Sitting with David in the tea-rooms of the Pier of the Year and I’m asking him about what it was like to grow up in Worthing in the 60s and 70s. When almost every second Worthing-ite I meet lately seems to be (like WoBy) a recent incomer, it’s interesting to hear another voice.
David tells me about some of those old moments and spaces, but laughs when I ask his opinion about nostalgia and the ‘no-change’ discourse that we see so much of on over-heated FB and Nextdoor discussions.
When I was young, (he grins), The biggest event here was the World Bowls Tournament – so it’s good to see new stuff going on. I like the Portland Road proposals and I love what they’ve done with Montague Place. Worthing must modernise if it’s to attract new people.
The wheel, he reckons would be good – as would anything else that brings folk in to live, visit, spend money and make the place feel alive.
The old Worthing that David remembers sounds a bit like the present one, to be honest: a bit of gentility, a hidden current of social deprivation, plenty of drinking, and some pockets of music and underground arts stuff.
We had the Thieves’ Kitchen pub for music, the Viking Coffee Lounge (run by Turkish people, not Vikings) and then there was Bardy’s, near the station – that was open half the night. Rowland’s Road Cider Bar, the Wine Lodge – there was a good jazz scene here. But otherwise, there was nothing to do. Course, I was underage then – we all were – so we couldn’t get into those private drinking clubs. There were quite a few of them – the drinking clubs have always been there. There was also a bit of a culture of heavy drug use here. What I mean is heroin. ‘Weed and speed’ – we didn’t really think of them as drugs. Nowadays, I presume there’s more to do – nightclubs and places to go: that’s good.
And there was also migration.
David tells me that he remembers two waves of migration during his high-school days.
We had some of the Vietnamese boat people come in, and then when Idi Amin kicked Asians out of Uganda, we had people coming from there, too. Worthing was never just a white town, we always had some diversity. We had kids with us in school who’d come in from all kinds of places and situations.
But where are they all now? (He muses). I don’t see them around town. They must have left.
We puzzle over this for a bit. I’m wondering if they sought out community in the more diverse big cities, or if they gentrified off to the suburbs. A bit of digging suggests that UK state ‘dispersal’ policies produced isolation and, eventually, flight. Sadly, the deeply unsuccessful policy of dispersal to the peripheries is still in place – and causing problems (compare with an example of the kind of work being done in Italy, where asylum seekers are given economic integration and where local rural communities are encouraged to connect with migrants). When I ask David’s opinion on whether Worthing is reluctant to accept diversity, he points out that even Brighton is very white. Fair point. As David goes on to reiterate- It’s not just Worthing, it’s an English thing.
We move on to talk a bit about social deprivation and homelessness, which David feels are increasing. You never used to see people in shop doorways like this. Lack of care in the community, I suppose. We need to be doing something about it – you can’t just sweep these people away.
Those who moan about the homeless – they don’t seem to realise that most people do live precariously. You only need a couple of upsets and anyone could end up there. Anyone. People seem to live in ignorance of this fact.
But, he also reminds me, not everybody in Worthing was enjoying an economic boom-time back in the 70s. Houses were cheap, it’s true, but you couldn’t get a mortgage – it was hard to get credit in those days. And if you did manage to buy a tatty do-up, that was the end of going out or holidays – literally everything you had, you put it into the house. If young people today could see that lifestyle – sitting on milk-crates, pallets for tables – they’d think it was deprivation?!
When I ask David what he likes about being a Worthing long-timer, rather than an incomer, he tells me that it’s a lovely feeling when you walk around town and bump into somebody you know – something that is, he says, getting less frequent as he ages. And then, the memories: It’s good to feel connected through the space and the streets and David says it doesn’t matter to him that everything changes. The changes are good.
Change is good and incomers are welcome then for David, now over 60, who likes to see Worthing growing and – in his view – improving. He spends a lot of time in London, but still, Worthing is home – everywhere else is just visiting.