Asked about the West Midlands, most Brits from outside the region will probably cite the much maligned ‘Brummie’ accent as their first impression. We at WSA like to think of the local accent as lilting and lovely rather than grating, and, accents aside, expats are sure to be won over by the region’s superb schools and universities, transport links, history and culture. Throughout the West Midlands one is never too far from some of the loveliest of England’s green and gently rolling countryside.
The population of the West Midlands is ethnically diverse and expats will most likely find locals to be warmly welcoming to (and unfazed by) newcomers. Immigration has been good to the region and local attitudes tend to reflect this. A 2011 study by the UK government Office of National Statistics found the area to be the second most ethnically diverse in the UK (with London being the most diverse). The West Midlands has welcomed expats from across the globe, with the most notable foreign born populations hailing from Asia (mostly India and Pakistan), Africa and the Caribbean, Ireland and Poland. Expats might note that much of this diversity is concentrated in the larger cities, with more rural areas having smaller foreign born populations.
The West Midlands encompasses several large cities, most notably Birmingham, the UK’s ‘Second City’ and the largest and most populous city outside of London. During the Industrial Revolution Birmingham was one of England’s urban powerhouses, with the local workforce focussed on the production of small items such as guns, jewellery, pens and buttons. The local transportation system relied heavily on an intricate network of canals, leaving today’s inhabitants rightly proud to live in a city with ‘more canals than Venice’.
Birmingham has come a long way since the days of the heavy industry. It is now a vibrant and economically stable city which boasts some incredible culture – the world renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is housed in the Symphony Hall and the nearby Library of Birmingham is the largest in the UK. Having opened to much acclaim in 2013, the Library is considered the crown jewel of Birmingham’s urban regeneration programme. The city has excellent shopping facilities, theatres, museums and cinemas as well as a number of professional football (soccer) teams most notably Aston Villa and Birmingham City.
The West Midlands region is exceptionally well connected - and rightly so, being the metaphoric and literal crossroads of the country. Several motorways crisscross the West Midlands, and the newly modernised Birmingham New Street station connects trains to destinations all over the UK. Birmingham International Airport is in fact situated in nearby Solihull, and is served by close connections to the M40, M42 and M6 motorways.
Transportation continues to evolve and Birmingham will eventually be home to a terminal for a new high speed rail connection between London, the Midlands and the North of England.
Birmingham is home to several excellent universities and whilst the entire region is well served for independent, fee paying schools, It also has some superb grammar schools (selective state schools) which may appeal to expats. In addition, the nearby areas of Sutton Coldfield and Solihull have some of the best performing non selective state schools in the country.
Around a 30 minute drive from Birmingham is Coventry, the second largest city in the West Midlands. Coventry city centre was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, and what has replaced the original town is somewhat unlovely (although perhaps an interesting insight into post war architecture!). Look past that and the city offers interesting history (think, Lady Godiva on her horse!), some beautiful villages and incredibly fast rail links to London (around 1 hour).
The wider region encompasses the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. The West Midlands has several smaller cities and towns – including Stoke on Trent, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Solihull, Worcester, Cannock, Shrewsbury and the beautiful Royal Leamington Spa.
The West Midlands is a large area offering many distinct living options – urban, suburban, semi-rural and rural. Reflecting this, house prices vary considerably across the region. Warwickshire has the most expensive properties, whilst Staffordshire is the least expensive area. Throughout the region, property is considerably less expensive than London and the South East. According to Rightmove the average 2016 sale price was GBP 210,081 (compared with GBP 376,820 in the South East and GBP 599,843 in London). Rents average at GBP 680 pcm (source - Homelet).
Expats will be attracted to the numerous prestigious independent schools situated in the West Midlands. These include Warwick School, Hereford Cathedral School, Malvern College and several schools under the Kind Edward VI Foundation brand, to name but a few.
The West Midlands area may not have the initial dazzle and bright lights of London and the South East, but expats looking to explore the UK and experience what lies beyond the capital would do well to consider a home in this centrally located, well connected region.