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My Britain: Brighton

BY Alice Gawthrop

2nd Apr 2024 My Britain

8 min read

My Britain: Brighton
In this month's My Britain, we enjoy a trip to the seaside, complete with funfair rides, fish and chips and the UK's most popular Pride event
Ah, beautiful Brighton! With its colourful houses, charming pebble beach and lively pier, it has long been a tourist hotspot—in fact, King George IV spent so much time here in the 18th century that he had the Royal Pavilion built as a seaside retreat.  
It’s easy to see why people love it so much here. Brighton is undeniably a place where people are free to be themselves, as brightly and boldly as they desire; creativity, inclusivity and self-expression reign supreme. The city is well-known for its festivals and rallies—if you haven’t yet been to Brighton and Hove Pride, you’ve surely heard of it! It’s the UK’s most popular Pride event, and has boasted huge headliners such as Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Christina Aguilera. Other festivals include Brighton Fringe and Disability Pride Brighton.
Brighton Pride
Away from the seafront, you’ll find the Lanes, a labyrinth of quirky shops, delicious eateries and hidden squares. You could easily lose a day here wandering from shop to shop looking for treasures you won’t find anywhere else.
Meanwhile, head towards the beach and you’ll spot the instantly recognisable 1,722-foot-long Brighton Palace Pier, opened in 1899. The quintessential British seaside experience, complete with funfair rides, restaurants and arcades, it attracts over six million visitors a year and has been a starring cast member in such films as Brighton Rock and Carry On at Your Convenience
Sunset by the sea never gets old, and you’re always surrounded by people in good spirits, whether it’s roller skaters grooving to good music along the seafront or friends enjoying a barbecue on the beach. Sit back and enjoy the sound of the waves—just make sure to be on high alert for seagulls if you dare to eat your fish and chips outside! 

Esteban Romano, manager of Presuming Ed's (coffee shop by day, bar by night) 

Esteban Romano, manager of Presuming Ed's in Brighton
I came to Brighton from Spain because of the economic crisis in Spain. There was a lack of job opportunities after university in Granada, where I come from. I wanted to find a job and improve my English. It was only meant to be temporary, but it’s been ten years! 
I chose Brighton because my sister was living here, and I love it. It’s a kind of Neverland. It’s very diverse, there are a lot of international people living here and there is a very good sense of community. It’s eclectic, quirky, bohemian—you can be yourself without being judged. 
"Brighton is eclectic, quirky, bohemian—you can be yourself without being judged"
There’s loads going on throughout the year so there is always something to do. You can never be bored here. There is live music everywhere pretty much every day, and loads of events and festivals. Gay Pride is massive, we have Brighton Fringe Festival, we have the Great Escape. The Naked Bike Ride is always very interesting to see!
Presuming Ed’s is a very unique bar. It is owned by Richard Grills, and it opened in 2014 just as a cafe, but the atmosphere of the city caused it to evolve. We used to close at 6pm, now we close at midnight every day. You can come here for a coffee at midday and then end up having a beer later on. The design of the place is very unique, too. Richard’s friend Steve Brown is basically the designer, he usually lives in Scotland but now and then he comes down and changes things around to keep the place looking interesting.  
Presuming Ed's in Brighton
We organise a range of events: we’ve had a fashion show, theatre productions, stand up comedy, poetry, live music. We are one of the venues for the Alternative Great Escape, part of the Great Escape music festival in May.  
What makes Presuming Ed’s what it is, is the people. Loads of students come in, they’ll come in the morning for a coffee, go to uni, come back after uni for a beer, and then they just might stay into the night. It’s a community space.  
For me, in May to September Brighton is a fantastic place to be because we have a massive park, the beach, the Downs. During winter, I would rather be in a little cosy pub…and Brighton has many of these, too! 

Nikki Shaill, freelance artist and director of participatory arts company Originary Arts

Nikki Shaill and her dog in Brighton
I’ve lived in Brighton for four years, but I’ve been an admirer of this special part of Sussex for a lot longer. Brighton was the first place that I stayed away from home without my family (youth hostelling with Guides) and while I felt very homesick that night as a 10 year old, I fell in love with this seaside city on first sight. Creative, bohemian, expressive Brighton in the 1990s, where the sea met the city, felt very exciting to 10-year-old Nikki. 
My wife Sian was born locally and grew up in Brighton. Her family still live close by. We both lived in London when we met, seven years ago, but on early dates discovered a shared ambition to live in Brighton. We moved here in March 2020 and it feels very much like home now to Sian and I, our dog Patti, our guinea pig Agnes and our hundreds of houseplants
"I still love playing a tourist in my own town"
I appreciate now many of the same things as I did as that 10 year old on my first visit—the sea, that infamous pebbly beach and the opportunity to paddle and swim all year round. I still love playing a tourist in my own town when friends come to visit—relishing the chance to spend time on Palace Pier with the still-novel assault on the senses of donuts and all the fun of the fair, flashing lights, playing on the penny arcade machines, and battling seagulls from stealing chips. But then as a local it’s magical to get to know the other parts of the beach. The peaceful parts further along where it’s less packed out, hunting for seaglass treasure and hagstones at low tide, rare spottings of sandy patches (it can happen!), seeing Brighton beach at sunrise as well as sunset and getting to know it through all seasons. 
As for what it means to be a Brighton resident: Colourful. Queer. Friendly. Non-judgemental. Open. Creative. Fun. Playful. More diverse than I had previously assumed.  
As a freelance creative, my place of work varies from day to day and project to project. I’ve been really happy with the variety of different projects I’ve been involved in and inspired to create since moving to Brighton. And I’m always on the look out for the next opportunity to collaborate too! 
Originary Arts Lush Brighton shop window
I’ve been inspired by Brighton in my Originary Arts creative projects in different ways and built connections with different local communities as part of my participatory arts practice- leading workshops or creating exhibitions. A few examples: designing a scented oral history project that asked local people to tell me their smell memories of Brighton for a short film/exhibition in Lush store’s window; running arts workshops for autistic young people to make illuminated decorations for a local festival. Brighton is full of inspiration and opportunity—I can’t wait to see what comes next! 
As well as my own creative work, half my week is spent managing the learning programme for a wonderful charity called Little Green Pig, running creative writing workshops in schools, libraries and community spaces. Getting to be part of a local charity has meant I’ve got to know different neighbourhoods and parts of the city that I don’t think I’d have discovered or spent time in otherwise. People often think that Brighton is full of affluence and wealth, but like most cities there are areas that have less opportunity and where there are people struggling, but where local community and stories can be strong. 
Nikki and her wife Sian. Photo © Kaleido Shoots
My favourite spot in Brighton has to be the carousel outside Carousels Fish and Chip Bar on the beach. It doesn’t just epitomise classic seaside Brighton to me and happy memories of where I’d always go as a visitor, but it’s such an extra special spot now that my wife Sian and I chose to have our wedding reception there when we got married. So it’s got so many memories now!  

Kate Lloyd, owner of Tilt Coffee Shop and Kitchen

I have lived in Brighton for 11 years, after moving from London to be closer to friends and family. There’s a lot to love about Brighton. The independent food scene is great. Bincho Yakitori is amazing! But you need to book way in advance. 
Mooching around the Lanes at the weekend is always fun. There are lots of secondhand shops to browse. The pubs in the Lanes and Hanover are lovely. The Basketmakers is great! And my favourite is the Great Eastern. The Good Companions up at Seven Dials does a great roast, and so does Haus on the Hill.
The Lanes in Brighton
People watching can’t be beaten. Having a sauna by the sea in winter is amazing—Beach Box really know their saunas! 
The independent coffee scene is great too, and more recently the cinnamon bun scene. (If you know, you know!) I love Coffee at 33 and Bond Street—and Tilt, obviously. Bond Street do a mean cinnamon bun! 
"The independent coffee scene is great too, and more recently the cinnamon bun scene"
If you want a good night out there’s always somewhere to go and dance! Water Bear has a banging sound system. There is a great sense of community in Brighton, and most people are genuinely friendly. 
The beach is great, both in summer and in winter. The downside is the litter in the summer. The Downs are beautiful—there is so much walking to be done with beautiful scenery. 
Being a Brighton resident means that we moan about parking, cycle lanes and litter…we know our way to Muesli Mountain and titter politely when people say, “Hove actually.” There are many different factions in Brighton all with their own unique spirit, but everyone has something to add to the spirit of Brighton! 
Devil's Dyke on the South Downs
I have a coffee shop in Brighton called Tilt Coffee Shop and Kitchen, which I have run with my business partner Helen for ten years. It’s located in a smaller neighbourhood called Fiveways. It started out as a small coffee shop and has grown into a vegetarian/vegan café. I believe we are a mainstay of the community. It’s certainly not easy though. The government take huge amounts of revenue in the form of VAT from small independent businesses making it incredibly hard to stay afloat. They need to create a sliding scale VAT system, especially now that wages are going up again in April and the cost of produce is through the roof. 
The shop is a fantastic place to work. There is a great bond between the staff members and we laugh a lot! Being in the neighbourhood for ten years means we have made some great friends, seen some changes (but not many) and we’ve seen lots of people’s babies grow up! 
My favourite spot in Brighton really depends on the mood! A hill with a rolling view, sitting in a small pub at dusk, having a coffee and a stroll on the seafront…take your pick.  
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