’s proposal for a 33-story tower and Channel 4 recently built a home from the ashes of The Majestic building.

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Meanwhile, in Holbeck, a monolith of ‘sky gardens’ is set to overlook all of Yorkshire.

Even the train station - which formerly flaunted architecture akin to the pay and display car parks in construction on the city’s outskirts - looks like a usable building now.

But the pandemic has slowed the momentum quietly building in our northern city.

The impact of the pandemic has had a devastating, yet unsurprising, impact on the north that will undoubtedly sharpen regional inequalities.

My hope that some enthused weekends of bar hopping, stilettoes, and skinny cream chinos can nurse our local economy back to health have been dashed by reports that Leeds has suffered a 60 per cent increase in redundancies – a huge blow to the local economy.

Worryingly, many venues which contribute to the ‘flourishing cultural scene’ considered responsible for luring a growing number of Londoners up to Leeds are resting on a knife edge, desperately relying on loyal supporters to raise funds to see them through.

In London, a new artisanal café or an elite club will sign the rental lease of a failed venue while the bar stools are still warm. The Leeds venues closing in the pandemic may simply give way to vacant buildings.

Seeing rent plummet in London makes me wonder whether a set-menu Leeds will be as previously attractive to Londoners in search of an all-you-can-eat culture and house prices just a third of the cost of those in the capital.

Some optimists, however, suggest the remote revolution may allow graduates to pursue the career of their dreams in a location much cheaper than its typical southern location.

A question mark remains, however, over whether a bruised Leeds will be attractive enough to keep students rooted in the university town usually renowned for waving Russell Group graduates off to London.

Perhaps the new lockdown grants for businesses will bridge the gap and keep the local economy afloat.

Hospitality and retail may bounce back at least some of the way.

However, prophecies of a real cultural draw and talk of reducing the brain drain may still be years off.