Worthing By Accident?
You were desperate to escape London, couldn’t afford Brighton & Hove and the estate agent told you that this place was ‘coming up’. Seemed as nice as anywhere else you looked at along the coast – perhaps even nicer, you’re now realising.
War and danger propelled you to give up everything and seek safety. UK government refugee dispersal policies allocated your family to West Sussex. Suddenly, you found yourself sojourned or settled in Worthing, hoping for peace and quiet and an equal chance to thrive.
Your family shifted to live here when you were small, but millennial austerity means you’re still living at home and unable to fulfil your teenage hopes of getting out and renting in Brighton.
As an artist, you wanted to be part of England’s recent creative coastal turn and find like-minded people, but Margate is long since over and Hastings feels too edgy for you. Sunny Worthing it is, then.
Or maybe you were born here – the ultimate in accidental landings.
My WoBy (Worthing By Accident) Story
Some of us choose to live in Worthing, others have been impelled or held here. Where we live is often accidental. How we live here is more of a choice and open to mindful decisions.
Caroline (Worthing By Accident – WoBy) and family shifted from Hove in 2015. When the dog grooming parlour on our Hove street introduced aromatherapy (for dogs) it felt like something we didn’t need. As the baristas in our neighbourhood became snootier and more well-spoken than any of us were, and a trip for Saturday brunch began to be not just extortionate but an uncomfortable experience of non-belonging, we came looking for a less high-tone place.
We thought that queerness was probably going to be OK – we had gay friends living here and had long known that Worthing was a place where both old queens bored with clubbing and also family-building lesbians came to settle.
With hindsight, there were problems we’d not properly anticipated. One week after moving here, our brown-skinned son was asked – so politely – by a neighbour what he was doing entering our house. Through the front door. With his own door key. The neighbours in this white street got used by now to seeing him and his sister, and lately, I see a bit more diversity and BAME families around, but it’s still not always a comfortable place for all folks.
Worthing by Accident I might be, but I’m committed to this place, loving lots of things about it, and very keen to gather and share stories. We’re the largest coastal town in West Sussex and we’re dealing here with some weighty issues.
There’s plenty of incomers here in our town, but the ones we see represented most often are the ones who’ve chosen to come (like WoBy) for quality of life reasons. (We’ve not been put here by a local authority, we didn’t come fleeing war or destitution). Here’s a post where I’m thinking about Englishness and about whiteness as an aspect of ‘Coastal Identities’ ; the ‘seaside’ in England has longstanding links into white identities.
The ‘Let’s Move to Worthing’ movement goes back at least ten years. Here’s local hero nuevo Dad La Soul. When I spoke to him about some of the reasons why his family came over, he pinpointed many of the things that we hear from Brighton and London incomers.
I didn’t want to leave Hove, thought it’d be like being dragged back to the 1970s – and I am from the 1970s, I didn’t want to go back there! I came over for an exhibition, I could see there was space on the seafront – I could move about, no crowds. Then I saw St Paul’s. I thought, yes! So we jumped over – there’s great schools and lots of other newcomers with kids who were like us and didn’t have extended family around, so there’s strong good social networks and community being built. But it’s not just the newcomers who are friendly. When we moved in, I immediately went round next door to the old lady living there and said, “I’m sorry, but we have a 3 year old, and it will will be a bit noisy sometimes”. She was like – “That’s alright, come on in” – and she invited us in. In Hove, I didn’t know my neighbours at all, apart from – “Can you move your car?”
While cool dad may have abandoned Brighton-Hove in part (he tells us) because he was fed up with tripping over yummy-mummies at every corner, we do have plenty of our own seafront-walking, start-up talking, mums in Worthing. Let’s not knock them: they’re bringing in good stuff like cinammon buns and their antidote, fat metaboliser. (I realise that the last sentence is kind of a haiku meta-commentary on the contradictions within white femininity – I swear that was unintentional).
If you feel you already know cool dad and start-up mum, you might enjoy the highly particular twist on the incomer story coming from an expat mum who was based here, and who blogged about the things you have to learn when you are ‘Bringing up Brits’.
The Worthing Mums and Dads ‘ blog, with its listings and short pieces, gives us a bit more of a sense of those changes happening here, while the FB group is full of questions from – and advice to – incomers. Worthing Village Voices offers several incomer stories and a flavour of who’s moving in – and why.
Now, if we can also begin to gather in the stories of some of the other incomers, and if we can stop and reflect a bit on how we engage with gentrification (come on, let’s not shy away from the G-word), it’ll do us all a power of good. Mindful incoming, anyone?
Here, the Teville Gate development has several other poignant stories to it: the disappearance of Georgina Gharsallah (and the posters appealing for witnesses to her disappearance) would be one of those stories.
While I’ve got a PhD in anthropology, I’m bored with being part of scholarly debates on ethnicity, class, sex-gender and migration which don’t make it past an academic journal (or, at best, the Guardian newspaper) in terms of public engagement. So I’ll keep listening and thinking and trying to write about all this in ways that are meaningful. Keep reading.
Oh – and let me know when I miss the mark, so I can think again.
2020 Update: Time For Worthing
Not everyone is celebrating, as this petition shows.
We’ll keep recording what’s going on.
2020 Worthing COVID update
Nobody saw that coming, did they? Actually, plenty of people saw it coming a long way off, from Obama to UK public health officials, biologists and environmental researchers and activists. There’s been Ebola, SARS, Nipah – but I guess we didn’t care so much about the rise in new deadly viruses until it left Africa and Asia and hit us right here in our own local space.
When we were kids, we used to write into our new school books and diaries on the frontispiece something like this:- Caroline Osella, Flat 4, Sundown Street, Worthing, West Sussex, England, Northern Hemisphere, The World, The Universe.
Worthing is both a relatively insignificant small town in a corner of a tiny nation flung into the sea somewhere between North America and Europe – and also an essential part of the global network that makes up The World, The Universe. Increasingly, we’ll have to let go of borders, boundaries, isolationist ideals, parochial thinking, in order to understand and accept that the world is one entity and that we are all connected.
Is a border-ignoring, fast-adapting virus more intelligent as a life-form than a human? (Don’t answer that right now, the answer is painful).
At our micro-scale of Worthing, independent shops and businesses quivered – and then quickly stepped forward to pivot or to expand and change the way they work. Neighourhood networks intensified – WoBy’s household was among many who received a kindly handwritten note through the door in the early days offering shopping, or any other kind of support needed. The pub announced it would collect prescriptions and deliver them (along with opening up beer delivery and providing us with quarantunes). Lucky people who already had internet shopping delivery slots set up offered to add bits of shopping into theirs so that neighbours wouldn’t go without. Worthing FB pages for independent businesses offered us cupcakes, full Sunday roasts, vegan breakfasts, and full weekly shops. There were mass outbreaks of crafting and mask-sewing. Home-schooling parents shared despair, support, and tips via Worthing Mums and Dads. Community projects set up zoom meets and online socials to mitigate isolation. Worthing mosque offered a ‘covid mutual aid’ project. Churches gave us online mass. Performers hosted virtual parties and DJ sets. Northbrook Met musical theatre students offered online showcases in place of their end-of-year performances.
Worthing intra-connections multiplied as we reached out to one another. On Nextdoor and local FB pages, people bartered: an early post offered, “a lump of sourdough starter and you can give me an equivalent weight of anything useful – maybe an egg or a lemon or something”. But we couldn’t get flour for our lockdown baking projects in supermarkets, in the small stores, or even online. Local bakers began to sell not just the daily bread, but also loose flour bagged up into kilos. Small local shops like The Souk began home delivery and saved us from the supermarket scrummage when home delivery from the big players was not available.
Over the next few weeks, WoBy plans to speak to a few people about the double impact of Covid-19 and the death of George Floyd: both are events which seem singular in their intensity and impact but have been a long time in the making, representing the latest moment in a long-unfolding story of human-created miseries.
The difference is that we seem to be waking up to consciousness.
Did you fall asleep at the wheel of modernity? Did ya? Did ya? Did you think it would keep going till the end of eternity? Did ya? Did ya?
Back in the day, Tracey Chapman thought a fast car would help her, “finally see what it means to be living”. Right now, we’re pretty sure that fast cars are part of 20th C history and that for the 21st C, to finally find see what it means to be living will mean something different. And as Avi Khalil suggests – that’s not likely to be permanent quarantine.
Good morning, Worthing! We love you and we’re excited for our future together.
Worthing August 2020 Update
There’s bee a re-launch of the ‘Time for Worthing’ campaign, with some updates and case-studies about how local independent businesses faced the Covid challenge and what they’ve done to re-open safely. You can read more here or here.
Over on Nextdoor, lockdown saw loads of new members as people took up the chance to network locally and meet the neighbours virtually. An interesting development in the last couple of weeks has been the number of posts from people asking for feedback on new small business ideas. Looks like lockdown pushed a re-think for a lot of Worthing residents about their working lives; and maybe opened up space and courage to people who’d been vaguely thinking about self-employment but not had the time till lockdown to think it through and make plans. Some people got put on furlough and never called back, as large employers grasped the excuse to slim down workforces even further. Most of us developed new relationships with local retailers and many of us changed the way we shop and eat. Local info and networking pages online flourished, even as our beloved print editions of Here and Now and Inside magazines went dormant. Thanks to online words of mouth like the Worthing Independents FB page, we all discovered stuff right in the town that we’d not known about. (Weekend bakes of vegan sea-cakes, craft beers on delivery, artisan jewellers workshopping from home).
It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. Expect plenty of Worthing start-ups over the next 3 months.
Horaceart: a Worthing phenomenon
Horaceart has put a set of pavement art down in Portland Road. Go see it before too many more footprints blur it all out.
You won’t be huddling indoors for hours on end with all the fam and friends over the holiday season – will you? You’ll be trying to meet up outdoors, won’t you? Cos it’s safer. And honestly, walking outdoors in the cold with a coat and thermals on is much warmer than sitting indoors with all the windows and doors open, while fretting about querlüften. And blimey, with the weather we’re having in sunny Worthing, a bit of outdoors is fab right now.
Here’s some ideas for things to look for, from the delicious Tea and Cake for The Soul blog. Happy end of 2020, Worthing-ites!
Worthing: April 2021
As we begin to move out of lockdown, here’s local councillor Bob Smytherman urging us to take up our new freedom to do outdoor sports. Ah yes, you guessed right. This isn’t our specifically Worthing tennis gear – Bob’s also our town crier. Oyez, Oyez!
I’ve gotten involved recently in a couple of social prescribing projects. This definitely feels ambivalent. On the one hand, I well remember how we hated social workers and state-sponsored officials on the council estate where I grew up and I squirm a bit when I see people trying to ‘uplift’ or ‘improve’ others. (Much as I’m a self-improvement junkie myself). But on the other hand, it’s true that activity helps physical and mental wellbeing. Maybe I’ll do a post from one of our lovely the seafront outdoor gyms. After I’ve wiped all that skanky equipment down with antibac, of course.
There is so much going on around here that we’re either going to have to give up work to keep up with it all, or accept that we are now in the gorgeous situation of having to make really tough choices on our leisure time. Last Saturday, July 31st case in point. Morning, there was Dad la Soul’s Bug Gardening in the pavilion garden with (you can bet flipped) Punch and Judy. At the same time, over at the Steyne, Worthing Lions were holding their longstanding market and festival, where Xoe-B did a reportedly smashing set. In the afternoon, WoBy and crew went to the creatives and makers’ festival organised by Worthing and Beyond, a local initiative aimed at bringing creativity and enterprise together in a directory, collaborations, networking, activism and events. We spent a small amount of money on two hugely gorgeous prints and a few other bits (justifying this to ourselves as ‘early Christmas gift shopping’, although we know damn well that 80% of what we bought will sneak its way into our own home – too lovely to give away!) We discovered yet another Worthing craft brewery – Hand Brew Co – and ate some yummy Curry Leaf Cafe Food. (When she demurred at a deep fried starter, I scoffed the entire portion of Cauliflower bhaji myself, and I’m not even sorry). Next weekend sees another farmer’s market. And there’s more coming!
Keep checking in for new posts, interviews with Worthing locals and see the FB page for random shares of Worthing things that come my way.
Open 21 is an exhibition of local art which will run until 31 January 2022 at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, Thursdays to Sundays, in Chapel Road, Worthing. The gorgeous ‘tube map’ above is one of the exhibits. I chatted to Brian Jones, who made it and he told me:
It started out as a house-warming present for our son and his partner, who moved to Worthing from Bethnal Green last December. We ourselves haven’t been in Worthing all that long, having come here from Brighton about seven years ago, after our daughter and her family settled in the town. So we now have all the family living within a mile of each other.
Welcome, Brian and family! This is a nice example of family reunification.
It was fun doing it and trying to get a balance between the detailed cartography and simplifying things to make it more visually appealing. In the process I learned quite a lot about Worthing. Each time I go back to it I make changes. I would say it’s a work in progress. For example, I’ve added a reference to Ellen Chapman (First female Mayor of Worthing) who was recently commemorated with a new blue plaque outside the Town Hall.
WoBy can’t be the only one wanting postcards with this map on, to send to folks who don’t live here (yet)?
A Google search later and I’ve found that Brian did put those maps into production. Still waiting for the postcards, though.
February 2022 update
Happy Palentine’s / Galentine’s/ Pupentine’s/ Valentine’s / etc. day, my darlings!
We Worthing folks have been mulling over the Council’s Dec 2021 announcement that they’re finally able to move forward with plans for the longstanding Teville Gate area. Here’s some of the proposals.
What we’re hearing around town is that many of us are very excited about the plans being named as ‘meantime’ -i.e. temporary until we get shedloads of cash investment. These plans include a skatepark, indoor padel tennis, a live music venue, and other leisure and sports facilities. FB groups and communities from Worthing Mums and Dads to Worthing Board Skaters and Wheel Skaters are energetically engaging with and glad to be part of all this.
But there’s a lot less joy about the fact that these excellent uses of the space are deemed temporary, with longer-term plans firmly in the usual commercial spheres. More posh flats (nobody anywhere has ever believed any local council’s promises for ‘affordable housing’ – “Affordable to London commuters”, as one local wag put it); and the proposals for a multiplex cinema are baffling many of us. We have the Dome, the Connaught, there’s already a multiplex style in Littlehampton. How many cinemas does a town need, for the love of Mary (and the Lumiere Brothers)?
Is this some kind of backhanded strategy to kill off one of our most beloved independents and get access to that lovely building and prime seafront location?
Conspiracy theories abound. The Covid experience has changed popular culture forever. It’s ratcheted up popular mistrust of official information, suspicion about public officials’ motivation – and cynicism about the workings of processes of decision-making where money and power hang out (as they always have done, of course).
We’re looking forward to our ‘in the meantime’ use of the site. And watching to see what will come next.