We asked freelance journalist Kylie Noble to write about her experiences growing up in Northern Ireland, coming-out as Bisexual, and finally leaving London for Doncaster.
I had never planned to move to London, in the way many young people from inconsequential places do.
With intent and yearning, I had planned to escape, but the parameters of my childhood were so narrow (or so safe) that it was enough for me, at first, to escape from my county. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. A population of 60,000. More farm animals than people, probably. Being a child of parents who hate cities, the 80 mile move to Belfast at 18 seemed daunting and exciting. My hope had been to go to university in Scotland, but I was in the first cohort of students who would have been paying £9,000 a year. This put me off and as much as I like to think of myself as brave, if I’m honest, it seemed too much, too soon. I was naïve.
I wanted to be a journalist from when I was 14. The best scholarships were in England, and I was fortunate to be awarded one from The Guardian newspaper, for people from backgrounds unlikely to become journalists. I started at the University of Sheffield in 2015. It was on my course that I made my first links with Doncaster. I was assigned the town as my “news patch”. I met real Yorkshire people. I loved hearing the accents and the slang. Most of the people I met at uni were from other parts of England. My favourite memory of this time is interviewing a farmer about being a champion Ploughman for Britain. I felt old parts of me start to stir; memories of my childhood on a farm.
By spring term, I had run out of my bursary money for living costs. I took a 0-hour Front of House job at Sheffield City but it wasn’t reliable enough. I spotted an internship funded by the University, at a culture magazine, Doncopolitan. It was a kind of journalism that wasn’t represented on our course; grassroots, community led and filled with an activist and passionate spirit. I desperately wanted to get the job.
I remember my interview with Rachel Horne. It was like electricity, meeting her. We were so on the same page, in our politics, in how we saw the role of the arts in the community. I was extremely glad to secure enough income to live, but I also felt delighted at meeting her.
I didn’t know there were people so on my wavelength in South Yorkshire and I didn’t expect to find them in Doncaster.
All year I had stuck out; in my student house, my course, in England itself. It had been a difficult year.
By August, my internship ended and my course too. I moved back, not entirely happily, to Northern Ireland. I spent the next year stabilising my mental health, yet at the same time feeling increasingly depressed. By the job market, by the fact that abortion and same sex marriage were still illegal, and the sectarianism. I lived in a working-class loyalist area and worked in a call centre. As I walked to a job I hated, I was surrounded by union flags billowing in the wind. The flag I was supposed to love, which was supposed to be part of who I am (as a Protestant). Again, I felt so out of place. Belfast, beyond the liberal university circles and getting drunk constantly, was much harder to bear.
It was a sensation of being stifled, that led to me applying for jobs in London. I was starting to realise after 4 years of trying to tell myself I am straight, that this truth could not be denied forever. I had kissed a woman in a gay club in Belfast. It was such a quick kiss, no tongue. But we had held hands and flirted and talked about our lives. It was enough for me to know I cannot be straight, and enough for me to feel guilty. She had a husband and small children. We waved goodbye that night and never even learned each other’s names.
This is what Northern Ireland did to women in numerous ways. Made us feel like we had to pretend, to feel ashamed, to try and fit with the norm. I decided that wasn’t going to be. Not anymore. I was going to truly live. From my arrival in London in September 2017, and my departure in March 2019, I did a lot of living. My mind broadened, renting in the Nigerian majority area of North Peckham. I truly saw my whiteness for the first time, saw the privilege of it and how little I knew about culture globally. I got to know aunts and uncles, who liked my outspoken nature, who did not try to get me to be less than myself. I made new friends. I came out as bisexual. London allowed me to live as my full self.
But London did not allow me to live well. Something shifted in me between arriving at 23 and leaving at 25. Excitement was no longer enough. I was tired of how London was a city that only those with money can genuinely enjoy. Tired of house shares with strangers, and the drama. Tired sometimes, of how built up the city was. Of how many people. Of how I developed a “London walk”; the determined speed those in the capital adopt, how everything is go go go.
In February 2016 I had quit my job and was diagnosed as autistic. I was extremely depressed. I asked Rachel, who had become a good friend, if I could come live with her in Doncaster. She had offered before, but London, even if it is making you unwell, is a difficult city to leave. It is addictive and you feel part of an energy, part of history and the future at the same time.
If London is a city many long to live in, Doncaster is a town many cannot understand why someone would move to.
I was living in Doncaster for just a week when Covid-19 started spreading across England. Once lockdown came, Rachel moved to her partner’s house in Barnsley. It was daunting living alone at first, after my move out of London. However, living alone during lockdown proved to be good for me. It has been key to getting out of autistic burnout. By living alone, I have much more energy to be creative. I have returned to freelancing whilst I wait to start a part-time admin job in the NHS. Once lockdown had lifted, I was delighted that a neighbour on my street asked if I am new here, introducing himself.
I can live cheaply in Doncaster. I pay £450 a month to rent a house here. I last paid £455 to rent a tiny bedroom in London. I am close to the countryside and people are friendly. It is enough like Ireland, but different enough, for me to be happy. I am half an hour on the train from Leeds, Sheffield, and York and only two hours from London. I love living in a working-class town. I do not have to pretend to be someone I am not. I am inspired by the creativity, resilience, and talent in this town. I am proud to live in Doncaster. It is my hope that this is the place where I will spend the rest of my 20s.
Follow Kylie on twitter here .