No Place for the Old?
I don’t live in Brighton. I live in Eastbourne. It’s a place that many describe as an upside down graveyard. I disagree. The generation demographics aren’t as skewed as many people think. Part of its reputation as an older person’s destination is that much of the town is there to cater for older people — not the residents so much, but the endless coaches full of silver-haired passengers with minds set on an ice-cream and a sleep on a seafront bench.
Brighton, on the other hand, is often perceived as a place for the young. No place for old men. Or women — old women. And to be fair, the statistics don’t lie. Well, not often anyway. The 2011 Census shows that the biggest percentage of Brighton and Hove’s population is in the 20-24 bracket (10.28%). People aged 25-29 are the second highest (8.41%), while the highest percentage of over 60s is the 60-64 age bracket (4.65%). The under 50s by far outnumber the over 50s. Ten years previously, in 2001, it was the 30-34 age group that dominated Brighton and Hove’s demographics. If the population leans so heavily towards youth, why shouldn’t the city cater for that demographic above all others?
I’m from Brighton. I was born there and lived there for thirty-four years and I feel I can talk about it with the kind of subjective authority of anyone who has seen their hometown develop over the course of three decades. So, here’s a potted and ever so slightly jaded history of how I believe Brighton became a place that’s perceived to be over-run with youth.
Back in the late 90s/early 00s there was a mass media migration, where people who worked in media industry gave up life in London and moved down to Brighton. They became the city’s commuter class — working in their London jobs, while living down on the south coast.
It was during this time that Brighton’s reputation began to shift. It always had an air of decadence about it, but that was always underlined with the kind of seaside tat present in any fair-sized coastal town: go to the pier, buy a stick of rock, go on a hen-do, kiss a local, try not to get arrested, don’t evaluate your life and get sucked into an infinite abyss soundtracked by waves and a carousel version of the Match of the Day theme. But, during that period in Brighton’s history, things started to change. This new wave of residents brought with them a whole new idea of what the city should be: a place where independent art and music thrived; a place where creativity had room to prosper; a place where alternative lifestyles were celebrated. They also brought money.
The number of pubs and clubs increased — and they weren’t even seedy. There was a juice bar on every street. Coffee shops opened. Pound after pound was pumped into the city to regenerate it. The seaside tat was shelved, along with all its saucy accompaniments. Brighton has always been a big playground — a bubble where people can avoid real life and just cruise along. The new money only exacerbated this.
There was also a cultural explosion. In the early 90s Brighton residents would reluctantly confess to The Levellers being the best, or certainly most renowned, musical act to emerge from the city. This only augmented its reputation as a home for dog owners with clip-on dreadlocks. But then the big beat scene went global and Brighton suddenly had a reputation for providing music that a lot of people loved: something The Levellers could never claim. This filtered through into the 00s and more notable musicians were associated with the city (The Go! Team, Bat For Lashes, Blood Red Shoes, Fujiya and Miyagi, Esben and the Witch, The Maccabees and many more). And there were also the festivals: the Brighton Festival, the Fringe, the Great Escape, Pride. All of these things gave the city the look of youthful exuberance — which in turn, along with the two universities the city boasts, made it an attractive place for young people looking at it from the outside.
Like I say, this is purely a subjective history, only loosely based on semi-questionable ‘facts’. And its only reason for being here is to give some perspective as to why the city is perceived the way it is. But what happened to the older people? And is there still anything in the city for them — somewhere for them to turn? Any answer that includes the words ‘lack of bowling greens’ or ‘not enough matinees’ would be nothing more than facetious. The fact is all generations love music, art and culture — all the things Brighton excels at. Sometimes their tastes differ from that of other generation’s, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t go to galleries or gigs. If anything, there’s more to do now in Brighton than there ever was for older people — more activities set up. The older generation have their own outdoor gyms and their own social groups. They have their own cinema groups, theatre groups and art groups. And there are concessions for most of it. In your face younger generation. In. Your. Face.
But the older generation don’t just consume culture in Brighton — they also create it. The last three guest artistic directors of the Brighton Festival (Anish Kapoor, Brian Eno and Aung San Suu Kyi) have been aged between 55-66 at the time of the event. This year Vanessa Redgrave (75) is the guest director. There also over 60s dance companies, artists, musicians and filmmakers living and working in the city.
It’s gauche to say that Brighton doesn’t cater for older people simply because you don’t see it. If that’s your view, then perhaps you’re looking in the wrong places.