My view of North Laine

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Funky, eclectic and fun

By Allyson Cline, student at University of Sussex Summer School 2008

Exploring a new place can be very exciting, especially when that place has been described as "England's most interesting seaside city" (Fodor's).  When I first heard about the North Laine section of Brighton I was told that is was funky, eclectic and fun.  This description instantly drew me to the area but I was not expecting to see such a variety of shops and people.

Punk style clothing

I arrived in Brighton via the train and after exiting the station I walked right into the North Laine.  I turned the corner off Trafalgar Street and the first thing I saw was a shop with neon skirts, black shirts and various other punk style clothing pieces in the window.  At this point, just ten minutes into my trip, I was feeling a little wary of exploring the area but decided to continue on anyway.

A place full of personality

I walked along the streets for a few more minutes, peeked into a few shops and decided to just stand on the sidewalk to watch the people passing by. After observing for a while my opinion about the North Laine changed; rather than being an intimidating place it became a place full of personality.  In a five minute span I saw every type of person imaginable: women with babies, elderly couples, a man in a leather jacket and leather pants with bleached blonde hair down to his waist, women in long flowing skirts, teenagers with numerous piercings and dreadlocks, men in full business suits.  Everyone seemed to be interacting with each other despite their visible differences.  I also noticed that every shop had its own unique personality.

Adding style through paint

The buildings surrounding me were just as interesting as the people on the street.  I was drawn to a shop that was painted like a zebra and I kept moving towards it.  I had never seen a building that was painted so boldly and in any other city this building would have stood out but in Brighton it seemed to fit right in.  I was intrigued by the idea of leaving the original, historical façade of a building and adding style through paint or window displays.  North Laine seemed full of history and the shopkeepers and residents seemed very proud of that history.  After observing the street and the outside of the shops in the North Laine I decided to begin entering various stores.

An alternative and bohemian feel

I consider myself an avid shopper and I had been told that shopping in Brighton would be an experience different from any other, but I was somewhat skeptical. My skepticism quickly disappeared as I began to shop; the majority of the shops I entered were different from anything I had seen in the United States. I went into a store called Lulu Rose on Kensington Gardens and while shopping I overheard two salesgirls talking about the different fashions in the area.  Their conversation made me think about what I had seen in the various shops and I decided to ask them about North Laine's style.  They both agreed that the area had an alternative and bohemian feel to it but that one simple way to describe their area of the city did not exist.  They described Lulu Rose as a hip, bohemian store but did not say the same about the stores surrounding theirs.  After speaking to them for a few minutes I thanked them for their time and travelled down Kensington Gardens looking for things that felt bohemian and alternative and I had no trouble finding either.

Any item could be found

I approached Gloucester Road and decided to continue on another street to see what I could find.  By this point I knew that nothing I saw would surprise me.  I passed a shop that was selling fresh flowers on the street and they were so beautiful that I decided to stop to take a picture of them.  People were bustling in and out of the store with huge bouquets of flowers, single roses and potted plants.  After snapping a picture I walked down a few more shops and came across a table sitting on the street that was full of cowboy boots.  I tried to think of another place where someone would be able to buy new boots and then a bouquet of flowers by just walking ten meters down the street and nowhere came to mind.  It seemed to me that any item a person wanted could be found in the North Laine, a quality that makes the area very unique.

An eco-friendly area

After shopping for about an hour I wandered into the Vegetarian Shoes store.  I did not know that vegetarian shoes even existed before I came to Brighton and after leaving the store I realized that the North Laine strives to be eco-friendly.  I started to look for other signs to prove this point and found tags in different stores which said "sweatshop free" and window displays sporting tee-shirts with various eco-friendly slogans.  I noticed that many of the different restaurants in the area had healthy choices on their menus and I even came across some vegetarian restaurants.  The North Laine and all of Brighton seem very world-aware and when I asked a man on the street his opinion he told me he wholeheartily agreed that people in Brighton and the North Laine really cared about the environment.

A hub for alternative style

Next I stopped at a smoothie shop called Sejuice, where health was once again stressed.  When I left the shop I saw two college-aged men playing hacky sack in the middle of the road.  They had dreadlocks and piercings and looked very interesting but I felt a little intimidated by them and never would have stopped to speak to them if I had not been encouraged to talk to locals.  Finally I decided to approach them to get their opinion about North Laine and they were very friendly.  I asked if they could tell me anything about the area and they had a lot to say.  Both agreed that it served as a hub for alternative style and is one of the last places in England where people accepted their style and way of life.  They said that nothing was considered out of the ordinary in the North Laine and that people do not care about how others dress or about their lifestyle choices.  One man said that North Laine is a great place to come to 'people watch' and he told me to really observe what was around me.  I was surprised to hear this from someone who was so familiar with the North Laine.  This man lived in the area but was able to step back and observe it as an outsider.  He was very aware of how special this section of the city was and he really seemed to value everything around him.  After speaking to locals and observing people walking on the streets I realized that people in Brighton do not want to be stereotyped and separated into groups and they all agree that the North Laine is a unique, exciting and special place in which to live and play.

Exciting and hip

I travelled into Brighton that day expecting to see a part of the city that would interest me, but I was not expecting anything too out of the ordinary.  Instead I entered a place that was exciting and hip, and I was surprised by how comfortable I was in this area of the city. The North Laine greatly exceeded my expectations and I am looking forward to going back for further exploration.

[Every year undergraduate students from the United States come to the University of Sussex for an International Summer School. This year their first essay in a four-week course had to be written when they had only been in Brighton for three days. As part of their 'Walking into History' course they were asked to visit the North Laine and to record their first impressions. The above is Allyson Cline's essay. It was previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 194, Sept/Oct 2008.]

This page was added on 12/10/2008.

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