London. For Geoffrey Chaucer it was a “deere sweete” place. For Benjamin Disraeli it provided “a roost for every bird” making it “a nation; not a city”. It was Charles Dickens’s “magic lantern”. It has also been described as a “great sea” (Percy Bysshe Shelley), a “great cesspool” (Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle) and a “great big place doon sooth” (Big Dave Ridley, residential care worker, Tyneside).
Its brochure is its history: rich, colourful and long. It has four world heritage sites, four of the UK’s top 10 paid attractions and eight of the top 10 free attractions. It has 74 MPs, 80 miles of canals and 101 golf courses. You might have been one of the 27 million people who stayed overnight last year, helping make it the world’s most popular city destination. But could you be one of the seven million who stays put?
The streets may not be paved with gold but the clouds do seemingly come with silver lining as standard. Sure, you’ll see an old man in worn out shoes shuffling along the pavement picking up fag butts, and even an old woman carrying her home in two carrier bags; but with 33 local authorities (31 boroughs and the cities of Westminster and London) there is no shortage of social care employers from all sectors who want to attract you to work with such lyrical embodiments of social exclusion.
“I came to work in London 45 years ago,” says writer, trainer and consultant in the care of older people, Jef Smith. “I had a caseload of families on the Isle of Dogs – Docklands, but not as you know it – because, although I had studied in Durham, York and Edinburgh, London seemed the natural place to get one’s formative experience of social work. I stayed here for the rest of my career.”
For all the pressure and chaos, Londoner Anthony Douglas, who moved away to be director of Suffolk social services only to return as head of Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, believes that “it’s unbeatable experience for anyone wanting a career in social care”.
He adds: “The big advantage for social care professionals is there are more jobs than people within a manageable travelling radius, so you can pick and choose. It’s not quite the same for employers, as your average worker outside London is more experienced and cheaper. For quality and cost, you get more bang for your buck in Cumbria and Cornwall compared with Chelsea any day of the week.”
Smith is proof of the practical advantage of an array of employers. He says: “I worked at a variety of levels for six local authorities and two voluntary organisations and took a year out for further training, without needing to move house.”
So what about the work itself? “In London you have larger caseloads,” says leaving care social worker, Wendy Dare, who has returned to live in London. “But you are able to research more resources and tap into them more easily. And as for wages, well, London always pays more.”
And it needs to. Housing costs alone prove Chaucer was in one sense bang on the money in calling the place “deere”. Official websites, however, prefer to concentrate on the city’s access, culture and entertainment. “It’s true,” says Dare. “London never sleeps. You can always get a kebab.”
Having more than 50 non-indigenous communities of over 10,000 people – 30 per cent of London’s population is born outside of the UK – has been a recipe of success for its food. You can find 57 Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants in the seven streets of Chinatown in Soho alone.
And thanks to its integrated transport plan you could even take a slow boat to Chinatown if it’s river travel you’re after.
The mayor is responsible for transport; that’s the democratically elected mayor (Ken Livingstone) not the Lord Mayor who is elected by aldermen and is, I believe, responsible for a show and an appeal, and who might well be called Dick Whittington, is advised by a black cat and is probably right behind you.
The famous Routemaster buses might have been pensioned-off in favour of the bendy-bus, but there’s still the Docklands Light Railway and 321 mainline stations (most even get trains, some of which are on-time).
Open space accounts for 30 per cent of London. There are six million trees in the capital – the most common being the London Plane (nothing to do with any of its “five” airports). Its 147 registered parks and gardens and eight royal parks are often called the city’s lungs. “There is a surprising amount of greenery in London,” says Smith. “Scarcely a day passes, particularly in springtime, without my positively enjoying a park, wood or common, or my allotment, or simply the colours in suburban front gardens.”
So, move to London. It’s an old capital but a young city – 47 per cent of its population is aged 16-44, compared with 40 per cent nationally.
If you don’t move, contemplate for a moment the alternative. If the social care jobs aren’t filled there will be talk of a national crisis (to the media, London and the south east is the nation). It will mean but one thing: community care minister Liam Byrne dressed as a water buffalo on Celebrity Big Brother 8 earnestly explaining to a bemused Lindsay Lohan the far-reaching benefits of the first tranche of the national roll-out of care navigators. And I don’t think any of us wants that. It would be plain Pete Tong.
Test your survivor instincts
1. What’s a blue Oyster card?
A: Didn’t they have a hit with Don’t Fear the Reaper?
B: It’s a pay-as-you-go travel pass.
2 What do you understand by “sovereign rings”?
A: It’s the Queen on line 2.
B: Must-have bling.
3 What is a “lager-top”?
A: An XXL shirt.
B: A popular beverage.
4 What is the M25 officially known as?
A: The road to hell/A very big car park/etc.
B: The London Orbital.
5 You’re offered free tickets to a TV recording of Trisha. Do you:
A: Check out the spec for that care manager’s job in Rotherham again.
B: Thank your lucky stars.
How did you score?
Mostly As: Are you having a bubble or what? You want to come to London? Do me a lemon! You’d be a fish out of water (marginally more uncomfortable than being a fish in the Thames).
Mostly Bs: What a diamond! You’d be welcome on the manor any time. You’ll probably get a funny feeling inside of you just walking up and down (and not just from the kebabs).