Last night we popped down the road to ‘Share your Story‘, an event held in the local area once every couple of months, where various people from around Brighton are picked out to speak according to the evening’s theme. Tonight’s was ‘neighbourliness and how I ended up on London Road’, which I’m proud to say, along with eight others, I was asked to share my story.
Well you may remember that a year ago (give or a take a few days) we moved offices from Will’s basement, where Journeys by Design had operated for the duration, to London Road. So, in keeping with this evening’s theme, this is exactly what I spoke on; the origins of JbD, why we came to London Road, how we went about setting up Wild Philanthropy, and my involvement with the community here.
With the excitement and regeneration of an up-and-coming city, it is often easy to forget places like London Road, which isn’t North Laine, Churchill Square, the beach or Edwardian Hove. The subject of an on-going regeneration process, London Road isn’t the Brighton advertised in London, Europe, the US. Rather, it’s a real place, home to a large and heterogeneous community, old and new businesses, a communal spirit like no other – the fact that I knew half the eclectic mix of speakers for one reason or another tonight is testament to this.
First up to speak, Amy Goodwin, who runs Know My Neighbour, an organisation in Brighton that aims to tackle social isolation by encouraging Brighton and Hove residents to undertake the absurdly obvious act of inviting neighbours over once in a while. She outlined the total necessity to engage with the community in which one lives. Know My Neighbour works with Share Your Story and this seemed to be the running theme of the evening.
From my perspective, my talk, which followed, was a footnote. The other speakers were various and fascinating. All lived, traded, slept, or worked here. All were incredibly inspiring:
- I was followed by three young people from AudioActive, a charity that works with disadvantaged young people providing high quality musical experiences to help them achieve their ambitions in the industry. The offices are located above Presuming Ed, the very place we watched Virunga with the team. These three presented some of their recent work and told stories through spoken word, rap and poetry. An extremely evocative part of the evening, their talk was a stark reminder of the struggles that so many young people face growing up.
- Half way up London Road is the Open Market, where anyone – from fruit vendors, cheese sellers and seamstresses to antique dealers, café owners and artists – sell their merchandise. Selling anything here, however, seems to be secondary to the notion of community. The half hour conversation before a sale occurs is mandatory and it is an excellent place to meet interesting folk from all walks of life. Our fourth speaker was Steve Manser-Knight, an artist based in the Open Market, who deals exclusively in local art at Studio45. This was a short and sweet talk and a cheerful reminder of the Open Market’s endless quirks and people who make it so.
- Fifth speaker was Fran Billi-holder, a recent resident of Brighton now working for Hisbe ethical supermarket, having moved here on a lifelong journey coping with depression. According to the magazine Viva, Brighton and Hove has the highest density of mental health professionals in the UK. Does this reflect our city having more people with mental health conditions than anywhere else, or a place where it’s spoken about most freely? Whatever the case, the vulnerability and openness with which Fran spoke this evening was inspiring. We caught up after and I was surprised to find she lives a few doors down from the office.
- After this Richard Grills spoke, who runs our much-loved Presuming Ed, followed by Tom Jayston, an ex-heroin addict, once homeless on London Road. Tom has since helped set up the charity, Justlife, to help people living on the streets to cope with social isolation and a rehabilitation clinic for those with drug addiction.
- Elspeth Broady spoke of living on and around London Road over the past 40 years. Frustrated with the concrete feel of the place, she began ‘guerrilla gardening’ – planting seeds in derelict planters long abandoned by the council. It wasn’t long before she was joined by a host of enthusiasts and the entire community was helping out; construction workers putting out cones around the planters, the fire station open late for water provision, and people stopping by to offer as much help as possible.
- Dave Steel was on last. Leader of One Church, the event’s hosts, Dave came to Brighton seven years ago and soon after realised the need of a focal point for community interaction. According to surveys, one in 10 Britons have no interaction with their neighbours, less than a quarter of people feel like they belong in the community and, in a recent survey of the Sussex area, 70% said they have experienced loneliness in the last 12 months. Dave’s stories of people he has known in situations of social isolation illustrated his heartbreak for this city and the passion that drives him to his work.
This diverse mix of moving stories was a reminder of just how easy it is to counteract the social isolation that’s so common in busy cities; to smile at passers-by, to talk to those sleeping rough, to invite your neighbour over for a drink. The quote, ‘…we can all do small things with great love’, comes to mind.