How did you come to Brighton and Hove?
I came to Brighton and Hove in 1996 to study English with Theatre Studies at the University of Sussex. When I moved here I was placed in lodgings with a host family, as there wasn’t enough university accommodation. I shared a room with a girl from Manchester, who became a close friend but it wasn’t the perfect beginning to my long awaited days of independence. Within a week we moved into a flat on the university campus, again sharing a room. We were just glad to be on campus with the other students so we could begin making friends.
I had been to visit Brighton once before, when I was making a decision between my university options. Again it wasn’t the perfect introduction! After a four-hour train journey from Wales, I arrived in a rainstorm and was pointed in the general direction of Oriental Place where my B&B was. After a long walk I arrived, and dripped a puddle over the floor of the foyer before being taken to a freezing room. Having decided to travel light I hadn’t brought an umbrella or a change of clothes so while I dried my wet clothes, I went to bed early without so much as a bag of fish and chips. Not knowing how far away the University was, I left before breakfast the next morning and arrived at the university about two hours early. Later I went to look around Brighton and that is when the North Laines seduced me. I loved the fact it was very individual, from the shop signs to the clothes people were wearing and the music that was playing out of shop doors and into the streets. I’d also never seen so many places to eat in one area (obviously this was going to impress me after the previous 24 hour starvation!) and it made me think that this must be a place where people liked to take it easy.
What places have been significant to you?
There are a lot of places that have been significant to me in Brighton and I really couldn’t pick out somewhere in particular when asked to by a student magazine. I suppose the University will always have special appeal for me, as it is where I have spent most of my time. After studying there, I started work in the Publications Office, producing the prospectuses. Now part of my job involves showing people around the campus, so I feel I know a lot about the place. It has some interesting buildings that are designed to look like certain objects from an aerial view (obviously designed with seagulls in mind). The Meeting House is probably my favourite aesthetically, although I never used it as a student. Also Falmer House, the Students’ Union building, because of the student radicalism it has been home to. I also spent most of my second year holed up in (what could loosely be described as) the newspaper office here, as the Editor of (what can be loosely described as the Union newspaper), the Badger. Other places are the beach – particularly the sculpture trail and the artists’ workshops – Brighton Museum, the Pavilion and Kemptown and Hanover – both places I’ve enjoyed living. What really attracted me to Brighton though, were the streets of small houses painted in different colours.
What key local events do you remember?
The main events I remember are the Brighton Festival in May, the Dieppe Market and Mackerel Fair and the New Years Eve celebration at the Old Steine. I really love the street theatre weekend and remember walking down to the North Laines on a sunny May morning and coming across a huge procession of children dressed in colourful costumes. I like how random and unexpected street theatre can be, although you can’t always tell the difference between the street performers and the local eccentrics!
I love getting up early when the Dieppe Market is on and buying French cheese and patisseries before wandering down to the Mackerel Fair to see the fishing boats being blessed. These days it is easy to forget that Brighton used to be a fishing village as the seafront is more a place of leisure than of work. It is nice that some craftwork still goes on down there though and you can see what it was like in the Fishing Museum. I first remember going to the New Years Eve celebrations in 1998/1999 and thinking it was great that loads of people could come together for a huge free party in the middle of town.
Other events that spring to mind are to do with protests, as many people who live here are passionate about different causes. There are a lot of free papers here and people do generally like starting a debate whether that’s by starting an anti-festival or creating a mythical politician to stand in the local elections. I remember joining a march in 1998 that was against tuition fees for university students. The students surrounded the clock tower and stopped the traffic in the centre of town. It was around the same time that the main administration building at the University of Sussex was occupied for the same reason for a few weeks and the students received letters of support from all around the world. More recently there have been protests against the shutting down of free parties in the area. The Burning of the Rigs was held on Brighton Beach by local soundsystems who built cardboard copies of their rigs. It was testament to word of mouth and the enthusiasm of the people who lived here, that a few hundred people turned up to a party with no music!
What do you like or dislike about the city/town?
I like the way the people who live here are keen to make their mark on the place whether that is through street art, organising community projects or encouraging the council to buy a royal palace. I like the fact it is small enough to walk around and you bump into people you know or at least recognise wherever you go. At the same time the sea and the Downs surrounding the city make it feel more open so you don’t get claustrophobic.
I don’t like the touristy bits of town just because they can be dirty and don’t feel safe at night. But they do serve a purpose in providing a contrast to the trendy areas that say more about what Brighton has become, than where it has been.
Do you feel you belong here?
Yes, in that I feel at home and there is a lot here to satisfy my interests. I have to travel a lot in my job and there is nowhere that holds the same instant appeal. I would probably feel more as if I belonged if I had a real purpose for being here and worked more centrally.
How long will you (or did you) stay?
I can’t really afford to stay here much longer due to the lack of job opportunities and rising house prices. It is also too easy to get laid back here and everything seems to take twice as long, so it is good to force yourself away once you have explored all that Brighton can offer.