In this article Comment Editor Rebecca Spencer and Comment Sub-Editor Louis Johnson discuss their perspectives of living in Brighton. Rebecca having moved here in 2017 and Louis, a born and bred local.
As someone who grew up in Maidstone (Kent), Brighton is quite literally a haven of liberalism, freedom of speech, style, sexuality and self-expression. As a highly conservative area, with an ethnicity ratio of 96.6% white, I think it’s safe to say that I come from a fairly claustrophobic town.
This, paired with the fact that I am someone who questioned everything growing up (and still today), meant I did not blend in with the crowd to say the least. Whereas, in Brighton there is no status quo, just walk down North street or wander through the Lanes to experience the vibrance and diversity of people that visit and dwell here.
Brighton offers a space of freedom and exploration
For young prospective students, Brighton is a unique pinnacle of opportunity to truly ‘be you’, whoever that is, without judgement. I believe that this is an element of the Brighton lifestyle that may be taken for granted by people that have never lived anywhere else where social conformity and norms are rather suffocating.
As much as I can understand the argument that Brighton has become an elitist gentrified area, with the highest cost of living in the country outside of London, from a student perspective it’s entirely unique in its outlook and opportunities. In my opinion the university student finance system offers people from multiple economic backgrounds the opportunity to move to Brighton with financial support. As does the multiplicity of part-time jobs available for students across the city.
Approximately 90 per cent of University of Sussex undergraduates are from state schools, which is “unusual” for a research-intensive university. This is facilitated by financial aid schemes such as the First-Generation Scholarship, created to promote social mobility and attainment of students who were the first in their family to go to university. In fact, in 2015, 85 per cent of First-Generation Scholars obtained a 1st or a 2:1 in comparison to the overall statistic of 76 percent achieved by all Sussex University students.
Another highly utopian aspect of the city of Brighton, is the incredible fact we are a Green constituency, the only one in the entire country I might add. In our current political climate this is immensely important in leading the way for the UK to move towards green policy changes, in attempts to save our planet. Furthermore, the huge population of young students in Brighton are subsequently inspired by this ‘environment first’ philosophy and thus will spread these ideas to other parts of the country and globe when furthering their careers and lives in general.
Overall, I believe your perspective on a place depends entirely on your individual context. For a young person struggling with understanding their gender or sexuality, Brighton offers a space of freedom and exploration. For a prospective student who doesn’t receive financial support from their parents or guardian, Sussex University is committed to offering support for all.
Some may describe Brighton’s fast-paced party atmosphere as a hub of hedonism and moral ambiguity. I understand the issues of drug-addiction and alcoholism that arise from this. However, I would argue that these issues are prevalent nation-wide. But the liberal confessions of Brighton’s political stance make these issues seem unique to the location.
Yeah, we love to party, and we are well-known for our open-minded standpoints. But I mean putting this into perspective, the North East of the UK actually has the highest death rate for drug abuse in the UK (2017), with the North West and Wales coming in second and third respectively. In fact, The South East had the lowest number of deaths.
Therefore, although Brighton may seem like a bubble of hippy idleness, the fact it is typically known as ‘hippy’ and the stigma that follows this word, is precisely what draws attention to it. Brighton is a politically, socially and economically progressive city that offers a wealth of opportunity for many. I understand mine is just one perspective, but I imagine many from more conservative areas feel the same about our new beloved home.
Brighton symbolises a political Mecca for many students coming to Sussex, but is this just the tip of the iceberg? For me and possibly many other students from the local area, this city and its suburbs represent a dead end. Despite Brighton being area of vast wealth, this affluence rarely rubs off on its locals, especially for the younger generations.
Growing up in Hove, as the son of a builder from Woodingdean who has worked hard for his family, I appreciate the comfortable living standards that I experience.
Therefore, I must reiterate that the intention of this piece is not to take for granted the life that this city has facilitated. More it seeks to highlight the life that a lot of young people in and around Brighton, and especially those that did not have the privilege of attending university, live.
The problem I have with this city is precisely what most people see as its appeal. Brighton represents a place where the rules of the rest of the country do not apply. With a population of nearly 300,000, Brighton and Hove has almost 300 bars, cocaine is rife, and amongst a variety of drugs it can be delivered at the drop of the hat. Brighton is truly a hive of hedonism, yet it is hard to escape when you live within it.
Often, I face the problem of meeting friends when there is no ‘motive’, alcohol and drugs are a given. It may seem hypocritical to argue that the very life I live is the life I despise, yet the harsh reality is that the only alternative to living the life of a Brightonian is social exclusion.
You may urge me to live a more ambitious life and to get myself out of this situation. This, I feel, is something that is much is easier said than done. Aspiration seems to be exclusive to London, and it is hard to see any professional and fulfilling life in Brighton beyond certain lines of work and lifestyles.
I have worked since I was 14, I asked my parents if I was old enough to start receiving pocket money to which they responded, “you are old enough to work for your money”. Until I was 16, I worked as a paper boy delivering the Leader, a local paper and favourite for lining cat litter boxes. When I got to 16, I started working at Boots, I hated it and knew as soon as I could I was to get trained to work on the bar. This is the easiest source of income for most young Brighton locals and students.
Hence, as soon I was 18, I started working at Wetherspoons in Hove’s, dead beyond resuscitation high street, George Street. Since then I’ve worked at plenty of bars and have experienced almost five years of the dark side of alcohol in Brighton. Though we all love a drink from time to time, it seems that, here, we like it a bit too much. Backed up by governmental research into Brighton’s alcoholism, the problem appears to be the inability for locals to ‘grow out of’ alcoholism.
The copious amounts of pubs and bars here certainly do not help this, and from working in, and drinking at them, I can see this. I’ve had my share of hard times, and the automatic response to these was to drown myself within the city’s endless sinkhole of alcoholic institutions. There really wasn’t much else that I ever saw as a suitable response to my hardships, all I ever saw was people drowning their sorrows at the boozer.
Luckily, I have an opportunity, through university, to leave working at the pub. It is something that I have found truly depressing. For my other friends who didn’t reach university, or had to drop out, Brighton does not provide much in terms of opportunity. Many of them have found themselves in lines of work that do not provide them with a sense of fulfillment.
The problem I have with this city is precisely what most people see as its appeal
The common theme amongst my local friends though, is an inability to ever earn enough to buy a property, or to earn enough to rent in Brighton whilst still earning enough to live a comfortable life. They hence find themselves spending their money on the pursuit of ‘happiness’, and in Brighton ‘happiness’ is hedonism.
Amongst many young people of our generation, the reality is that we will never earn enough to afford a property, this is common in more places than Brighton alone. Reluctant to pay off deep pocketed landlord’s mortgages it seems a better use of our money to spend it on quick fixes.
In Brighton, where alcohol and drugs are so readily available it is therefore easy for locals to never escape a hedonistic lifestyle.
Though Brighton is affluent, liberal and an attractive city, this has made it expensive and geared towards providing a certain lifestyle. Hence for locals, though we love our city, it is very hard for us to live any other way.
Image credit: White Rabbit Pub
To access help with drugs related problems, please see Sussex University’s health and wellbeing page.
Or call 01273 731900