The following is a post I wrote for my church’s website. It is aimed primarily at people moving to London for the first time – as our annual influx of students is about to begin, but beyond the specifics, I think there’s some stuff here of wider relevance, which I hope you’ll enjoy.
And as a special treat, I’ve posted the whole thing here so you don’t even have to click through to the original…unless you want to, of course!
Survive and Thrive
Welcome to London! We’ve had an amazing summer enjoying the Jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympics, but now those distractions are out of the way, we’re ready for one last, really important event – your arrival! We’re so glad you’re here, and we’re really looking forward to getting to know you.
We know this can be a big, busy, baffling place though, so if you’re feeling even the tiniest bit lost and overwhelmed, here are a few pointers to help you get to know – and hopefully love – this city.
Lots – perhaps most – of London’s best bits are above eye level. There are beautiful old buildings, statues, coats of arms, even painted advertising dating from the early decades of the last century. Many buildings are adorned with blue plaques detailing their famous former-inhabitants. From master musicians to super sleuths, from Lords and Ladies to authors and artists, from world-famous celebrities to little-known political campaigners, the streets are rich with remembered footsteps of those who made this city what it is. And there are some interesting juxtapositions, too – the best I’ve seen is G.F. Handel’s house, which is right next door to the home of another famous musician, though one with quite a different musical style – Jimi Hendrix!
You’ll see brilliant street names (Haunch of Venison Yard, anyone?), ancient shop signs, even the odd gargoyle. Look above the crowds and the plate-glass Superdrug/Nandos/H&M frontages – ride on the top deck of the bus whenever possible (and look out the windows, not at your mobile!) – and you’ll have a far richer experience of this beautiful, eclectic, historic place.
Most areas of London are pretty safe these days, but pickpockets and other undesirables do still exist. You don’t need to be afraid, but a simple, effective way to protect yourself and your belongings is to be aware of your surroundings.
Pickpockets love crowds – when you’re getting so jostled in the general crush you don’t notice the extra jostling hand in your backpack (I learned that the hard way). Keep your eyes open and if you see anything suspicious, carry your bag where you can see it for a while.
Obviously you’ll want to avoid walking alone down dark alleyways at night, but if you do find yourself in an empty street, keep your eye open for places you could run to if you feel threatened – pubs, corner shops, a busy bus stop. Doubling back on yourself, or jumping on a bus may add time to your journey, but if it helps you feel safer, it may be worth it.
Like I said, though, be aware, but not afraid; I’ve lived here for 5 years and have only twice felt concern about someone’s odd behaviour.
Not just to avoid rogue dog-dirt or the ubiquitous chewing gum-slicks, but to remember those less fortunate than yourself. You might be struggling to make the student loan stretch, but at least you have a roof over your head and a change of clothes.
There are thousands of rough-sleepers in this city, and we can make a real difference to their lives simply by acknowledging their existence. When someone tries to sell you the Big Issue, say ‘no, thank you’ (unless you want one, of course!). When someone asks for spare change, make eye contact and respond politely – even if you’re refusing. Some friends and I stopped once and gave sandwiches, fruit, milk and home-made flapjacks to a homeless man, and chatted to him for a while. He asked ‘Are you Christians?’ When we said ‘yes’, he said ‘I thought so. It’s only Christians who ever stop’. A conversation and an inexpensive (and preferably healthy) snack can make the world of difference to those who often struggle to remember they’re human, let alone worthy of love and respect.
You’ve moved to an amazing city. We hope you’ll love your time here, making the most of all the events, facilities and opportunities on offer, and we hope you’ll make your mark, too, like so many who have gone before. How will London be a better place because you were here? We can’t wait to find out.