From Hemelite to Socialite: Breaking the Mould in Hemel Hempstead

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[Written by Jasmine Urquhart]

[Image Credits: Bank court by stevecadman (accessed through Creative Commons). Edits by Florence Bridgman]

I am originally from a town 24 miles northwest of London, with a population of just over 80,000 people. It was developed as a ‘new town’ after WWII, hence the array of identical grey office blocks and 1950s council housing. It’s not an awful town to live in – there are a few working bus services, an A&E that was open until 2010 and it’s close enough to London to warrant a few day trips there every so often. Why would I ever want to leave? Hemel Hempstead may have been the filming location of Ricky Gervais’ Afterlife, it may have the Snow Centre and the Big Four supermarkets, but I had been itching to leave the medium-sized municipality since I was about 13. I took the (long overdue) train journey to Glasgow in 2016, and never really looked back.

I would say I had been breaking the mould in Hemel Hempstead for as long as I can remember, without even realising it. I distinctly remember sticking out like a sore thumb on every non-uniform day. My selection of outfits did not conform to a very rigid status quo (jeggings, Uggs, a Jack Wills hoodie and a Paul’s Boutique bag) so I would ask my mum to lend me money to hop on a bus to Brent Cross and get myself a Hollister hoodie. She thankfully never complied, mostly because I wasn’t allowed to get on the bus by myself until I was about 15. Over the next few years, I gradually became more comfortable with my own sense of style, and now I honestly don’t care if someone stares at me when doing the weekly shop in ASDA. But for a long time, I just had to put up with bemused looks due to my ‘outlandish’ sense of fashion.

Politically, my thoughts and opinions broke the mould of my hometown’s rigid Conservatism. Hemel Hempstead is a Tory stronghold, so personally, I had to leave as soon as possible. The most infuriating thing for me, however, wasn’t the simple fact that I disagreed with most people’s views in my town. It was that some of their views were so entrenched in racism and xenophobia, and no amount of reasoning could convince people to reconsider their loyalties. Last summer, I worked in a pub where racism was accepted and shouts of “just bloody get on with it” at the TV whenever Brexit was discussed were commonplace. It was no place for a young Remainer with socialist views to thrive, and I had to bite my tongue every time someone ranted about immigrants “stealing our jobs”, for fear of losing my own job.

Moving to Glasgow for me was a revelation, and I don’t think that anywhere else could have helped me feel so confident about myself. There are so many interesting and creative people everywhere, and you are never short of places or things to explore. What makes Glasgow uniquely amazing is that it has all the variety and culture of London, but without the reserved nature of Londoners – you can do pretty much anything you want without fear of judgement. The nights out in Glasgow are some of the best in the country. Contrast that to Hemel, where the furthest you could probably get in the town centre is a small place called ‘Burgitzza’ (clue is in the name) where the pints of Carling are £2 and the sign is unironically in Comic Sans. One of the best things about Glasgow, for me at least, is the variety of fashion. It is so inspiring to live somewhere with a thriving museum culture, and since so much of the architecture in Glasgow shows historical heritage and beauty I appreciate the buildings every time I walk past them.

However, I don’t want to paint good old Hemel Hempstead as nothing more than a soulless, grey commuter town. I may have felt suffocated by the lack of ‘buzz’ when I lived there, but I do long for the ability to be able to knock on my neighbour’s door if I forget my keys – I lived on a street where pretty much everyone knew each other. I feel quite small when I’m surrounded by so many interesting and talented people all the time, and there are times when I feel very out of place. In those moments, I just remind myself that I wouldn’t have met the ambitious and creative people that I have in my life had I continued to live the Hemel Hempstead way of life. I don’t see myself going back to live in the South East anytime soon.


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