New Decade, New Worthing

A Gull’s Eye View
Michelle Dawson is an Artist, Illustrator and Tutor who lives in Worthing. She enjoys drawing the beaches and countryside of Worthing and the surrounding area and mainly works in Indian ink. Her work is available as greetings cards and limited edition prints from michelledawsonartist.Etsy.com

Sitting in the Brooksteed with Tom, who’s a part of the New Worthing.

I’m one of many like me, relatively new. I’ve come en masse with people like me. We didn’t necessarily choose the place as such, but we had to leave -we all came in from Brighton or London, cos it got too expensive. I came in 2 years ago. I’d lived 12 years in Brighton, Kemptown; my partner worked in Peacehaven – we’d not choose to move out that way. So our options were Shoreham, Burgess Hill or Worthing. We came over to Worthing to look around for nice places, but really, we just needed an excuse – we’d chosen here. I went out of my way to find the parts that would help me to live here – seeking out cool places and people to connect with. Lots of people are looking for the same things.

What’s missing from Worthing? I don’t think anything. It doesn’t need to be like anywhere else. It’s got everything that a place needs.

What about the contentious wheel? It doesn’t matter – I don’t care, I don’t mind if it’s there or if it’s not there. It’ll bother people who like to moan, but really, it’s such a trivial issue.

And how about diversity here? Ah, well … in Brighton, we often had a conversation about that. If you came in from, say, Birmingham to Brighton, it’d be shockingly obvious how white Brighton is. Brighton is known as this liberal place, but actually it’s never been tested. What would happen if Brighton’s liberalism actually got tested? I mean, people there talk about Whitehawk as if it was …

I know. And Moulescombe. Like, people have probably never even gone there.

On diversity, it’s great that Worthing has a Pride now – that’s a sign of the times.

I was in a band, was part of the whole DIY ethic, all through my 20s: that ethic was part of my life. I played guitar – post-hardcore. We used to play lots of Tatty Seaside Town gigs. Colin, who runs TST – he’s Worthing.

I’ve not got a lot of free time now, so I’ve not really got into the scene here yet. I don’t get out much, but I like the micropub scene here – I guess that’s a really obvious point. I like the Selden Arms, the Brooksteed of course! The rates are so high in Brighton, you can’t really run a proper micro-pub. Here, you can do a start-up.

(WoBy tells Tom he’s got to get into the Goose and the Cellar Arts Club too – but as a young father, Tom’s free time is limited and Dad La Soul is probably a more likely bet).

Some of the Brighton scene is a bit fake – people doing things for the wrong reasons. What’s good now is going to Brighton just as a visitor.

And people are travelling the other way, too.

If my Brighton friends ask – where should we go? [in Worthing] … well, there’s inconsistency … The new owners of the Libertine – they’re keen to get it known as a place where stuff happens: there could be more places like that. In Brighton at 5.30 it’s heaving – people go to a bar or cafe after work, but in Worthing the bars are dead, and so then people don’t bother to go, cos they know it’s dead. Like, the Hare & Hounds is all booked up at lunchtimes, but after work, it’s dead. There’s some places with real potential, who need to realise that there’s this creative scene here. There’s events, but it can be hard to find the places, the scene. I relied on just bumping into people – like Hello Dodo. They’re good, nice people – an example of a successful business, dedicated, and doing what they love without compromise. There’s some amazing talents here.

I ask Tom about his new project, Worthing & Beyond, a creatives directory.

When I was at Lick (Tom was part of the successful Brighton Lick fro-yo team), we encouraged people to use the Brighton creative scene. There’s a lot of businesses who pretend to be artsy and cool, but we actually knew the scene and we brought in gigs, art students and stuff, tapped into it more. It became a mutually beneficial relationship and helped us build Lick. I was transparent in saying – this benefits us all. Letting artsy people do what they want is fun, and there’s a business benefit. So Worthing & Beyond is my attempt to encourage more of that kind of thing. For now, it’s a database of creatives, and then I’ll add in businesses who support creativity. I’ll be trying to encourage local businesses to use local talent – instead of going off to London.

We chat about the stuff you appreciate when you come into Worthing – the usual things, like cheap and easy parking, downsizing the commute, being able to have a garden.

In some ways, Worthing is a better place to be as you get older. Speaking personally, as you get older, you appreciate nature more. We’re closer to the Downs here; and the seafront is more pleasant [than Brighton]. I’ve got a garden here, the soil is good. One side is like woodland, ferns. We’re building composting out the back.

I tell Tom about some of the cool sustainability projects going on. That’s something we do really well here. While Brighton’s Transition Town group describes itself as ‘tragically defunct’, ours goes from strength to strength. And Worthing projects like Cortis Avenue, Last Fisherman Standing, Worthing Honey Collective and the Conservation Volunteers are super-cool.

Will you be here in 10 years’ time, Tom?

Unless the sea level rises, yes, definitely. But maybe not in 30 or 40 years. My roots are in Herefordshire, I love that rugged Wales landscape. Mid-Wales is getting re-wilded – it’s going to be lovely when it happens. But now, I can’t see myself going away from the sea … I did also live in Tenby for a year.

This prompts an interesting thought: maybe Worthing needs to get on board with the domestic town twinning movement – and link up with somewhere like Tenby? Domestic twin suggestions, anyone?

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