UK city index: The post-lockdown bounce back

A new study by Aqua reveals which UK cities are bouncing back strongest from the impact of the pandemic.
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Written by Team Aqua
Published on July 23rd, 2021
Last reviewed on September 21st, 2023
9 mins read

News and insights

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns saw much of the nation confined to their homes and missing out on some of their favourite activities such as socialising and travelling. A new study by Aqua has revealed the cities in the UK which are bouncing back strongest from the pandemic, both financially and socially now that the nation is getting back to its favourite pubs, hitting the high street, and taking that long-awaited holiday. In fact, there has been a 361%1 uplift in spending since April 2021, compared to the year prior.

But which cities are seeing the biggest boom in the last four months, as we move closer towards ‘normality’? By using customer spending data, coupled with related Google search volume in each city researched, Aqua has produced an index that highlights the cities that are recovering as the world begins to reopen across several categories including travel, retail, eating and drinking out, and overall spending.

As the nation was in and out of lockdowns, missing friends and family and enduring the constant lingering uncertainty, most Brits reduced their spending due to less travel and workplace expenses, as well as lower socialising costs. This in turn saw the UK spend £6.6 billion less2 through lockdown (April 2020 - March 2021) when compared with the year before (March 2019 - March 2020).

As restrictions continue to lift, most of us are eager to get back to the life we once knew, but these are the cities that are recovering the quickest.

Brighton and Hove sees the biggest bounce back in spending and socialising post-lockdown

April 2021 finally allowed us to see our friends and family once again in outdoor spaces, support our favourite pubs and restaurants, and many Brits jumped on the opportunity to socialise, book holidays and resume their high-street shopping.

Since the restrictions began easing this spring, spending across the UK is up over 4.511 times more compared with the year prior, but it is those from Brighton and Hove who seem to be the most eager to open their wallets and start socialising once again, according to Aqua’s research of spending habits and volume of Google searches. Total spending in Brighton and Hove overall increased by 385%1. People in the city were especially keen to visit their favourite restaurants, pubs and bars, as it has seen one of the highest increases in spending in this category of almost 650%1. Brighton and Hove have also had the highest search volume per capita, for terms such as ‘pubs near me’ and ‘best restaurants in Brighton’.

Northampton has seen the second-highest spend increase post-lockdown of 377%1, followed by London which witnessed a 375%1 spending jump.

See below for the cities with the strongest post-lockdown rebound:

City index: post-lockdown bounce back

Geordies travelling the most now that restrictions have eased

Throughout the pandemic, our spending priorities and habits rapidly changed. No longer were we looking for city breaks and beach holidays, eating out or heading to the high street. As a result of these changing priorities, mixed with travel restrictions and closed borders, holiday spending was the most impacted, decreasing by an average of 63%1, equating to a reduction of over £1.3 billion2 in travel spend across the pandemic. But thanks to the rapid rollout of Covid vaccines across the nation and many parts of the world, travel has become an option for many destinations once again. There are, of course, ever-changing border restrictions and the added cost of Covid testing, but that hasn’t stopped many Brits from booking that long-awaited holiday, either abroad, or locally.

And it looks like those from Newcastle are those most eager to get away. Holiday spending increased 482%1 in Newcastle, compared to the nation’s average of 437%1. Since restrictions eased, the city also saw high volumes of travel-related Google searches, such as ‘cheap holidays’, ‘UK city breaks’ and ‘family-friendly hotels’. So it’s clear that Geordies are ready to take a much-deserved break.

Ranking second is the sunny seaside city of Brighton and Hove, which may come as a surprise to many Brits, as a trip to the coastal city could be seen as a holiday in itself. However, residents have spent over 51 times more on travel than the year before, and are clearly keen to relax away the stress of the last year, as terms such as ‘spas in Brighton’ and ‘spa breaks’ are some of the highest travel-related searches within the city. 

See below for the top 10 cities most eager to travel again:

Cities bouncing back in travel

The cities most eager for a pint

Going to the pub is a quintessential part of the British lifestyle, not only as a place to enjoy a pint and pie, but also a place where we socialise and truly enjoy ourselves.

As restrictions eased, allowing outdoor dining this spring, the nation braved the cold, rainy British weather to support its favourite pubs. There was a 71%3 increase in search volume for pubs with gardens in April 2021 compared to 2019’s highest point in July of that year. But which city was the most eager to head back to the pub?

Analysing search queries relating to pubs, such as ‘best pubs near me’, ‘pubs with beer gardens’ and ‘dog-friendly pubs’, it seems that Brighton and Hove was the most eager to get back down to its local pub for a nice, freshly poured pint. Rounding out the top three are fellow southern cities, Bristol and London.

See below for the top 10 cities that were most excited to get to the pub:

Cities most keen to get to the pub

Aqua’s advice to keep on top of your credit as we return to ‘normal’

As the nation moves towards increasing normality, it’s important to stay on top of your money and spending.

Sharvan Selvam, Commercial Director from Aqua says, “Now that the economy and our social lives are beginning to return to normal, it’s great to see our customers and the nation getting back to the things they enjoy most. However, we all know that it is easy to get carried away by the euphoria of our regained freedom, so it’s key to continue making good financial decisions, which in turn, will help you build a stronger credit score.”

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind as we begin living our lives to the fullest once again:

  1. Understand your credit score: According to a recent study4, 69% of Brits do not know what this is, but it is essential to understand. Your credit score can impact more aspects of your life than you realise, such as your ability to buy or rent a home or car, and will help your chances of being approved for the best financial products.
  2. Stay on top of your credit card payments: This is especially important in the stages of your life when you are applying for further credit, and when buying a home or car. This will demonstrate you are a trustworthy borrower.
  3. Set up a budget so you don’t overspend: Yes, we are all thrilled to be able to socialise, go on holidays, or grab a latte from our favourite cafe on the way to work, but remember, this can all add up quickly. It’s great to treat yourself to some of life's pleasures that you missed during the pandemic, but it’s important to track your spending and stay within your means. 

Aqua strives to help you build better credit no matter your financial situation. We believe that with the right tools and support, everyone can begin a journey towards better credit. We aim to say yes to lots of different types of people, even if you currently have bad credit.

Representative 34.9% APR (variable) for Aqua Classic.

No matter your current credit situation, these quick tips will help you in your journey towards better credit and keep on top of your credit score. 

Index Methodology

To determine the cities recovering the strongest, and the cities most keen to travel, we combined the cities with the biggest increase in spend (using spend data from NewDay brands Aqua, Marbles and Fluid between March 2020 and June 2021), to the cities with the biggest intent to spend (using search volumes per capita per city using Google Keyword Planner). We used a weighted scoring system to determine the ranking of the cities, which gives each metric a score between 1-10 based on how close the city’s value is to the highest-ranking city. These scores were then combined into a weighted average to rank each city. 

To determine search volume per capita, we used Google Keyword Planner to find search volumes, per city, for 118 of the most popular keywords relating to holidays/city breaks, hotels, air travel/flights, train travel, car hires, spas, restaurants, pubs and bars. We then took into account the population of each city, to determine the search volume per 10,000 people, per city (source).

To determine spending increases, we’ve used average spend value from Aqua, Marbles and Fluid, per city, from April 2020 - March 2021, and compared to April 2021 - June 2021, giving us a percentage increase. We looked at total spend values and increases, as well as grouped them by the following categories for the purpose of this report: Travel, Recreation and Retail.

To determine the total spending or saving value (£) as a nation, we took the average financial data and multiplied it by the number of UK adults who own a credit card (source)

Footnotes and sources

  1. Uplift in spending post lockdown: Using internal NewDay spending data, comparing from April 2021 - June 2021 to April 2020 - March 2021. We looked at these metrics:
    1. Overall
    2. By city (e.g. Birmingham)
    3. By merchant category overall (e.g. retail)
    4. By merchant category per city (e.g. retail in Birmingham)
  2. Total savings throughout lockdown: Using internal NewDay spending data, finding the difference in the average monthly spending pre-Covid-19 pandemic (March 2019 - March 2020) to the average monthly spending during Covid-19 pandemic (April 2020 - March 2021), which was £16.18 less per month, and multiplying by the 12 months (April 2020 - March 2021), and multiplying by the 30 million UK adults who own a credit card
  3. Source: Using Google Trends, comparing April 2021, to the highest point in 2019, which was July 2019.
  4. Source:

Failure to make payments on time or to stay within your credit limit means that you will pay additional charges and may make obtaining credit in the future more expensive and difficult.


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Team Aqua

Aqua’s contributors are experts in their field, from a range of backgrounds including banking and lending.

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Failure to make payments on time or to stay within your credit limit means that you will pay additional charges and may make obtaining credit in the future more expensive and difficult.