Tag Archives: moving to cardiff

Polly Thompson talks Cardiff, and a new kind of living

Our reporter Jenny Jones speaks to Cardiff resident Polly Thompson today, about her move from the city to London in the ’90s – and back again last year, and the new kind of living she’s found here.

I’m that common person, who grew up in Cardiff through the bleak and grey 80s and then couldn’t wait to leave. In fact I found out about We Are Cardiff when I read James’ piece ‘Cardiff – it’s where you’re between’ and couldn’t believe how similar our stories were, almost exact parallels. I came across it by accident, just lost in endless scrolling one night on the internet, maybe I saw a link to it on Twitter. James’ experience of wanting to escape ’80s Cardiff totally resonated with me.

I was living in London at the time I read it – a couple of years ago. I was jobless, living for cheap in an old people’s home near Tottenham that was up for sale (I was part of one of those guardian schemes that stop squatters moving in by letting legitimate tenants live there for peppercorn rent). It was a disgusting place, with damp on all the walls, plasterwork that crumbled to the touch and squelching carpet over soaked underlay in every room, including the kitchens and bathrooms. But it was cheap. Really cheap. And in London, cheap housing is not to be sniffed at.

I left Cardiff when I was 16. I couldn’t wait to leave. There’s a big age gap between me and my older brother and sister, so they were already long gone from home when I was growing up, flown the coop, abandoned me in the nest. My was already in his 60s when I was born so my only real memories of him feature his disappearance into dementia, which started almost the second I was born.

By the time I arrived on earth, my sister had married and moved to Caerphilly, with children of her own just a few years younger than me (I’m nearly 16 years younger than her). My brother had slipped away and was living in some off-grid community in north Wales. Neither were around to watch the end of dad’s life. They barely visited, and didn’t register in my young mind as siblings. I saw how hard it was for my mum, working part time, trying to bring me up, and care for my father who was getting more and more confused. He almost never knew who I was, and so we had a strange relationship – he was a dad but also a not-dad, just some crazy old man who lived in the house.

I hated school. I don’t know how it’s possible to enjoy or engage when your home life is so mad. I felt isolated all the time. We lived in a small two bed house in Roath. I think it was somewhere around Alfred Street, but I’ve never been able to find its exact location. All I remember are heavy velvet drapes and dark wooden panels that were so fashionable in houses for a while.

My dad died when I was ten and my mum when I was thirteen, and so I ended up moving in with my sister in her new-build-box-house. I remember being young as pointing the TV aerial towards Bristol so we could watch Channel 4 instead of S4C – I never learned to speak Welsh, and besides that I felt like being Welsh was a strait jacket I couldn’t escape. It didn’t feel cool, it felt parochial, not something to be proud of. I wanted desperately to move where things were happening, to somewhere so big I could get lost within it and forget about all the crap things I’d experienced as a child. I wanted adventure and neon and to stay up all night. And none of those things felt possible in Cardiff in the 1980s. I would have preferred New York, but London was a pretty good second on the list.

The second I was old enough to leave, I did. I had barely any money but my sister surprised me by paying for my coach ticket and then handing me an envelope with five hundred pounds in it. She’d been saving up for me since I’d started living there. I’d told her what my plan was when I moved in, and apparently she had believed me.

I won’t bore you with the details of what happened in London, but here’s the short version. I went to art college, made good friends. Had a few boyfriends and one girlfriend. Fell in love with one of the boyfriends. I mostly lived around south London, as that’s where was cheapest, around Peckham and Deptford. To say I lived thriftily is an understatement – but I was where I wanted to be, and that was the most important thing.

I learned to turn off my Cardiff accent. I very deliberately cut ties to home. I told people I was from the West Country if they asked. I never wanted to come back to Wales. Never.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m divorced now, and after a couple of years where I actually had money, I’m broke again after some terrible decisions – very bad timing in buying and selling our married flat, which ended up with both of us divorced, in negative equity, having to bear the debt of fifteen grand each, which I am still paying off (although I’m almost completely debt free). I was technically homeless for a bit, a couple of months sofa surfing with friends until I managed to get myself back on my feet (and it really was sofa surfing – no one I know in London has a spare room). I spend most of my time drawing and illustrating, which is what I love and prefer to do but it’s not a steady job and so I do days of supply teaching around it.

It was the day I visited the Haringey food bank that I realised the cost of living in London was breaking me. Most of my friends were happily married or “consciously coupling” with children, and had moved out into north west London. Some of them are struggling too – squashed together in one bedroom flats, carrying their prams up and down the stairs. But they’re together. There’s probably little that’s as depressing as getting divorced when you’re in your early 30s. It should be the decade you’re making babies and growing a family and having widening waistlines but it doesn’t matter because you’re all together and that’s what counts.

Instead I was edging closer to 40 and worried about making rent, I was worried about being able to eat, what was I doing with my life. I was swinging in the other direction from almost everyone I knew – I was single, working jobs I hated to pay for £800 a month for a room in a communal house full of twenty somethings, with a shared bathroom that was always covered in other people’s hair, and a kitchen I’d stopped storing my food in as people openly helped themselves to whatever they wanted.

I was drinking a lot, alone. One of those days I was in the kitchen bitching about the rent – which had just been hiked by £50 a month for each of us – when my Australian housemate told me a couple of them were thinking of moving out and joining a guardianship scheme, where you get moved into empty properties to stop squatters and pay next to nothing. Did I fancy joining them?

I did, and so I did, and for the next year the worries about money eased up a little. But it’s a very unstable existence. You can be moved on from the place you’re staying whenever the landlord sells it (or decides to remove you). The places are often in a state, they may have been empty already for years, and it takes a lot to renovate a place that’s like this.

I was lucky – one of my housemates was a set designer, and very handy at building and repairing things. But I had just moved into my fourth place in 18 months when it hit me – I couldn’t keep living like this. I was exhausted, I was worried about money all the time. I was still drinking, all the time. It is a sobering (no pun intended) realisation to be a female that’s nearly 40, divorced, single, and living a life that is miserably itinerate.

I had come across James’ piece about Cardiff shortly after moving into the Tottenham residential home. It was a strange, squat building – seventeen rooms set across this weird sprawling building that only had one floor. I ended up living there for nearly eight months, during which time I started seeing a counsellor through a scheme that was training students for a nearby university, which made it a lot cheaper. And I tried to make a plan for myself.

During that time I started talking to my sister again on a more regular basis. I’m not sure why. We fell out of touch after I moved to London because I just wanted to eradicate the past from existence – it was easier to have no contact than try and renegotiate all the things that had happened every time I spoke to her. I think she understood. My sister sent me money every year after I left her house, up until I was 25 – always at Christmas, always £50. She stopped sending money the year I got married, which I told her about in a letter … after the ceremony had happened. I didn’t invite her to the wedding, which I feel guilty about to this day. She still sent me a card every Christmas, even then. I never sent her anything. I am objectively a terrible, terrible sister.

Anyway, during that time, I started thinking about moving out of London. From the second I arrived there I had never wanted to leave. But over the course of 24 years, things can change, right? I wasn’t the same person I had been when I arrived there. Sensing I was perhaps open to options, my sister suggested I come back to Cardiff to visit her for a weekend, for us maybe to spend some time together and for me to get some distance from London. I hadn’t been back for years – not since the late ’90s.

There was some big football thing on that weekend, she said, so it might be a bit busy in town, but she was looking forward to seeing me and showing me around. She booked my train tickets and emailed them to me (I’ll never really ever be able to pay her back for everything she’s ever given me, in terms of opportunity and opening doors for me).

I apprehensively boarded the train. It was the start of June, and I arrived in Cardiff to witness the hundreds of thousands of people creating a hot, crazy carnival in the city for the Champions League Final.

I think it’s fair to say that Cardiff astonished me. I’m sure the weather helped that weekend – scorching hot sunshine and blue skies – but it was more the scale of everything. That enormous stadium right in the heart of the city centre. The huge St David’s 2 shopping centre. All those high rises that seem to be exploding out of the earth all around. The Wales Millennium Centre. The BAY – and the barrage. It was a million miles away from the Cardiff I remembered – all squat buildings and bad weather and aerials pointed towards Bristol and verruca socks at the Empire Pool.

There is something tangible in memory that is beyond anything you can explain to someone about a place, however hard you try to. It’s a feeling, it’s colours, it’s a weight. Cardiff was grey and brown in my memories, and heavy, like a wool jumper soaked in cold rain. This Cardiff was somewhere entirely new, with bars and clubs and people with dyed hair, all dressed up, and a circus, and opera, and galleries. It was like the Cardiff I remembered was an entirely different place. While we walked around the stadium I struggled to remember how it had looked before with Empire pool there, even though I used to go swimming in it nearly every week.

On the Saturday of my visiting weekend we went down into the Bay, where I marvelled at the Millennium Centre, the Senedd. I don’t really remember going into Cardiff Bay as a child – it wasn’t the sort of place you’d go for a day out, like it is now. My only memory is driving through it once when I was really young … and my mum locking the car doors.

And now there were thousands of people – families, tourists, everybody – wandering around, eating ice creams. There was music blaring. We bought pints from some outdoor bar and walked around, people watching, place watching. I have never really been into sports, but Champions League was a really impressive event.

When the actual match was on we walked back through town to my sister’s house. She lives in Canton now, she has done for years – on a small side street off Cowbridge Road. It’s very old school – she knows her neighbours – everyone knows everyone on that street. Next door to her is a young family, who she sometimes babysits for in exchange for them looking after her dog. She said she had told them all about me, that I was coming to stay, and that we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years. At first I found it a bit alarming, even intrusive that she would share information like that with total strangers – they’re just neighbours. My sister laughed at me when I said that to her. “I’ve spent more time with them than I ever have with you!”.

It wasn’t that that made me decide to move back, although it was a part of it. We got on better than I imagined we would. We’re quite similar, although I never would have been able to see it or admit it when I was 16. While at her house that night, we put on some Hitchcock films, ate popcorn and I idly checked rental prices in Cardiff. Just to check. If you’ve ever compared rental prices in London to Cardiff, you’ll probably be able to imagine what comes next.

I found a nice room in a shared house in Adamsdown, really near the city centre, sharing with three other girls – two Spanish girls studying postgrads at Cardiff uni and one girl from Porth who was a hairdresser. My sister persuaded me to send them a message – might as well go and have a look while you’re here, right? So I wrote some long rambling message to them on Gumtree about my situation in London, and how I probably wasn’t going to move in but would like to have a look … Sofia messaged me back and told me to come over anyway. I took the bus over there, and from the second I stepped into the house, something clicked. We had a glass of wine, and I ended up staying for dinner.

But I couldn’t do it … it seemed too drastic, too big a step. I went back to London, but within two months the management agency were in touch. The place had been sold, and was going to be knocked down so flats could be built there. We had to move. Again.

I packed up my meagre belongings – the ones that weren’t already in storage from the divorce – hired a van, and moved to Cardiff.

Unfortunately the room in Adamsdown was taken so I ended up in my sister’s spare room until Christmas, when Sofia messaged me and told me their new room mate was moving out – she was Greek and had decided eventually that Brexit would make it impossible for her to stay, and was going back to Greece. I moved into her room on New Year’s Day, and I’ve been in that house since. It feels like a whole new life, like it did when I first moved to London.

I didn’t think it would be possible to move somewhere, aged 40, and make new friends, and feel at home. It doesn’t feel like moving ‘back home’ in the sense that Cardiff never felt like home to me before. But I was so desperate to escape when I was 16, that coloured my view of everything. It’s also possible that Cardiff was fine back then. I just couldn’t see it.

Much of what remains from my childhood in Cardiff are photos my sister has now, that seem weirdly over-saturated technicolour compared with my memories. There are hardly any photos of my brother and sister, but my sister doesn’t care. She’s the archivist for our weird disintegrated family now, our historian, and she’s taken good care of these memories for me, when I probably would have burned them if I’d known they existed.

I’m glad they still exist. Me, aged about four, in some bizarre red woollen jumper that has  ‘cute’ repeatedly emblazoned across it (either to reinforce the message or set the record straight in case you saw me and thought I looked hideous), lying on a blanket in the flower gardens in Roath. This would be around 1980-something, the early 80s though, maybe ’82 or ’83. My dad has a ridiculous tash and I can’t even really describe what mum is wearing, she looks like a cross between Joan Collins and someone ready to dance around the Maypole. Other photos are from the fountains outside City Hall, me in a white dress covered in grass stains and mud, carrying water from the fountains over to some flowers I saw scorched and dying in a nearby flower bed. It is the sort of hopeless endeavour I’m attracted to that probably explains most of my relationships and the major choices I’ve made in my life.

Apart from now. This move feels a bit different. I hope I’ve approached it in a slightly less manic way. And I like Cardiff. It feels busy and buzzing. I’m impressed with Cardiff’s creative scene. There are so many co-working spaces and meet-ups and exhibitions and things going on, it’s been a very quick process to find out what’s going on and meet other illustrators, something that felt hard and intimidating in London (and often included an hour Tube ride to the other side of the city). It’s hard to describe the difference – in London there’s so much more going on, you do feel part of this huge machine – but then it can feel inaccessible, because you don’t know the right people, or that all the fun is happening somewhere else.

It’s still such early days of being back in Cardiff, I’m not sure what the future holds or whether I’ll stay here permanently. And I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with living here – already I can see problems with inner city traffic, parking, public transport – especially compared to London.

But I’ve managed to pick up work here and it’s easier to walk or cycle to work in Cardiff then it was in London. Well it’s closer distances, although the roads could do with actual cycle lanes. And less potholes. But for the moment, I’ll take those.

Polly Thompson is an illustrator and teacher who lives in Adamsdown. Polly’s story was told to Jenny Jones. Her name was changed for this article, at her request.


Should I move to Cardiff?

UPDATED! As this piece is one of our most read, we’ll keep updating the main details, costs and facts. Last updated – January 2020.

I got an email recently from someone who had recently discovered the blog. I’ll call her Bethan. She sent in this very lovely email:

Over the past five or so years have fallen in love with Cardiff on my trips to visit. Following a trip this weekend I found your blog on my way back to London.

I’ve lived in London for the best part of the decade and am getting fed up with no money and a rubbish quality of life. Apologies for the slightly random email but I just wondered if you thought someone Londonified but loves Cardiff would be happy if they moved there? Or any challenges or tips you have?

My gut instinct is that I’d be very happy there as there’s so much on offer but in a much more friendly and welcoming place where you’re not bankrupted when you leave the house! Any thoughts etc would be greatly appreciated

Are you feeling like Bethan? Struggling in London, underpaid, bummed out, in need of fresh air, cheaper pints, in a city you can walk across? Then why not consider a move to Cardiff.

Here’s what I sent back to her.

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Hi Bethan!

If you’re getting fed up with being broke and having a rubbish quality of life, then I highly recommend Cardiff to you. I mean, I don’t know anything about you really, other than you have a friend in Caerphilly and you live in London, but I’m presuming you have a job you don’t mind much about leaving, and that you’re into the sort of thing we write about on We Are Cardiff, so that’s mostly what I’ve based this answer on.


I’m going to run through some reasons why Cardiff is awesome now. Also if you don’t believe me, there are STATS to support this, like the fact that the population of the city is currently growing at a faster rate than any UK city. People are moving here. Our secret is getting out!


Cardiff has a cheap cost of living for a capital city. It’s much easier to get by on a low salary here than somewhere in London – there are lots of house shares (particularly in Roath, Splott and Canton) where you can find a double room in a beautiful old Victorian terrace (very common type of Cardiff house) with like-minded people from £300 a month to £800 a month (including bills). I did a quick search on SpareRoom using the CF24 postcode (which covers Roath – a popular, artsy location near the university and close to town) just to sense check my figures and as you can see from this Cardiff room search on SpareRoom, there are loads of options within that price range.

There was a survey published recently that gave some actual figures which back up my abstract wafflings (I’ve included it in the links below – NOTE THESE FIGURES ARE FROM 2016, I AM SEARCHING FOR UPDATED ONES!)

  • Average weekly household spend of £384.60 compared to a UK average of £426.30;
  • Disposable income per head stands at £16,520, which is below the UK average of £17,559 but up 3 per cent on 2014 levels;
  • House prices are 6.6 times the value of salaries compared to a UK average of 8.8.

So! There you go on the stats. That’s enough of that.

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Well, I suppose it all depends on what you mean by quality of life, but going back to stats again, Cardiff achieved a life satisfaction score of 7.53 out of 10 (ONS data). From a completely subjective position, what that means for me is the following things (which you will see reflected throughout the We Are Cardiff content!):

  • varied nightlife (a whole bunch of pubs, clubs, bars, pop-up restaurants etc)
  • lots of artsy stuff going on (we’ve got the Welsh National Opera here, NoFit State Circus are based here, we have touring musicals and theatre on a weekly basis, there are loads of smaller scale cabaret type events all the time, circus skills workshops, hula hoop classes, open mics, writer’s groups, art exhibitions).
  • farmers markets, community gardens, a growing sustainability / green interest community
  • LOADS OF GREEN SPACES, like EVERYWHERE. The centre of town pivots around the castle and behind it, the endless green swathes of Bute Park. Nearly every neighbourhood has some super lovely park nearby
  • it’s 20-30 minutes drive to the gorgeous Brecon Beacons (MOUNTAINS!!!)
  • it’s zero minutes drive to the coast (WE ARE ON THE COAST!!!!)
  • there are castles everywhere (castle fact: Wales is actually the country in the world with the most castles – built and ruined)
  • if you like running, we have an awesome Park Run around Bute Park and Grangemoor Parks on the weekend
  • if you like cycling, the Taf Trail runs all the way from Cardiff to the source of the river Taf up in Merthyr Tydfil – you can take your bike up there on the train and cycle all the way back, stopping in pubs on the way, it is THE BEST
  • it’s very small so easy to get around on foot and bike
  • also because it’s small it’s to find  things you’re interested in and meet people / get involved in things
  • also because it’s small you bump into your friends! all the time! it’s lovely!
  • Bristol is only an hour on the train – loads of gigs and great nightlife going on there
  • if you like roller derby, we have one of the top women’s teams (go Tiger Bay Brawlers!)
  • I am in no way into sports (like, not at all) but we have LOADS of massive sports events here. I should really appreciate this more.

I don’t think this would be a reasonable email if I didn’t also tell you about some of the drawbacks of living here.

  • the smallness can be stifling for some people. I haven’t really experienced this, I think if you grow up here it’s more of a thing than if you move here from somewhere else (I have been informed by locally born and raised friends that on Tinder that you can run out of people to swipe right!)
  • we often get overlooked for gigs because Bristol is just an easier option, especially if bands are continuing north or the other way on to London. However, Bristol is easily visited in an evening (see above).
  • you might suddenly develop massive smugness at how much better your life is here and become unbearable to all your other friends. this is normal and hopefully should die down at some point (!)

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There have been countless reports and surveys released over the past year or so that frequently name Cardiff as the best city to live in (or one of) in Europe. I’ve included below a list of the most recent ones that might be of interest to you:

I’m not sure how much of We Are Cardiff you’ve looked through (there are, I just realised, over 700 posts on there now!!) but there are a couple of people who have written pen portraits of themselves and have similar pasts to you (ie they’ve come from other places and now live in Cardiff)



Now then – this next story is actually completely the other way round – it’s written by a guy who is from Cardiff but moved to London during the ‘bleak’ 90s, but then came across We Are Cardiff and wrote a blog post about it based on what he remembered of Cardiff as a youngster and his feelings about it now, and also a bit about his current life in London. I thought it was really fascinating reading and beautifully written which is why I posted about it:James – ‘It’s where you’re between’

Generally speaking to get what ‘the people’ are saying about Cardiff, flick through the ‘People‘ section on the website. Also I’d like to say I don’t edit anything for content – people are free to write what they want, I don’t in anyway force them to be positive about Cardiff, and again for balance I’ll point you to Lee’s post.

I have lived in loads of different places, but love Cardiff to pieces. It’s really friendly, there’s plenty of variety of nights out and places to eat and communities to join and things to do – if you’re into the alternative vibe, you’ll find lots of that here.

Also I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. It was set up a few years back as a response to the mass of negative news reports we were seeing about Cardiff in the mass media (this was around 2010). Back then it was mostly pen portraits about Cardiff written by people that we knew – today obviously it’s a very different thing, but the aim of the blog is to showcase the variety of amazing things that go on here, and still interview people involved in the local scene. So it’s fabulous that you found it, and I’m pleased it’s making you consider a change!

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If you want to add your comments to anyone thinking about moving to Cardiff, please do so below!

All photos in this article by Doug Nicholls

“I love sitting in the Packet and looking at the old photos of the ships” – Hannah


When I first arrived here, Cardiff was an airport waiting lounge to me – a transitory, temporal place where I could have a rest before embarking on another journey.

I ended up here by accident after an exhilarating year of travelling and working abroad, which had ended abruptly with my parents splitting up and the acknowledgement of £8k’s worth of debt. Before I went away, I’d always lived with certainty; going to college, going to university, going travelling … arriving home was disconcerting on many levels, and it was compounded by the series of events that immediately followed it.

Armed with a first class degree and a misplaced sense of worldliness and entitlement, I assumed that offers of policy and campaigns jobs would be piled up onto my doormat when I got home. The reality was that, in 2009, everyone was struggling to find work, and apparently people aren’t entitled to Jobseekers Allowance if they’ve been swanning around south America for the past year. So, my boyfriend and I had to sleep on the floor of my parents’ tiny two-up, two-down house that was barely big enough to fit a double airbed in to. When they split up after two months, we had to move in to a holiday caravan.

Over the summer, I filled in 87 job applications, wrote articles for numerous websites and magazines and volunteered with a local charity. When I was finally offered a part time, six month research contract in Cardiff, it felt like it was the biggest career break that anyone had ever got, in the world, ever.

On the day I got the job, my friend took me out for a celebratory meal. As we drove around Roath Lake and bathed in the late summer sun on the Juno Lounge terrace, I thought ‘I can deal with this for a few months – it’s not Buenos Aires, but I can live here, it’s not too bad’.

We moved into a little flat in Heath, with one part-time, temporary job between the two of us. A week later, two bailiffs walked through the door and told us we had 10 minutes to get as much of our stuff as we could pack, and get out. The landlord hadn’t paid his rent for nine months, and the flat was being repossessed. We had nowhere to go. We’d paid agent’s fees, the first month’s rent and a deposit on the flat, mostly from cash advances on the credit card, and now we were homeless. Suddenly, the city seemed threatening and aggressive. It was telling us ‘this is real life, kids, deal with it. The fun part of your lives is over’.

Of all the experiences we had while travelling, all the sticky situations we got into and all the people that we met, nothing taught me more about life than those three months after coming home. Cardiff had given me some important life lessons, but it had also taught me that I can deal with a lot of shit that life can throw at me.

Two and a half years later, after two jobs and three houses, I’m attempting to reconcile my original reaction to the city with how I feel about it now. My intention had been to live here for a few months, earn some money and go away again. I deliberately refrained from signing up to long phone contracts, making close friends or acquiring too many possessions, in the belief that I’d have to get rid of everything all over again. For the past two years, I’ve desperately tried to embrace this Zen-like impermanence to an extreme extent, but the people I’ve met, the jobs I’ve had, the houses I’ve lived in and the things I’ve realised have made the city into an inextricable and permanent part of me.

It’s easy to think of travelling as an all-encompassing cure to naivety, and while I still spend all of my money on travelling, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a very false, privileged and Western thing to do. Being in a place for, at most, three weeks, is an incredibly shallow way of experiencing it. Zipping between continents and not really penetrating the surfaces of places is fine, but now when I travel, I take the time to stay with local people; I attempt to get a sense of what it’s like to be in a place permanently, for better or worse.

I’m still only beginning to scrape the surface of what Cardiff has to offer. I am continually meeting creative, interesting people who are involved in all sorts of activities (like this website).

I love sitting in the Packet and looking at the old photos of the ships.

I love talking to my 80 year old neighbour in Grangetown and hearing about what this part of the city used to be like.

I love working in a place that is like a microcosm of the city.

In many ways, Cardiff has given me a much more genuine ‘life experience’ than I ever got by flitting around the world, by embracing the permanence of it as a place – its people and its culture, rather than treating it as a temporal space. I guess you can get as much or as little out of a city as you like. I’ve inadvertently put time into this city, and it’s rewarded me.

Hannah is a travel writer, designer and photographer, originally spawned in the mysterious depths of Nottingham. Following a bout of education and swanning around the globe, she arrived in Cardiff to work as a freelance researcher and designer in the voluntary sector before being lured into the dark art of parliamentary research. She spends her time travelling, taking photos, cooking, writing, designing and studying Spanish and human rights law. She currently lives in Grangetown, and you can see some of her work at www.hannahjohnson.co.uk.

Hannah was photographed at The Packet by Adam Chard




“With dreamy ideas of castles, doubledecker buses, pubs, and all the stereotypes Americans impose on Britain, I moved to Cardiff” – Joni

Joni by Ffion Matthews

I came to Cardiff on a productive gap year. But I stayed because I fell in love.

A studio flat in Washington, D.C., working at USA Today and a lovely bunch of friends weren’t enough to keep me happy in 2007. I had just turned 26 having spent my early twenties slogging in the newsroom as a sub-editor, then graphics editor, then online travel editor. So with dreamy ideas of castles, double-decker buses, pubs, and all the stereotypes Americans impose on Britain, I moved to Cardiff.

Cardiff wasn’t an obvious choice. People where I’m from in the states think Wales swim in the ocean. My logic went something like this:

I had $20,000 to spend on one year of education abroad from the Rotarians of West Texas. Britain awards most master’s degrees in one year. It also gives you free health care as an international student, lets you work up to 20 hours a week, and allows you to get a visa to work after you graduate. (Though some of these perks may change.)Then an old professor told me Cardiff had a good journalism school, and I was sold. So that is how I came to be in Cardiff.

It was temporary, though. I was going to get my degree, round out my journalism skills and probably go home. But Roy Noble of all people read the stars before I did. Some Rotarian who had heard me speak to his club in Aberdare told Roy he found an American he should interview. On Thanksgiving Day 2007, I went on his radio show. He told me Cardiff has a funny way of making people stay. The next summer, Cardiff worked its funny magic. I fell in love.

A year later, my now husband and I moved to Llandaff’s skinny Chapel Street. This village within Cardiff reminded me of a Neighbours within Albert Square – full of stories, history and soap-style drama lurking in the corners. Keen to keep up with the pace in online journalism, I created a local news site: Llandaff News. It was my experiment with WordPress, Twitter, and the social media sphere. It was my attempt to tell the stories of Llandaff and give more people a voice. But it’s become my reason and place to engage with my new home. Llandaff is where I live.

I’m still very much American. I sing Oklahoma with gusto after a few drinks. But I’m a Cardiffian and Llandavian, too. And I love it.

Joni Ayn Alexander is a multimedia journalist, lecturer, blogger, and PhD student. She spends a lot of time reading about journalism and hyperlocal media because that’s what her thesis is all about. When she can find the time, she practices journalism on Llandaff News. She’s American. She’s not British – yet. She drinks so much diet coke she’s been known to make artistic towers with leftover cans. (Small towers,
mind.) And she loves fried chicken. She currently lives in Llandaff.

Joni was photographed in Llandaff by Ffion Matthews


“I’m definitely not English and I couldn’t claim to be Welsh, but I do think of myself as Cardiffian now” – Noreen

Noreen by Ffion Matthews

I ended up in Cardiff by chance, really. I grew up and studied in France, and after doing my MSc research project at Aberystwyth University, I stayed in the UK to work. Various jobs and secondments took me all over England and Wales, until I found myself in Cardiff, and liked it so much that I stayed. It’s the place where I have felt most at home and where I can see myself putting down roots. I guess I’ve started doing that already!

I’m a city girl and I couldn’t live happily somewhere without theatres, cafes, and shops that stay open after 5pm. Because Cardiff’s a capital city, it’s vibrant, and has gigs, exhibitions, shows, workshops… There’s always a variety of things to do. It’s got great places to hang out and chill too. And it’s got the parks! I love Bute Park, walking past the Animal Wall to get there, and hula hooping near the stones. They’re such an easy landmark to meet people at, and, well, they’re standing stones, which is cool. This is the capital of a country that had Eisteddfods and bards and song and poetry as national traditions and institutions – and it’s woven into the fabric of the city.

I’m half Chinese from Singapore and also French and I like that Cardiff is fairly multicultural; also that the population is young because of the Universities, even though it means Friday and Saturday nights in town are a nightmare of rowdy drunken students. But hey, that’s part of what makes this city what it is. Despite the usual high street shops that are the same everywhere (and although I mostly moan about them, sometimes they’re convenient because you know exactly where to get what), the centre has a nice distinctive feel. Cardiff’s got a bunch of independent shops and also the arcades. I spent my teenage years in Paris, which has a number of arcades right in the centre, and I love them. It’s a shame about all the empty shops there – I would like to see them more alive and better used.

I’m a sucker for architecture and nice buildings, and that’s another reason why Cardiff appeals to me so much – it’s not just the WMC and the Senedd down the Bay: there is a great mix of beautiful buildings in town, and I love wandering around early in the morning or late at night, when there are no crowds of shoppers to dodge, and walking “with my nose in the air” as the French say, checking out the facades and rooflines we ignore on a daily basis.

Despite being the capital of Wales, Cardiff is a small city. It’s small in size, so that I can walk or cycle most places – and it’s pretty flat! Cycling around Cardiff makes me very happy indeed. It’s also small in population (well… for a capital city anyway) and I have found here a real sense of community and friendliness. Cardiff is like a village where when you meet someone, you can be pretty sure they’ll know at least one other person you know. I like that. I think that’s what’s contributed to my feeling settled quicker than in other places I have lived, and building a strong network of friends in a couple of years after I arrived – and that’s why I feel so settled now!

I’m definitely not English and I couldn’t claim to be Welsh, but I do think of myself as Cardiffian now. It would take a big event indeed to prise me away!

Noreen Blanluet is a self-employed creative business consultant, helping entrepreneurs and freelancers to take their business and their life to the next level. You can find her at www.beamazingtoday.co.uk and on Twitter @beamazingtoday. She’s living in Splott at the moment and is pondering moving to Roath early next year. Longer-term, her aim is to move to the house of her dreams in Cathays.

Noreen was photographed on the swings at Roath recreation ground by Ffion Matthews

Noreen by Ffion Matthews