Creative Cities is a regular feature where I focus on local creative scenes throughout the UK, giving a general overview of what's happening in each city and an insight into its creative industries and the people who work there. Next up, I'm focusing on Brighton & Hove...
So what's Brighton & Hove all about?
Brighton & Hove is a wonderful creative city, nestled on the south coast of East Sussex, with the beautiful South Downs standing majestically behind it. Its official title is 'Brighton & Hove', after the two towns were brought together in 2000 and granted city status - although many of the locals still consider the two to be separate. Forgive me if I refer to the place merely as 'Brighton' - those who live in Hove won't mind because they still consider Hove to be separate and will only say 'Hove Actually', so I'm off the hook!
With so much creativity going down, Brighton is a magnet for artistic folk and people who work in the creative industries. The city is teeming with artists, musicians, designers and writers dotted all over the place. All the locals joke that most of The Guardian's workforce live in Brighton, but they're probably right. London is just under an hour away, and as it's so close, Brighton is often referred to as 'London-by-Sea' following an influx of Londoners moving to the area over the past decade.
When it comes to freelancers, it's a great place to set up shop. Brighton has a particular focus on tech and digital, adding further to this wonderful, thriving creative hub by the sea. Even better, it's England's most popular seaside resort with a beautiful long, pebbly beach (think summer BBQs with your friends after work, right by the sea), two traditional seaside piers - one of which was sadly destroyed by fire in 2003. Known as the 'West Pier', it now stands as an eery but stunning city emblem that local creatives love to paint or photograph.
Brighton has loads of parks and the surrounding countryside is some of the best in the UK. It has the famous Lanes and North Laine area where street performers, local bands and musicians entertain the crowds, and there are lots of independent shops to browse around. It's so good and so wonderful, I lived there for six months last year and miss it hugely. Brighton, we love you and here's why...
What Brighton creatives say
"Brighton must have more creatives in it than seagulls - and there are a lot of those adorable yet terrifying creatures around. There are loads of great networking events, design and drawing get togethers and creative festivals happening every five minutes. There's the artists' open house galleries every weekend in May and the Brighton festival, which I think is also the whole of May. Although I think there's a festival of some sort happening here every week - the Japan and the Tattoo being two of my faves. But it's the quirky things happening all around you that keep you inspired: Retro games nights in the cafe, victorian ghost street theatre and if you really can't shift that creative block an hour or so, fishing for mackerel in the channel will really 'alt control delete' the mind."
Phil Corbett, Brighton-based illustrator - Philcorbett.com
"Brighton is a haven for creative workers and businesses. With two universities, plenty of colleges and foreign language schools, part of Brighton's population is in constant flux. This means there are always new people in the city bringing their unique skills and ideas. The city heavily relies on its creative industry with many people brought in for music and art with the countless gigs and exhibitions happening all year round. Brighton has the perfect atmosphere to foster creativity and it's a hundred times better off for it."
Joshua Danton Boyd, from Crunch
"I think Brighton is a great city to live in if you're into art or are creative in some way. The city is filled with like-minded people and even if you're not directly involved with other creative scenes you still feel like you're in the right place! There is always something going on and it feels like we have all the perks of London here but without the drawbacks. Or perhaps the sea air makes everyone delusional haha, either way I wouldn't want to be anywhere else! " Thomas Cole Simmonds, Brighton-based photographer - www.tomsimmonds.com
"From my experience, Brighton is a place that's full of people who have chosen to live here. And people move here because it's often associated with the kind of creativity that comes from freedom, collaboration and hedonism. The city is small enough for people to make an impact in the creative community, and people are incredibly open to new ideas and ways of working and very eager to share their ideas and experiences. It feels like a safe space, and I've found that most wacky or slightly off-the-wall ideas are met with excitement from the people I meet here. It certainly helped to have all this encouragement around when I was setting up my creative business, What You Sow, selling handmade, design-led and eco-friendly gardening accessories online."
Lyndsey Haskell, founder of What You Sow and part of local charity Emmaus
"Brighton & Hove hosts the largest arts festival in England and the entire city becomes a buzz of creativity. Every café, pub, shop, street corner and venue oozes with poetry readings, art exhibitions, comedy, music and dance. It's a phenomenal thing to be part of and to experience. Throughout the rest of the year the cultural energy never drops, it's sustained by a never-ending flow of shows and events, and like a virus it infects every resident and visitor. It's a special place which feeds creativity, and residents support the arts in a way that other cities desperately try to imitate but rarely succeed at."
Alice Carter, Gallery Owner of Box Bird
Brighton's startup scene
Given Brighton's heavy tech and digital scene, it's pretty understandable why this thriving city has its fair share of startups and entrepreneurs. There's lots happening. Wish Studios was signed up by Sony Europe last October to create a prototype for a brand new IP for the PlayStation. PageHub is a social app and insight platform that's making big waves in the local tech scene.
There's loads of support locally, including Brighton Fuse, and Brighton & Hove Business. The Skiff regular holds relevant events for startups. And if you need to network, share ideas, experiment with each other's side projects or discuss lean tools - then check out the Lean Startup Group.
The Fusebox is something Wired Sussex has just launched to support the growing startup scene. It's only just launched and is very much in beta, but you should get involved as it's great to see local creatives getting behind this new movement of entrepreneurship. And if you're on the lookout for more support, check out Drop as it aims to bring together a community of web developers, all looking to support one another.
Where to study in Brighton
Brighton is served by two major universities - The University of Sussex, just on the outskirts of the city with a solid reputation for excellence and over 13,000 students on its books - and The University of Brighton based on five campuses in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. It's also home to the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, the Varndean College and Brighton College.
Where to network in Brighton
Where do I start? Brighton is buzzing with networking groups, meetups and events for every single creative discipline you can imagine? Creative Arts Brighton does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a meetup group for creative people. You can rock up and sketch, paint, sculpt, write, paint, knit, visit local artists and studios, exhibitions, and sometimes just make a friend. The Brighton Book Club is very popular and a great way to meet other creatives. Likemind Brighton is a low key creative network for 'nice, clever, resourceful people in the city'.
For the more corporate side of things, Glug Brighton is hosted by Agency Rush and Crush Creative to offer creative industries networking. The Sussex Artists Club is business networking for artists and arts professionals.
For the more digital folks amongst you, Wired Sussex is a great local resource for digital businesses and freelancers. It helpfully lists all relevant local events, including networking, workshops and conferences. In the meantime, Big Data Brighton offers presentations, discussions and hack events. Brighton Java brings together, you guessed it, Java users and enthusiasts. And if you just can't stop hacking, look up Hacks/Hackers Brighton. A big worthy mention goes to Brighton Farm, a networking group for web designers, developers and people with related new media skills. They meet weekly at different venues around Brighton and Hove.
Are you a photographer? You've come to the right place. There are absolutely hundreds of photographers based in Brighton. Join the locals at the Brighton Photographers Group. I did, whilst I lived there - and they were a very friendly bunch. And if you work from home and need to beat isolation, the Homeworkers Meetup Group is for you.
Where to work in Brighton
Freelancers are well served by co-working spaces in Brighton & Hove. The Skiff is a friendly community hub with over 130 freelancers and small businesses. Located in Brighton's Lanes, it offers a range of membership options, is very friendly and has everything you need to operate professionally. It even runs regular free events.
The Werks over on Church Road, Hove, also offers a range of membership options, from a small functional desk starting from £175 per month to full blown office space, still at an affordable £300 per month. Also worth a mention is the Brighton Media Centre. With office suites, desk space and virtual, it's got a few different options for the discerning freelancer.
Where to hangout in Brighton
For something a bit different, visit The Marwood on Ship Street in Brighton's Lanes. The door handle is a mannequin's hand. There are all sorts of unusual, crazy things hanging from the walls. The cakes are amazing. And they even have a secret garden! Small Batch Coffee Co. is another independent with six locations across the city. My favourite is the one on Wilbury Road, Hove. In summer, the coffee shop enjoys the late afternoon sunshine and it has a fab outdoor seating area on the front. But beware, it can get busy!
Mr Wolfe on Montpelier Place is also worthy of a mention. Great coffee, real passion behind what they do and the cake - don't get me started on the cake! And if the sun is shining, check out the Pavilion Gardens Cafe. In summer, there's usually a big brass band playing at the weekends, and it's got great views of the Royal Pavilion.
If you're hungry, Bill's on North Road is a very popular spot for brunch. Try Bill's Breakfast or the homemade blueberry and buttermilk pancakes. If you love fish, Regency Restaurant is a family-run Brighton institution on King's Road, overlooking the sea. Brighton Temptation is situated in the North Laine area and is a real popular choice with locals. For noodles and sushi, check out E Kagen.
And for those crucial afterwork drinks, you are completely spoilt in Brighton. It has hundreds and hundreds of pubs and bars, it's impossible to pick out the best - there are too many to mention. If you love real ale, check out The Evening Star - it's a 'real beer' lovers retreat and close to Brighton Station. Over in Hove, I always loved The Wick Inn and had some very good nights in there.
The Monday night pub quiz at The Robin Hood on Norfolk Place is a brilliant laugh. Even better, the pub is a 'People's Pub' and not-for-profit, giving back to the community instead. On busy Western Road The Temple Bar is a buzzing spot with some locally brewed Sussex Ales. And one final mention is The Victory Inn on Duke Street. Very cosy, lots of nooks and crannies and a cracking fire in winter. They even have board games. Can you tell I love Brighton yet?
What to do in Brighton
You're absolutely spoilt for choice in Brighton when looking for things to do. Brighton Dome is part of the historic Pavilion Estate and has a year round programme of live music, dance, theatre and comedy. Theatre Royal Brighton is a stunning venue that hosts the best star-studded West End productions, dramas and comedies. Komedia is the local comedy club that also offers music and club nights.
The Basement is a small but delicious little venue offering the best in contemporary performance. The Old Market is a cultural venue just off busy Western Road offering performances, gigs, theatre and dance. The Marlborough is another unique venue in the heart of Brighton with lots of theatre on its beautiful miniature proscenium arch stage. And if you simply can't get enough of theatre, the Emporium Brighton is a brand new spot to check out.
For some local art, check out ONCA on St George's Place - it's an unusual but beautiful space that aims to work with artists and communities to inspire a creative response to our changing environment and raise funds for conservation projects. Art at Five is a contemporary art gallery situated in the famous Lanes. Fabrica is all about the visual arts and based in a former Regency church.
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery is located at the Royal Pavilion Gardens and entrance is always free. JAG Gallery & Open Studios is a gorgeous art space inside some arches along Brighton seafront. Always worth a browse. Box Bird is a wonderful little gallery showcasing some of the UK's finest illustrators, including Jon Burgerman, Sally Elford and Tom Frost. You really must pay them a visit - they're over on St Johns Road in Hove.
Fancy some art cinema? Check out Duke of York's Picturehouse - it's the oldest continuously operating purpose built cinema in Britain and it's just wonderful. A real gem. And finally, for some local photography, you can't miss Lighthouse - they're always staging exhibitions for local creatives.
For some good old gigs, you simply must visit The Green Door Store next to Brighton Station - it's a late bar and live music venue with something interesting going on every night of the week.
Some annual events in Brighton
Gosh, where to start? There are so many annual events to scribble into your calendar, but here are a few worthy mentions. Brighton Fashion Week showcases innovation each and every June. It's an international platform for emerging designers and definitely one of the best.
Friendly Brighton prides itself on having one of the biggest LGBT communities in the UK, so you can imagine how wonderful and flamboyant Brighton & Hove Gay Pride is every year. It's one of the most talked about and celebrated festivals this great country has to offer. I'm going this year if it kills me!
With so many artists and creatives living in one place, Artists Open Houses is a wonderful annual festival where you can actual visit artists in their homes and view their work. It's a great way to discover local talent but also support the creative community by purchasing one or two artistic treats. It runs twice a year - throughout May and for three weekends in November/December.
You can't talk about annual creative events in Brighton without mentioning Brighton Fringe - it's the largest arts festival in England and one of the biggest fringe festivals in the world. It takes place every May over four weeks. Even better, more than 50 per cent of all events are put on by the locals. As part of this, check out The BIG Brighton Fringe Fair, at the University of Brighton's Faculty of Arts.
Just to go back to the digital side of things, Brighton Digital Festival is something that takes place every September to champion the local digital scene whilst bringing it together with the city's vibrant arts communities.
And finally, if you love festivals then The Great Escape is Europe's leading festival for new music. Don't, whatever you do, forget to visit Cyber Candy on Gardner Street. They offer an overwhelming amount of delicious candy, including treats you can't find anywhere else. An absolute must if you visit Brighton & Hove.
A little video about Brighton
Video Credit: Caleb Yule, a 16 year old Brighton-based creative who loves to make short films