Unit Editions’ Adrian Shaughnessy on leaving London for rural Essex

Miriam Rayman’s piece From Shoreditch to the Shires, which examined the consequences of creatives abandoning London for the countryside, sparked off a huge debate on CR. We’re following up with a series of interviews with creatives who have made similar moves. Here we speak to Adrian Shaughnessy, editorial director at Unit Editions

Creative Review: What prompted your move to the country? Did you move your business headquarters as well or do you now commute in to London?

Adrian Shaughnessy: I’ve moved to a tiny village in Essex, close to the border of Suffolk. It wasn’t a hard decision. Since giving up studio life, I’ve lived a self-employed, semi-itinerant existence anyway. My main occupation is Editorial Director of Unit Editions. I also teach one day a week at the RCA. These two commitments mean that I’m in London two days a week. But all my other work can be done remotely. The decision to move out of London was conditional on finding somewhere close to the city. I’m one hour by train from Liverpool Street station, and I can live with that.

I worried about leaving London. Was it signalling a lack of commitment? Was it a sign that I was losing my appetite for ‘the fight’?

I worried about leaving London. Was it signalling a lack of commitment? Was it a sign that I was losing my appetite for ‘the fight’? In fact, the opposite has happened – I’ve been re-energised. I‘ve lived in the city since the 1970s, and for the first time I’d begun to feel oppressed by the overcrowding and the groaning infrastructure. I also found a house in a part of the world that my wife and I wanted to live in. But of course, this was only possible because of the internet. I’ve moved to a village that has been wired for broadband. If it hadn’t, I think I’d still be sweating it out on the District Line.

We also found a house that we wanted to live in. It’s a converted barn, and has been designed by David Pocknell, the graphic designer. He still does graphic design, but with his team he’s become a master of modernist barn conversions. The house has an outhouse that I’ve converted into a studio.

CR: Has it been harder to employ people or collaborate with other creatives since you moved?

AS: For me, nothing much has changed. Most of what I do relies on the internet, so if the wind is in the right direction and the sheep are facing south, I’m guaranteed a good connection, and life goes on as before.

CR: How has the move impacted your work-life balance, your ability to invest time in family and social engagements?

AS: The commute is less of a problem than I anticipated. I use the one hour train journey to work. But I’m much pickier about agreeing to meetings and attending work or social events that require a trip to London. Staying late in town is also a problem. You can run-up hefty hotel bills if you’re not careful.

CR: Have you noticed any change in your village in Essex since you’ve moved? Signs of gentrification? 

AS: It’s not something we’ve encountered. We recently attended a “parish coffee morning” – something I thought I’d never do – and met some of our neighbours. They were super friendly. Being so close to London means that many of them are commuters, and some of them are London escapees, like us. We were a tad disappointed that there was no hint of devil worship or other arcane village rituals.

CR: Do you think you would have been able to start your career from where you live now? Or was the move possible because you had an already established place in the industry? 

AS: With the price of London property, more and more people are going to have to consider moving out of the city. The internet makes it possible. I also think there is a general acceptance within design that clients and designers don’t have to meet as frequently as they once did – they can communicate via internet. There’s a downside to this – relationships tend to be more fragile than they used to be. But the good side is designers don’t have to be metropolitan-based – and there are fewer wasteful meetings.

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