BRIGHTON IS A THRIVING BUSINESS AND CREATIVE HUB – LURE FOR RETAILERS ALSO STRONG
Brighton is a business honeypot, with over 22,000 firms in the seaside town and an emphasis on the arts, IT, hotels, and food. And with over eight million visitors to the city each year, to add to a large student population, it’s no surprise that the lure for retailers is a strong one too.
Shopping has always been a strong pull for the city, stretching back to when the Hanningtons department store traded for nearly 200 years before it shut its doors in 2001. The store had 70 departments and offered everything from funeral arrangements to carpet cleaning and was known as the ‘Harrods of Brighton’.
Today, the Hanningtons site is set to be revitalised with a selection of shops and restaurants, designed to take on the precedent set by the Lanes, with their mix of independent and familiar names in tight-knit, attractive and popular streets.
There may be a perception that, when it comes to shopping, local people beetle off to London in search of a little retail therapy, however there is strong evidence to suggest that this really isn’t the case.
The city also enjoys a significant tourist spend – over £850m in 2015. And, according to a report from earlier this year by regional tourism body Tourism South East, 54% came to shop, with those visiting for a conference the highest spenders.
Testimony for the city’s retail pull comes from the local business community too. Rebecca Notman-Watt is, with her husband David, one of the founders of Brighton-based TV production company Back2Back productions. The company’s series include: ‘Take That: for the Record’, a documentary on the boyband that was seen as instrumental in getting them back together; ‘Cars that Rock’, with Brian Johnson; ‘The World’s Deadliest Weather’; and ‘Scrap Kings’.
The firm has around 50 staff, many in their late 20s or early 30s – but Notman-Watt says the majority shop in their local town, and some of them in fact commute down from London rather than the reverse trip for leisure. “I don’t think they go up to London to shop at all”, says Notman-Watt, “because you’ve got the Lanes. People come to Brighton for the shopping; they come for the day to have a wander through the lanes and it appeals because it is a pleasant environment with unusual, independent shops.” It is also a less ‘disjointed’ affair than London’s disparate shopping areas like Oxford Street, Covent Garden or Camden with most concentrated in the one, relatively small place. “It’s just got a nice, bustly feel to it”, says Notman-Watt.
The particular kind of shopping is an interesting distinguishing feature too. Brighton is a good place for a ‘mooch’ and an ‘aimless’ shop without having to go specifically to buy ‘x, y or z’, and the area’s relatively car-free nature is also a boon for continental-style eating and drinking, as well as increased dwell time. Notman-Watt’s favourites when she has the time include ‘spoily’ shops such as Sirene on Trafalgar Street or Tribeca on Bond Street, and the Lanes are a draw in order to combine a trip with lunch; a leisure activity and destination rather than ‘practical shopping’.
When she lived in London, Notman-Watt regularly came to Brighton to wander the Lanes for a day, and points out that many from surrounding areas come into the city for the same reason rather than go to, say Crawley.
Back2Back is not the only business of its kind in the area, with the city becoming something of a magnet for such companies, including firms like Factory Films, Seventh Art, creative agency Be The Fox, The Edit post production facility and other TV production companies moving down.
“It is definitely a media hub”, says Notman-Watt. “There are an awful lot of creative people living here, so we don’t have a problem finding editors etc. They don’t want to commute to London and are happy to do the reverse commute as well. And a couple of them have moved down here – just because they love it.”
Statistics from a city snapshot in 2014 for Brighton show a much higher proportion of the city’s GVA comes from art and cultural services than in the rest of the UK, and that creative, digital and IT are strong in Brighton, valued at £713m to the economy.
Back2Back was formed in 2003, Rebecca joining her husband in 2009 from Hotel du Vin. She feels the leisure and hospitality sector is also thriving in Brighton, with a year-round calendar of events – everything from political party conferences to music festivals – underlining the whole weekend ‘destination’ for tourists. “And if you haven’t got the shops”, says Notman-Watt, “that just won’t work”.
By David Taylor