Paul Cary, known as Pauly The Painter, aims to raise £40,000 for charity by selling a series of lockdown paintings.
“I decided when the first shock came in March to set myself a target of recording these times. I didn’t realise how affecting it would be. I would go for my daily stroll and sketch, write notes, take the odd photo and then work furiously at these pointillist paintings at home. In the first pictures I was transfixed by the golden hour - before sunset and after sunrise. It was all to do with the light and the space and about the things in nature that are most beautiful. As the series has progressed the paintings have become more populated.”
When restrictions started to lift, Pauly took his easel outside, encouraging people to talk to him about the work.
“In Renaissance times paintings were considered to be narratives. I want to continue that tradition of having a dialogue with people and encouraging creativity.”
Pauly has been an art teacher for 30 years. He recently retired from full-time work, but is already working as a supply teacher in Lewis.
“I take the paintings in to show the children at all stages so that they can see the importance of patience. In this day and age a lot of things are instantaneous.”
Pauly includes subtle references to artists such as Tintoretto and Aristotle.
“It gives the pictures another layer of substance. And it offers the children a doorway to open and explore. It is a joy to try to stimulate young minds,” he says.
Pauly has a long established relationship with The Rocking Horse and Chestnut Tree House.
“I’ve taught children who have been helped by these charities and one child in particular who has a life limiting illness.”
His target is to raise £20,000 for each charity through the sale of the 20 paintings and their prints.
Pauly says his love of art was ignited at a young age.
“Mum took me to the National Gallery when I was a repugnant 7-year-old. We went into the impressionist room. I remember to this day seeing Moet’s Japanese water bridge. It was the reflection underneath it - a bit of blue. It’s the perfect shade. Fifty years later, every single time I’m in there I’m transported back.”
Andrew Roberts owns Viva Verde on Richardson Road in Hove with his partner Gerd.
“I was aways into horticulture - it’s in my blood, if you like.”
Twenty years ago Andrew was working as a private gardener. He was living in Brighton where he met Gerd, who was commuting to London every day. They decided to move to Brixton and Andrew accepted a place at the University of the Arts to study with Gillian Wheeler, who runs the prestigious Covent Garden Academy of Flowers.
“I loved the way she taught - she was so enthusiastic and didn’t make it feel at all elitist. It was accessible for everyone.”
Andrew graduated with distinction and started working for Neeva Jay, providing floral designs for big events, as well as regular clients such as Burberry and Graff Jewellery.
After 13 years in Brixton, the couple decided to move out of London.
“We were looking at Kent and nearly bought a flat in Whitstable, but then a property came up here. Gerd was commuting again. I was waiting to see what would happen and then this little florist came up. Even though we’d lived here before we had no idea this parade of shops existed.”
After a year, Gerd left his job and joined Andrew in the business.
“The corporate world was fun. I was always on the move - going to Covent Garden Market five or six times a day. You had a brief to follow that had to fit the image of the place. The way I work now is completely different. It’s more personal. Of course you listen to what the customer wants, but it’s about how you interpret that and make it work for them.”
Andrew says they enjoy being part of a close community.
“Pre-lockdown we had a lot of regulars, particularly older people, who would pop in. There was one lady in particular who used to come in for a cuppa and a natter, but she hasn’t been in since March. She’s shielding and hasn’t been able to go out.” Instead, they now take her shopping.
This sense of looking out for each other has also helped the business.
“We were quite bowled over by how lovely the locals were. They knew times were tough and really supported us.”
He feels their biggest threat right now is Brexit. “No-one can tell you what will happen in January.”
Conor Ryan, 40, was brought up in County Tipperary. “I was part of the Nirvana generation. I grew up listening to grunge and Oasis, back in the 90s.”
In the early 2000s, after travelling around Australia - where he drove a hospital bus in Darwin and picked watermelons on the West Coast - Conor returned to Ireland and played bass for a band called Lotus Lullaby. They were runners-up in the Student Music Awards in 2008 and signed a record deal.
“I never chased it - music has always been a sanctuary for me. We recorded a few demos and an album, but at that point I left the band and went back to start a science degree in Galway.”
Conor recently spent three years living and working in Vancouver, attracted by the sea and the mountains and by the city’s vibrant culture, before accepting an IT job in Brighton last September.
“I’d heard great things about Brighton, about the music scene and the night life, and it lived up to my expectations. I was getting out and about and mingling with an eye on meeting people to start a band with. And then the whole thing stopped.”
During lockdown, Conor started learning flamenco guitar.
“I used the time to record my own ideas and guitar melodies. I see it now as time spent building up original material. I’m a solitary person by nature, so I didn’t mind. The artistic side of me liked it.”
Conor swims in the sea and walks regularly. He says the website Meetup has been a great place to find people who share his passion for outdoor life.
“I love the hiking scene. There are some pretty established London-based hiking groups that come to the South Downs quite a bit.”
If travel restrictions mean he can’t get home for Christmas to see his parents, three brothers, a sister and his nieces and nephews, he will spend it here with friends whose families are also abroad. The ideal day would involve an early morning swim, followed by a hot meal, some music and a snowball fight.
Conor says if he has to be stuck somewhere, this is a good place to be. “You’ve got the countryside, the sea, the arts side of things and the people. Brightonians have such a funny way with words and there are so many quirky characters.”
Emma Smith, 42, lives with her son, Zach, 10, and her baby daughter, Bonnie, in Hove. She knew she was pregnant within two weeks when she started to feel ill.
“I was so sick - I couldn’t get out of bed for months. In the first trimester I lost a stone. I didn’t even have the energy to worry. I felt really low, really awful. I left my job and couldn’t even tell anyone why. I chose not to tell Zach until I was 3 months, just to be sure everything was ok with the baby. God knows what he must have thought. I really wanted to be pregnant and I really wanted a baby, so that kept me going.”
In early spring, the sickness eased a little. And then coronavirus hit.
“It was scary. I didn't want to leave my front door. I started to feel nervous about going to hospital and asked for a home birth. They put me on the list but said it depended on whether there were enough ambulances around. Also, I was massive, so they tested me for gestational diabetes. In the end I was booked in for an induction on April 25th, but on the 22nd I started bleeding really heavily. Mum came and picked me up and Zach’s dad came to get him. Mum couldn’t come into the hospital and I had to wear a mask and gloves. I was terrified.”
Emma’s mum was allowed to be with her for the last few hours of labour and was present when Bonnie was born at 11.57pm, weighing 9lb 6oz. Emma and Bonnie both had mild temperatures and doctors suspected an infection. They were put on antibiotics and stayed in hospital for three days.
“I felt fine and Bonnie was feeding really well so I wasn’t worried. It was lovely to have that special time, but I missed Zach and really wanted him to meet his little sister. Now, I love seeing them together. She giggles up at him and he adores her.”
Emma says the nature of her pregnancy and birth have made her feel even more grateful for what she has. She is also thankful for the support of her family.
“I have two beautiful children, my family nearby, I can support myself and I live right on the seafront. I am so lucky.”
Shaz Yousaf, 21, fled from Pakistan with her family when she was 10.
“My parents came here to start a new life. We left in a hurry to get away from my dad’s father, so we came on a student visa and ended up as illegal immigrants.”
Shaz, her parents and her six month old sister Mahnum, went from living in a very wealthy gated community in Lahore, with security guards and staff, to a small flat in Southampton.
“Dad managed to get a job as a security guard at the docks - even though he wasn't really allowed to work. A guy called Peter went out on a limb for him.”
Shaz started school in Southampton speaking no English except for ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. After a year, they moved to Woking where Shaz’s father knew someone who offered him work as a taxi driver. Their house was ‘falling down’ and had no heating, but she was so happy when she started at Pyrford C of E Primary.
“That school was amazing. They were so nice to me. As soon as I could speak English and articulate myself better, I started to make friends.”
She says growing up with uncertain immigration status was difficult and it was a huge relief when, four years ago, the family was granted indefinite leave to remain. Her father was able to start his own - now very successful - airport transfer business. Her mother got a job in the local council’s election team.
Shaz moved to Brighton two years ago to study Biomedical Sciences and is currently on a placement working in marketing for Roche Diagostics in Burgess Hill. She is planning to take the Life in the UK test in the next six months and hopes to be granted citizenship next year. She would like to be able to travel outside the UK and for the first time since she arrived as a child would one day like to visit Pakistan.
Shaz says growing up as an outsider gave her an inner strength that she is grateful for.
“You have to rely on yourself and you don’t need friends or good times to make you feel good.”
She also feels proud of everything her family has achieved.
“I’m not embarrassed about my past. My dad came here with £700 in his pocket and now I’m at university.”
Angela - known as Anj - Whimpenny, 52, visited Brighton from Eastbourne for the first time since lockdown to practise yoga up the i360.
Anj, who has four children - Joe, 30, Bethan, 28, Izzy, 22 and Max, 17 - with her husband Sam, started teaching a year ago.
“The kids were older and it felt like the right time,” explained Anj, who says that yoga has been part of her life for thirty years. “I think everyone should do yoga. I want to introduce it to as many people as I can - to give them that gift.”
Before March, she regularly taught in venues across Eastbourne, but since the pandemic she has moved classes online, connecting with people through her Facebook page - yogaanj - and teaching twice a week on zoom.
“For some people during lockdown I feel like it’s the only connection they have.”
Anj plans to start teaching in person again at the Yoga Life Studio in Eastbourne in September. She would also like to restart classes for the staff at the Eastbourne District General Hospital
“It gives them a break from the relentlessness of what they do day-in, day-out.”
Anj spent lockdown with Sam, whom she met working at the Dental Estimates Board in 1984. The couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in June.
“We couldn’t really do anything so we had a picnic at our allotment,” she said. Anj says the couple loved spending time together during lockdown and that they are still very much in love.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and our arguments, but there’s never been a question about whether or not we should be together,” she said.
Rob Ross, 34, used the quiet time in lockdown to change his life. He signed up to Scott Kiloby’s online Living Inquiries Training - a mindfulness approach to healing trauma and addiction.
“In its simplest form, addiction is escapism from emotional pain,” explained Rob. “People think that trauma has to be one big horrific thing, but my understanding is that it’s any experience that overwhelms us in that moment. My biggest trauma was my dad’s lack of interest in me as a child. I didn’t even realise that it was an issue until I did this course. I’ve spent time healing that.”
Rob says his family moved every two years with the army until he was 12, when his parents divorced. After that he lived with his mother, brother and sister in Warminster. At 16 Rob left school, trained as a chef and started experimenting with substances.
“I started smoking cigarettes and moved on to weed. Then I started playing with alcohol, ecstasy and cocaine.”
He moved around a lot before relocating to Brighton in 2009. He says working in the catering industry can be tough.
“I was changing jobs every six months, working 70-hour weeks. I was unhappy and I was taking a lot of drugs,” he said.
Rob says Scott Kiloby’s methods do not try to quash uncomfortable feelings. Instead, you are guided into a state of natural rest.
“When something comes up - it might be a word or an image of a memory - it’s about isolating it and looking at it, almost like it’s on a screen. Eventually, if we look at these things for long enough, they naturally dissolve. It’s not about trying to get rid of them. The more we do that, the tighter they hold on.”
Rob is now working towards becoming an accredited facilitator in the technique. He says the Redroaster coffee company has been the most supportive employer he’s ever had, but he would eventually like to work full-time helping others find peace. He has started to work on a website, ‘mindbodyawareness’, which will be ready later this year.
“It’s been a slow process in transitioning out of the need to escape myself. But it’s been the perfect time to go within and really check myself. I was definitely in denial about a lot of my own junk.”
Marc Faupel, 50, met Lisa, 48, at the gym he managed in London 14 years ago.
“One of the chaps working for me was training her and I thought, ‘you lucky bugger’.”
A year later Lisa invited Marc to her 35th birthday party. “We had a cuddle and that was it,” said Marc.
Lisa had an eight-year-old son, Jack, from a previous relationship and Marc was recently separated, so they took things slowly.
“I’d got to the point where I was happy living my life with my son,” she said. “I realised that being in a relationship wasn't the be all and end all. And then I met Marc and everything changed. But because of our age and what we’d been through, we decided there was no rush. We just loved hanging out together. The first time Marc came round, Jack said, ‘You know my mum could kick you out at any moment’. He was protective of me. We’d been on our own for five years.”
Three years later they had their daughter, Daisy, and then, on Lisa’s 40th birthday, they got married. In 2017 they decided to leave Clapham and move to Hove.
“All our friends were in London. And Jack was still there. At first I wondered what we’d done. I felt guilty. The one saving grace was that Daisy was happy immediately. She’d been shy in her school in London, but within a week she found friends and really came out of her shell.”
Lisa, who works in marketing and sales for Callaways Estate Agents on Church Road, says they now love living in the city. Marc enjoys the slower pace and the fresh air.
“Here you can have a great day doing nothing,” he said. “I never get bored of coming down to the sea. And I feel we’ve barely even scratched the surface in terms of the people and things to do. There is so much to discover.”
During lockdown family life took centre stage, with Jack returning from Reading university and Marc training clients online, rather than commuting to the capital almost every day.
“I hadn’t really seen Jack much since last September,” explained Lisa. “And Marc usually leaves the house before 6am and doesn’t get home until late. We’ve had family suppers and lovely walks along the beach. I didn’t expect to have this chance to live closely together again as a family. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Asad Farookhi, 32, went on holiday to South Africa in March and was stranded there until June.
“Before I left it was in the back of my head that I might get stuck because of coronavirus so I took my work stuff, but I never thought it would be for three months,” he explained.
“On my first day there I was assaulted. My phone was stolen and I was taken to the ground. The Cape Town police are a bit intense. And I think they saw me as a silly tourist - as a bit of a joke.”
After this inauspicious start, Asad, who works in digital marketing, spent ten days visiting sites such as Cape Point and checking out the city’s vegan restaurants. Then lockdown kicked in.
“It was super strict. They arrested people for breaking the rules. You were only allowed out to go to the supermarket.”
Holed up in the Glen Boutique Hotel & Spa in Sea Point, Asad worked from his room. In his spare time he made friends with other visitors in the same position. He also got to know the staff.
“The owner is amazing and the staff became like family,” he said. “I was upgraded for free to the penthouse and they gave us all free food too.”
In spite of the generosity of the hotel, Asad is still paying for his extended trip in instalments. And he had to fork out for an expensive repatriation flight. He was relieved to return to Stratford, where he lives, but says that he now plans to take his laptop and travel around the UK whenever he gets the chance. He had only visited Brighton once before, but it was number one on his list.
“Brighton is an amazing place. I love the atmosphere and I wanted to try out the vegan food here,” he said. “So far I’d definitely recommend The Vurger Co - the New York Melt vegan burger is so good”.
Friends Phil Mills and Roger Ferris have been playing the blues together for 26 years. Their band, Smokestack, has recorded four albums. After the release of their debut CD, El Cobra, the BBC invited them to record a session for The Blues Show with Paul Jones on BBC radio 2.
Phil, who sings and plays guitar and harmonica, says you have to be flexible if you want to make a living out of music.
“I always knew I wanted to do this full-time. There have been tough times and times when it’s been great. It’s feast or famine. The best gig we ever played was Bishopstock alongside Nina Simone and Van Morrison. It was incredible to be amongst so many musicians. Our first residency at Blind Lemon Alley in Brighton came about because of busking. We played there for fifteen years every single Sunday. I knew I’d get at least one square meal a week.”
Roger, who plays the bass, started out as a studio technician at Abbey Road when he was 18 and worked on The Beatles’ Let It Be album. He then went into record production at EMI and wrote songs for Mickie Most - who he describes as the Simon Cowell of the day - including hit singles for the Arrows and Smokie. He says playing with Phil gives him huge pleasure and he’s looking forward to starting their new residency this Sunday, August 2nd, from 1pm until 3pm at The Fountain Inn in Ashurst.
“We don’t do this for the money, we do it to spread the music,” he said.
Roger spent lockdown with his ex-wife Gloria - with whom he has co-written for decades - and his son Dominic, a classical pianist. He says Gloria is a very reliable friend.
“There are certain people you can hand your life over to. For me, it’s Phil, another friend called Ruth and Gloria.” Of Phil, he said, “I think we’re old souls - there’s definitely some past life stuff there somewhere.”
Marta Silva, 25, left Portugal five years ago with her boyfriend Nuno. “My home town is tiny and small-minded. Because of the way I look I found it hard to find work. I wanted to leave anyway. The economy was terrible,” she explained.
Knowing very little about the UK, they moved to Gravesend. But after two years and countless jobs in restaurant chains, Marta suggested the couple relocate to Brighton. She applied twice to work in Sea Gypsy on Sydney Street and was eventually offered a job.
“I love the ethos. Everything is fair trade. The owner is super lovely. He has a personal relationship with manufacturers in India and also with the people who make the jewellery, which is predominantly from Thailand.”
They plan to return to Portugal later this year as Nuno is due to start a music production course in Lisbon. She aims to set up her own clothing brand, specialising in leggings made of recycled cotton.
“I have many ideas. I want to reuse and revitalise what is already out there - to turn garbage into treasure.”
Marta says the most important thing to her is to live an authentic life. She believes we should question societal norms and find our own truths.
“In the past slavery was legal and segregation was legal, so the system isn’t always right,” she said. “And this idea of monogamy, it’s imposed on us by society. Nuno is my angel and I love him, but my sexuality is fluid. Do we really have to be exclusively with one person for the rest of our lives? If I felt a connection with another person I would talk to him - he would be the one person who had to agree. I couldn’t deny him that liberty either. The basis of any good relationship is trust, respect and communication. And not repressing who you truly are.”
Marta says she will miss Brighton because she can express herself without fear.
“The two things I hate are ego and judgement,” she explained. “Here I can be myself. It’s about living a life free of lies and toxicity. My job and how much money I have don’t define me. My face doesn’t define me - I didn’t build it. What I am is what’s inside. If I have a message it’s be kind, be genuine and be you.”
Singer, songwriter, actor and artist Sam Chara, 50, from Holland, originally trained in Jazz at the Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands. She lived in France performing alongside acts such as Bonnie Tyler before moving to Brighton more than 20 years ago. She is passionate about many types of music - classical and modern - and performs at events and festivals as artists such as Dolly Parton and Shirley Bassey. Sam, who lives with her 20-year-old son and her 17-year old daughter, has recently been singing opera on Hove seafront.
“I love opera. I love the stories and the emotion. And I love the technique. It gives me the highest level of satisfaction when it comes to singing. At home the kids go completely bonkers after half an hour, so busking is a great way to really warm up my voice and to to try out new material. If I don’t feel a song, people don’t give me anything.”
At the moment Sam, who also offers vocal training, says busking has helped mitigate the financial squeeze caused by coronavirus.
“Since COVID, everything has stopped. This is a way of paying rent and getting food on the table,” she said.
In the autumn, Sam is looking forward to starting a degree in Fine Art at the University of Brighton.
“I always said that if I went back to study, I’d study art. Im super excited - I get to play and paint. For me, making costumes for my shows, singing and art mean the same thing - they are my way of digesting life. If I don’t create, I get very unhappy. It’s important to me. It’s my way of dealing with emotion - my lonely cry,” she said.
Sam says the impact of the pandemic on many people’s mental health has been catastrophic.
“The tremendous number of people committing suicide makes me very very sad,” she said. “I pray for everybody who feels so deeply unhappy and lonely. It is so important that we connect with our neighbours. And If you see someone on the street looking sad, go to them, share with them. Don’t ignore them. We have to keep our eyes open and save people as much as we can.”
Deshè Gully, 26, moved to Hove last October from Shanghai where he spent two years teaching English as a foreign language. Originally from Los Angeles, Deshè is studying for an MA in Media Practice for Development and Social Change at the University of Sussex.
“Sussex is number one in the world for development studies,” he said. “That’s the main reason I decided to come here. And I definitely wanted to live somewhere with a clear blue sky. It was unfortunate because I got here in time for the rain and the rain stayed for a long time. And then - when the sun finally came out - the virus arrived.”
He says we don’t seem to be taking the COVID-19 as seriously here as back in California or in China where there have been fewer people out on the streets.
“I’ve had concerned calls from friends and family and they say, ‘We’ve seen pictures of where you are. Is that really happening?’ Some of them haven’t seen the sun for six months. They can’t believe how relaxed it is here.”
Deshè expressed mixed feelings about being in the UK in the period immediately after the killing of George Floyd.
“I have been to the Black Lives Matter protests - it’s important to me. But it’s been strange. I see what’s going on back at home. Part of you wants to be back there fighting alongside people you know and another part is relieved that you're away from danger. There’s a guilt there too." He added, "Some people think it’s an American problem, but that’s not the truth. It happens here as well.”
Deshè is due to leave the UK in January and is unsure what he’ll do next.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty. I’m going to see what happens and go with the flow.”
Of his time here, he says the extraordinary events of 2020 have left him with strange associations with the city.
“I love Brighton, but because of everything that’s happened since I got here, it feels a bit triggering.”
Katy Jackson is the NHS Director of System Resilience for Sussex, ensuring urgent and emergency care services are robust across the county. She says COVID-19 has presented the biggest challenge of her career.
“I’ve worked during swine flu and have written flu plans in the past, but nothing prepares you for this. It’s been a continuous learning process. In spite of everything, I believe all the NHS and key workers have done an amazing job. In the NHS we acted on guidance and worked well together in Sussex across the NHS and social care. Lots of people were redeployed to support the response. It showed that NHS and social care staff are really flexible and happy to muck in.”
Katy is leading on winter planning for NHS Sussex.
“Built into that plan is the possibility of a second peak. We’re modelling different scenarios to make sure we have enough capacity - not just for Covid, but for operations, care homes and nursing homes. The recovery programme must also address backlogs in other areas. It’s a big challenge.”
Katy has personal as well as professional experience of the pandemic as both her father and her father-in-law died in care homes during lockdown.
“My husband’s father died of Covid in Manchester on April 9th. There were no mourners allowed at his funeral. My dad died on April 21st - not of Covid, but I wasn’t able to see him for four weeks. He’d been ill with Parkinsons for a long time. He lived for his family. I got a call a week before he died to say he was very ill. I was told I could go in but that I’d have to wear full PPE and then he would need to be isolated for two weeks, which I didn’t think was fair on him. I told him I loved him on FaceTime the night before he died, but I just felt I could have done better for him. I wanted to hold his hand.”
Katy, whose parents were together for 52 years, says the whole family is devastated by his loss. But they aren’t angry because that’s not what he would have wanted.
“My dad was a true gentleman. When I told him I wouldn’t be able to see him, he said, ‘that’s an inconvenience’. That’s the way he was - very caring and gentle. I want to carry that on.”
Louis Bailey, 20, finished a foundation course in psychology in Manchester just before lockdown. He has been living back in Brighton since March with his mum, step-dad and two younger sisters Marnie and Isla.
Louis says he's enjoyed the time at home, but he misses the new life he had started to forge at university.
“I had six months of complete independence and then I was thrown straight back into family life. My exams were cancelled and I had to write two essays - one 5,000 words and the other 2,000 - all in lockdown with my two little sisters around. That was hard.”
Louis says since the pandemic hit he has taken a greater interest in politics and how government decisions affect society.
“I’ve started reading so much more and applying my own political analysis. I’m 20 now and wanted to become more informed. It’s good to be able to have a conversation with my family and have a view that’s independent.”
Louis is returning to Manchester in the autumn to study for a degree in International Relations.
“It was the only course that wasn’t whitewashed,” he explained. “It was the only course with black authors and the only course where all the lecturers and case studies weren’t white, middle class men.”
As well as starting the course, Louis can’t wait to play squash again - a passion he developed last year.
“I had never found sport before. I was always the person who was picked last for team sports at school. In freshers’ week I was drinking and eating and started putting on loads of weight. I tried going to the gym and basketball but then I found squash. I love it because it’s so fast you don’t actually think about what you’re doing. And it’s a healthy way of getting out aggression. I was playing 18 hours a week and my goal is to play for Manchester Met. Instead of going to the pub and ordering beer and wine I started drinking water.”
Louis also misses the friends he has made and the cultural diversity.
“I just want to get back to living my own life,” he said.
Grace Stewart, 26, came to Brighton from Australia six years ago. After an initial feeling of homesickness, she fell in love with the city.
“I decided to travel and Googled vegan-friendly places in the UK. I always knew I wanted to come to Brighton, but when I arrived I cried for three days. And then a woman in the hostel kept telling me how I would probably never get a job and I thought - what have I done? My mum said, ‘Give it a week and if you still feel like that I’ll fly you home.’ I went out and saw some random guys doing handstands near the Pavilion. I used to do trapeze and acrobatics, so I went and started talking to them and showed them a few things. I ended up moving into a house share with them. Sometimes there were 12 of us living there - I don’t think I’ve ever been so ecstatic.”
Grace had planned to return to Australia after six months. Instead, she met her husband Henry.
“I started babysitting his son, who was five. After a couple of months we became friends. We had a connection - I was so excited to meet someone else who was vegan. Aussies can be very meaty. At high school I was the only person who didn’t eat meat in my year.”
The friendship grew and they became a couple.
“I’m into companionship - something that’s going to stand the test of time. We have so much to talk about - we never shut up! He’s the sole reason I decided to stay.”
Two years ago they had their son, Arthur, and in February Grace - who studied Event Management at the University of Brighton - felt ready to return to work. Shop Kindly, a sustainable vegan supermarket in Seven Dials, had opened a couple of months earlier. She now manages the refill section.
“I’m really interested in our impact on the world. Pretty much everything I do is focussed on that,” she explained. “I really liked the idea of the business, so I approached the owner for a job.”
In her spare time, she enjoys being outside in nature and would one day love to have a garden to grow more vegetables. For now, she is very happy where she is.
“Before I came here I knew that Brighton ticked a lot of boxes, but I couldn’t have imagined how many others it would tick,” she said.
Hannah Fox, 22, is in the process of moving from Surrey to Brighton. Currently teaching yoga twice a week over the internet, she is also looking for face-to-face work in the city.
“I love holding space for people online, but I miss being able to see what people are doing and how they breathe. Breath is so important.”
Hannah says she doesn’t know where she would be today without yoga. As a teenager she was in a dark place. She started taking diet pills and struggled with her mental health.
“I was diagnosed with depression. I suffered from panic attacks and didn’t know how to get myself out of them. I wasn’t connected to my breath or my body. The only way to ground myself was to cut myself and then go to sleep. I would basically pass out. I had to be taken to hospital a few times.”
Hannah says hurting herself was a a release from an accumulation of pressure in her life - challenges in childhood, endless advertising campaigns promoting one body type and the expectation to conform to male ideas of beauty.
“I started shaving my legs when I was 12. I don’t do that anymore.”
Then, when she was 16, her mum took her to an Ashtanga yoga class and her life changed.
“It was the first time in my entire life that my brain stopped. I was lying there in Savasana and I was just feeling, not thinking. I could feel the air on my skin, the blood in my veins, my breath flowing and my heart pumping. All these things that ground you within, but you can only realise them if you take the time.”
Hannah started going to classes regularly and practising Yoga with Adriene online. She went to university to study drama, but after two years realised it wasn’t for her.
“Being a yogi, you’re very concerned about your energies. Going into a class and having to be a murderer really fucked with my head.”
In 2018 Hannah went to Goa to take a 300-hour yoga training course. She now teaches Slow Flow Yoga and Self-Love Yoga. She also practises mantra meditation and Yoga Nidra, also known as yogic sleep.
Hannah has taken a financial risk leaving her job in Oxted to live with her boyfriend Peter in Brighton.
“I am trusting the universe that things will work out,” she said.
Julian Caceres, 35, from Paraguay, moved to Brighton from London in May when he was told he could do his job as a data engineer from home. Anna Kujwska, 27, recently joined him and is about to start teaching English and German online to her students back home in Poland. They met 14 months ago.
“My company used to send me to Warsaw,” explained Julian. “I met Anna in an ice cream place. I asked her if she spoke English. She said yes and offered to show me around. She took me to the Old Town, to see the fountains and to the castle.”
Before lockdown they used to meet regularly. He would travel to Poland for work and she would fly to the UK on Whizz Air every time she had a holiday.
Julian, who is asthmatic, says the outdoor lifestyle was a big attraction when deciding to relocate to Brighton.
“I decided to move here because it has everything - nice parks, the sea, I can feel at peace with nature and I can go hiking and cycling. And the air is much cleaner.”
Anna is loving her experience of the city so far - especially rollerskating on the seafront.
“It’s amazing here. I feel like I’m in Spain or something. When I skate and do tricks, I disconnect. I feel like I’m flowing and don’t have to think about anything.”
The couple, who were unable to see each other for several months, used the change in rhythm to focus on their connection.
“The most important thing for me in a relationship is communication,” explained Julian. “We decided to make an agreement to develop ours. You can always get the best out of a situation if you’re positive.”
Anna says they have been talking over Skype and watching films together through Netflix Party. They’ve played board games and Scrabble. She feels lucky to have Julian in her life.
“It’s good to have each other. We have managed very well,” she said.
Julian agrees that they are closer now than before their enforced separation, but he added that being reunited in person was also wonderful.
“We cannot give too much detail, but it was amazing,” he said.
Ciara Harrison, 23, moved from Hove to London seven weeks ago to work for NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) on a trial to establish whether transfusion of convalescent plasma taken from recovered COVID-19 patients can help those suffering now. Her job is to take blood.
“They really need people,” she said. “You get all the training you need in-situ. They’re fast-tracking people in three weeks.”
This is a world away from Ciara’s post-university plan. After graduating with a first class MPhys Physics degree from the University of Manchester, she spent nine months working in Sugardough Bakery and offering tutoring in science and maths to save for a trip abroad.
With her boyfriend Stanley and three other friends, she left for India on March 5th. They were also intending to explore Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan.
“Everything seemed fine when we left, but looking back we were kidding ourselves. We even flew via Italy.”
After two weeks they had to return home. Ciara moved back in with her parents before applying for her current job. She is now living with her boyfriend and his parents near Tulse Hill. She says she thinks she would ultimately like to work in health policy or science outreach, but she is now more open to other possibilities.
“It’s made me reflect a lot. I don’t feel as much pressure or the need to get into anything in particular.”
She had just listened to the last episode in Radio 4’s More or Less series, which explains and often debunks statistics used in political debate, news and everyday life. It looked back at why the UK had such a bad coronavirus epidemic.
“I love that programme,” she said. “I would be very interested in getting a job like that.”
For now, she is feeling grateful to have work and a place to live.
“There is a lot of talk about unemployment for young people. I am lucky. I know there are external factors that would have disturbed my mental health, but I haven't really had to worry. I feel for people my age in the hospitality industry and those who don’t get on with their families. I have friends who've graduated in creative fields like fashion who are really struggling. They’re feeling the weight of the world on them.”
Eve Murdock, 19, said her first year at the University of the West of England came to an abrupt end in March.
“It was just before lockdown. I was in with my flatmate and we’d decided to have a lazy weekend, staying in and watching films. I opened the curtains and saw the people opposite moving stuff out. Everyone was in a bit of a panic. Lectures were cancelled. And then the university advised us all to leave. They needed the halls for nurses and turned the Exhibition Centre into a hospital.”
She returned to Hove to spend lockdown with her mum, Kim. Eve, who is studying Human Geography, is an avid reader and has enjoyed the quiet time at home. She says she often returns to books, finding new meaning and depth on second or third reading. Iain Banks and Stephen King are particular favourites and she is currently re-reading Wuthering Heights. Eve is soon to return to Bristol to look for work.
“I’ve always wanted to work in a bookshop, but I’ll take whatever job I can find,” she said.
Kim Murdock, 46, works in special educational needs and disabilities at West Hove Junior School.
“It’s been lovely having Eve home, but to be honest, I think it’s been tough for her because I haven’t been around a lot. I work in a school and I haven’t stopped. There is such a breadth of needs in this city. It’s a real challenge to meet them all.”
Kim is looking forward to having some time off over the summer, but she says she will not be able to switch off completely.
“The preparation for September is absolutely huge,” she said.
Kitty Mitchell Turner, 22, spent much of lockdown in Thailand. She planned to travel solo across Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Australia and intended to kick-off her trip by volunteering at a panda sanctuary in China.
“My flight to Beijing was cancelled. So I started in Bangkok and travelled north to Pai. It’s like a cross between Glastonbury and The Lanes - there’s vegan food everywhere and everyone’s zipping around on scooters. I’d been there four or five days when the Thai government said foreigners needed a permanent address. I got together with three Brits, a Canadian and a Dutch guy and we decided to go south.”
They rented a house in Krabi with three bedrooms and a private pool.
“It was incredible. The best bit was that the Dutch guy was a chef and used to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Holland. To begin with it was fun. Even though we weren’t allowed to do anything, we all got on really well.”
Kitty says two weeks turned into six.
“As time went by I started to think about all the amazing things I should be doing. I was haemorrhaging money and I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue with my travels.”
Kitty had worked four jobs to save for her adventure - serving in a food van, helping her Dad with admin for his company, working as a nail technician and nannying for three children.
“I’d had a crap 2019 with a relationship break-up and two pets dying. I thought, I’m going to make 2020 really great.”
Instead, her trip was cut short and she now faces the possibility of losing out on her MA in Observational Psychology at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust this September because she can’t find a placement in a school or nursery.
“Everyone is saying they can’t find work so we’re waiting to hear what’s going to happen. I love academia. The thought of that being taken away for circumstances beyond my control is difficult.”
Kitty, who has a 1st in philosophy, describes herself as a ‘to do list person’.
“I like to have a plan. But everything has been turned on its head,” she said. I’ve really struggled with that. But after the first few blows - with things constantly being cancelled and changed - I’m getting more and more resilient.”
Daniel Atherton, 36, saw Angelina Gack, 26, across a crowded Liverpool Street Station and acted on his instincts.
“I ran after her and asked if I could take her for a coffee. She had attitude and I liked that,” he said.
“I was in a rush but I gave him my number,” said Angelina. “He texted me and we went out. That was three years ago.”
Angelina has been working in restaurant administration since she moved to London from Poland in 2017. She was furloughed in March and signed up to a three-month course to improve her English. Outside studying, Angelina has been spending time with her flatmates in Wembley, having barbecues in the garden and relaxing in their jacuzzi.
“I’ve actually been quite happy and peaceful. I’m not sure I want to go back to my job. What I’d really like is to stay here in the UK and train to be a police officer.”
Daniel is a business consultant in construction. His office closed for several weeks at the beginning of lockdown. He worked from home, negotiating contracts over Zoom, but he says building work started again almost immediately.
“Within a week people were back wearing masks. Construction is the backbone of the UK economy, so the government couldn’t let things stop for long.”
Daniel lives in West Brompton, but visiting Brighton makes him happy.
“Everyone seems so much more stressed in London. People are pursuing money and materialism but they're not happy, they are just trapped.”
Daniel, who reads a book every week, recommends the 5 AM Club, by Robin Sharma, which changed his life. He also enjoys watching interviews on the Impact Theory website, created to help people develop the skills they need to improve themselves and the world. He believes it is important to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone.
“If you don’t up-skill, you’re going to be in trouble - if not now, then at some point in the future,” he said. “Life is about overcoming fear. The reptilian brain wants you to feel comfortable and safe, but evolution is about stepping beyond that. I realised a long time ago that everything is on a spectrum - at one end there is fear and at the other there is love. Where do you want to be?”
Alfie Parker, 26, studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone and his previous career was as an actor in musical theatre. He was part of the original West End cast of the School of Rock and has toured with Kinky Boots and Joseph. Alfie has been working at Tin Can Alley on Brighton Palace Pier for three days.
“I also used to be a Personal Care Assistant, so I applied for a lot of care jobs for people with learning disabilities. My brother is severely autistic, so I have personal experience in that area too. But this came up first and I thought, why not? The theatre industry’s pretty dead at the moment and this beats working in an office. I get to talk to people. I’m really enjoying it.”
Alfie, who lives in Brighton with his girlfriend Lizzie, was able to claim a grant under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which kept him going during lockdown. However, he says the prolonged period without work was starting to take its toll.
“I was in danger of turning into Jabba the Hutt, sitting around not really doing a lot.”
Whilst touring with Kinky Boots 18 months ago Alfie’s physical and mental health suffered a sudden blow.
“I head-butted a piece of set and suffered concussion. I had to be taken off the show and went to hospital. I had time off for therapy and CBT. I was left with generalised anxiety disorder. I’d be at work and I’d have to go home to check the front door. And I had a real fear of someone breaking into the house.”
Alfie says he suffered an exacerbation of his symptoms during lockdown.
“Upping the dosage of my medication helped. I think having a job will really help too - being at work and having that routine.”
He believes we must look beyond physical appearance when making judgements about other people.
“Covid has had a negative impact on a lot of people and it still is. I’m a big bald guy with a beard and to some people I look hard as nails, but I’m not. Like everyone else I have mental health and sometimes it suffers. For me, the top thing I’d say is that we need to talk. That’s the only way we’re going to get rid of the stigma.”
LA-based electronic music producer Charles Dickerson, 33, better known as Mono/Poly, met singer, songwriter and producer Alice Butler, 30, aka Alyss, in 2016. The couple were introduced online with a view to music collaboration, but soon realised they connected on other levels too.
“I was a fan of his music and my manager at the time had a link with Charles’s people so they hooked us up,” said Alice.
“Sometimes we’d spend ten hours on Skype talking about all sorts of weird stuff - metaphysical, esoteric, astrological,” explained Charles. “I’ve never talked to anybody that long. She was so interesting. That made me want to work with her even more.”
A year later Alice flew to LA to meet Charles in person.
“We already knew we liked each other,” she said. In 2017 they released the joint EP ‘Union’.
Charles was due to come to the UK to see Alice in March, but his flight was cancelled. He finally arrived on May 28th.
“I flew out just as the riots happened. I knew something was about to go down. There was something in the air - an intensity.”
Charles and Alice have spent their lockdown time together making music. Alice is also a visual artist and has been drawing sacred geometries in gold pen, which she describes as ‘frequency in visual form.’
Charles first came to Brighton in 2012 to play live. He felt an instant connection with the city.
“This is the first place I’d been to in the UK where it really clicked. I came on tour with Omar Rodriguez Lopez and played at Sticky Mike’s. I also reconnected with someone I hadn’t seen for years - an artist called Kutmah, who I knew in LA. He’d been deported and I never knew where he went. Then I found out he was playing a DJ set here that same day at the Fortune of War. It was really cool to see him. My first experience of Brighton left a really good imprint on me.”
Alice says their long distance relationship has its upsides as they are both independent people, but that they also miss each other when they’re apart.
“Coming together can be like heaven or hell,” she said.
Thoby Kennet ‘downsized from a previous life’ to move from London to a flat in Hove a year ago. He lived in Brighton once before in the late 1970s, studying Intellectual History at the University of Sussex.
In 1990 he founded one of Britain’s first e-commerce businesses, devising home delivery services for organic food.
“I invented the mail order potato,” he said.
He has stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate in local government elections in Hammersith and Fulham and the City of Westminster and has been a candidate in a Liberal Democrat hereditary peer by-election. Thoby has also worked as a freelance food writer and travel journalist and for some time regularly wrote obituaries for The Times, specialising in diamond merchants.
Two years ago he set up a communications business for the industrial hemp sector. Hemp can be used as a sustainable substitute for wood, paper, cotton, plastic and oil. But Thoby says trying to promote its use is fraught with difficulty.
“We used to have a thriving hemp sector. Lots of places in the UK are even named after it. But the same legislation aimed at dealing with drugs also covers hemp. There is an unfavourable legislative framework - no one government department owns it. And Brexit has made it difficult to trade. There is simply no oxygen for hemp. The only people interested are people who want to do good.”
Thoby met his partner, Laura, in a jazz club in London’s Piccadilly five years ago. He usually splits his time between England and America, where she is from.
“We were in the States when we saw it coming. We came back at the end of February and went into lockdown early. I am a contemplative individual at the best of times, so it was fine. We discovered new depths and ate a lot of good food.”
The couple were together until several weeks ago when she had to travel back to America to take care of her elderly parents.
“I can’t go there and she can’t come here, so we’re back to having a long distance relationship,” he said.
Seb Aguila, 32, from Paris, came to Brighton five years ago. Before, he spent winter seasons working in the French ski resort of Morzine and travelled to countries such as Canada, Switzerland and Spain in the summer months. Now, he feels this is his home.
“A girl brought me to Brighton, but that didn’t last. I didn’t like it here at first and wasn't planning to stay. Then I started to fall in love with the place - it’s something about how open-minded the people are and the atmosphere. Now I never want to leave. The people at the Fortune of War where I work are a big part of my story. I’ve been close friends with them ever since I started working there.”
Seb, who was furloughed in March, says he is unsure whether he will have a job from the autumn as the pub and restaurant industry is facing such uncertainly.
“COVID-19 has been making me question my future in the city. When it comes to September or October I don’t know if my employers will be able to pay me anymore. I’m putting as much money in the bank as I can and trying not to think about it.”
Seb lives with five housemates who all share his passion for longboarding. He says it has been the only thing that has helped him unwind and relax during the pandemic.
“We all go out together in the evenings when it’s quieter. I was a snowboarder for 20 years, now longboarding is the biggest thing in my life. I don’t know how I would have got through this without it.”
Seb says he might consider looking for work in Barcelona or Berlin.
“But I don’t know how long I’d be able to stay away without coming back,” he said.
Tazz Khan, 40, lives with his wife Annabelle and their children Jasmine, 8, and Rex, 6. He founded Salvage on Western Road seven years ago.
“I get stuff from all over the place. I find it by the side of the road or people bring it in to sell. The concept is that everything you see is for sale. Once I sold a table and had to ask the people sitting at it if they'd mind moving.”
Tazz shut Salvage at the beginning of lockdown. He says the closure was abrupt.
“We had a good month on Italy so we knew what was coming, but Boris didn’t give us time to close in a way that was best for us and best for our customers. We didn’t have the chance to run down our supplies. So I set up a market stand on the street and sold eggs, bread, cheese and anything else I could. It was ridiculous. Pubs would have had pints in their barrels which would have gone to waste. There was so much waste.”
He says his regular customers, some of whom have been working from home rather than commuting to London, have kept him going since he reopened for takeaway sandwiches, cakes and coffee in May. He has also managed to minimise bills and his landlady gave him a month's free rent.
“I’ve been lucky. There are good days and bad days but we’ve just about managed to get through.”
Tazz has been working out what he needs to do to reorganise the cafe - which usually seats 30 inside and 12 outside - when he fully reopens in July.
“This has been the easy bit when everyone thinks they're getting free money. But when we come over the hill and places are open but with half the staff and half the customers, how do you survive?” he said.
Misha Brigemohane, 37, is the owner of Rose Hill Boutique, a gift and home accessories shop in Kensington Gardens. She was excited to open on 15th June for the first time since March.
“Right up until the day before the streets around here were really quiet. When I came on the Monday it was so emotional to see people in town, to see life gradually returning. It was like the first day of opening a brand new shop. At the end of the day I felt really uplifted.”
During lockdown Misha continued to sell online through Trouva, but she says her business could not survive through internet sales alone.
“I have taken about 10% of what I would normally take in a month,” said Misha. “The government grant and not having to pay business rates for a while does help a bit, but I still don’t know how I’m gong to pay the rent. I haven’t paid the last quarter and the next is due at the end of June. I’m in discussion with the landlord.”
Misha says financial worries and isolation hit her hard at the beginning of lockdown.
“Like a lot of people I think I had a bit of light depression. I was very anxious. I had recently started living on my own again, which made things even more difficult. I had made plans to get more of a social life again, but that went out the window. I was crying every day. The one person who helped me through it was my friend Lisa. We went for walks along the seafront. It completely saved my life.”
Misha says she is now cautiously hopeful that things will continue to get better.
“It is great to be back, but there is a long way to go,” she says.
Matthew Campbell, 23, says moving to Hove in January has been ‘world changing’.
“I have a cleft palate, so I've always made myself look different. I know people are going to look at me whatever I do. Back in Devon where I’m from I’ve had stuff thrown at me down the street. Here, people are so positive. It’s incredible to live in a place where people can be free. And yet it’s hard to believe that it’s so radical - in 2020 - to be yourself. But that’s what it is and that’s why I moved here,” he said.
Matthew works on new product launches in branding and social media for Irregular Choice, the iconic shoe and fashion brand founded in Brighton. “It has that unique quality that everyone loves.”
He says he has loved fashion since he was a child and was the costume designer for all his school plays. “I used to play with dolls to escape and then I fell in love with clothes.”
Growing up, Matthew needed 12 surgeries - the first when he was a baby and the last just two years ago. He says the most difficult was having his jaw broken and realigned which meant he couldn’t eat solid food for three months. He has also had to cope with the psychological impact of the operations.
“It’s been crazy, my face keeps changing.”
Matthew says he has always worn both men’s and women’s clothes. Several years ago, one Halloween whilst studying footwear design at Leicester University, he decided to go out in drag. He then started performing under the pseudonym Dame Deadly, dressing up as Cruella de Vil and other characters.
Matthew - who describes himself as the sparkly sheep of the family - says his brother, mother and step-dad all work for the NHS. He has been worried about them during the pandemic and has missed them. His flatmate moved home during lockdown, so he spent a lot of time alone at home, working and sewing and experimenting with clothes. Recently, when his mum was finally allowed to visit, she was so pleased to see him looking happy.
“She said I looked awake again.”
Matthew can’t imagine moving back to Devon where he says he was bullied relentlessly as a child.
“But they’re all working in Tesco now and I’m branding beautiful shoes in Brighton,” he said.
Sisters Linda Malcolm and Barbara Eagles live in Hove. They moved in together 20 years ago to care for their mother, who died of Alzheimers in February last year. They feel deeply for anyone who hasn’t been able to spend those last precious moments with their dying loved one.
They do not believe in telling the over 70s to stay at home.
“I’ve never been so offended in my entire life,” said Linda, a former teacher, who has been going to the supermarket for her 94-year-old friend Bernard since lockdown began. “As if we haven’t enough common sense to go out and do a bit of shopping. I consider myself to be fitter than a lot of 30-year-olds. And yet I am told, just because of an arbitrary number, to lock myself away.”
Barbara is a member of Sussex Cricket Club. She is also in a Greyhound syndicate, regularly goes to the races and is a member of the gym at the stadium. “The worst thing about this is boredom,” she said.
In the past couple of weeks they have enjoyed being able to visit their beach hut. They lament the lack of public toilets and the full-time attendants who used to look after the loos when they first bought their hut 15 years ago.
“First there was Pearl and then Martin and they kept everything absolutely spotless,” explained Linda.
She said she cannot understand why anyone would not recognise the importance of cleaners, shop assistants and other key workers. “I have always thought that the base of the pyramid is the most important.”
Italian Matteo Di Giammarco, 27, is a headhunter for Clearstream Global, based in Hove. He says he would usually travel widely for work, but the company has adapted to communicate with clients online.
“We’ve been working from home or going into the office two at a time to keep social distancing.”
He has recently been reunited with his girlfriend Olga Skoromnaia, 32, after she returned from Moscow, where she has spent most of lockdown. Olga, a model, says she isn’t working at the moment and is looking forward to spending the rest of the summer in England with Matteo.
In spite of time apart, they have remained extremely close. “She has done an amazing job at keeping me sane,” he said. “Sharing your life with someone else makes it a little bit lighter.”
Matteo and Olga hope to go camping in Snowdonia if lockdown rules continue to be relaxed. For now, they are enjoying relaxing together - whether it’s by the beach or at home listening to music and online meditations.
They have just discovered composer Silvio Piesco @silvio_piesco and the soundtrack On Yoga: Arquitetura da Paz. “We lie on the floor and listen to it together. It’s beautiful,” he said.
Ricky Fernando, 52, owns Namul on Gardner Street, specialising in the healthy Korean street food Bibimbap - a bowl of warm rice topped with a choice of sautéed and seasoned vegetables and sometimes fish or meat. He says his life has completely changed since March. “Before, I was working full-time as an accountant. I’d just do the odd day at Namul, helping the staff. Under normal circumstances we have tables out front and in the garden, but now it’s takeaway and delivery only. A lot of the students who worked for us have gone home and I’ve had to furlough the manager, so at the moment it’s just me and Marco, the cook. I’m here every day.”
Ricky says Namul was one of the only places to stay open throughout lockdown. At the beginning he says the streets around him were eerily quiet. Working every day at the cafe has been tiring, but there have also been advantages.
“I have a much better understanding of the business. You have to take it back to basics and say, this is what it’s all about. In this market, if you don’t listen to the customer, you’re not going to survive. Through lockdown I think we have actually improved our offer.”
Ricky usually lives alone but has a friend, Diego, staying with him until he is allowed to fly home to Guatamala.
“He was supposed to go back but then - with hardly any notice - they locked their borders,” he said.
Adam Buckingham, 35, launched The Real Junk Food Project in Brighton six years ago, just a year after its founder started the first cafe in Leeds. He says the concept - intercepting food waste destined for land fill and using it to feed people on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis - grabbed him as soon as he heard about it. “I found out about it and thought it was a brilliant idea. There’s absolutely nothing bad about it. It’s for everyone and everyone can get involved. I wrote to the guy who started it to ask if I could do anything to help and he said he could support me to get it up and running down here. I’m so glad I sent that email.”
Since the start of lockdown the organisation has fed thousands of people through take-outs at their regular locations, such as St Luke’s Church on the Old Shoreham Road and Hollingdean Community Centre.
Infinity Foods recently gifted the project a building on Gardner Street for at least two years. This will be their first permanent cafe in the city. Volunteer Zubair Anjum, 40, a project manager by trade, has worked every day with Adam during lockdown to get the building ready to open. Adam and Zubair have become firm friends. Zubair, who was furloughed from his day job, says he feel blessed to be involved. “The project helps so many people on so many different levels,” he said.
Adam says he hopes there will be a shift in people’s mindsets as the world slowly comes back to life. “If we have care and love as the focus rather than money, there is nothing we can’t achieve,” he said.
Annie Gelpey, 48, co-owner of La Choza restaurants, lives with her daughter Emily, 19. Twenty years ago she was travelling around the world working on yachts as a chef when she found out she was pregnant and decided to move to Brighton. Annie, who has a captain’s licence, took her daughter out of school when she was six. They lived on boats in the Caribbean and then in America. Annie says the time away - often experiencing little contact with the outside world - has meant both of them have been better equipped to deal with lockdown.
“At one point Emily had her own time out island off the coast of Panama,” said Annie.
They returned to the UK in 2011 in time for Emily to start secondary school. La Choza, which opened in 2012, has stayed open for delivery and takeaway food, now operating out of the Gloucester Road branch. Lockdown has hit the business hard. They are not staying open for the money, says Annie, but to make a contribution and keep their name out there. La Choza has has been cooking every Thursday for NHS staff in the High Dependency Unit.
She says she consulted with staff before deciding who to furlough. “I kept on the people who wanted to be here for their mental health,” she said.
Chefs Sally Holme, 55, and Josie Hawkins, 22, run Neighbourhood, a plant-based cafe and coffee shop on Gloucester Place. They have recently reopened serving signature vegan doughnuts, loaded focaccia and artisan coffee. On the weekends they offer a two-course meal for two, delivered in the Brighton and Hove area. They have isolated together since lockdown began.
“We have become so much closer and have loved spending more time together, talking about anything and everything and developing new recipes,” said Sally.
Josie says changes to the business have given them the opportunity to be more creative.
“Normally we have a set menu and what we do is dictated by service, but now we have much more time to indulge in preparation and experimentation. For example, we’ve been up to Devil’s Dyke foraging for wild garlic and have found so many different ways to cook with it.”
Josie has enjoyed exploring the countryside and coastline on her bike while Sally says she’s taken up hula hooping and has loved going for long walks with her Labradoodle Chica. “I feel so lucky to be able to get outside for a long stomp.”
Erin James, 22, a photographer and radio DJ, has lived in Brighton since her family moved here from London when she was 4. Before lockdown she was providing photography and videography for local businesses, but had also started working on an idea for a publication focussing on mental health. She says the concept for Tough Cookie Magazine, which launches this week online, on Instagram and in print, has developed in response to the pandemic.
“The idea has always been to support people’s mental health, but now that’s more important than ever. A lot of the content has been produced in direct response to lockdown. Working on it has really kept me going and I hope it will help other people too.”
Erin says she has commissioned contributions from 11 other people, including photographers, illustrators, writers and a talented poet.
“This magazine is for everyone. I want it to be a beacon of light in these difficult times,” she said.
Cireena Simcox, a writer, playwright and teacher, describes herself as ‘one of the last of a dying breed’, born to an English RAF family 68 years ago. Her formative years were spent travelling all over the world. She lived in Sri Lanka, Australia and Papua New Guinea. She moved to Brighton six years ago from China where she taught drama. Cireena says one of the main reasons to return to the UK was to reconnect with nature.
“It sounds cutesy pie,” she said, “but I missed wildlife. In China it was all concrete. Even when there were flowers, they were all in neat flowerbeds with perfectly manicured boarders.
“When I decided to come back all my friends and colleagues said there’s only one place in England you’ll ever feel alright Cireena and that’s Brighton. They were right.”
Ashur, Cirena’s eldest son, was also living in China teaching English but has since moved to Hove. Her younger son, Jodey, travelled back from Spain just before lockdown to isolate with her.
“Both of my sons can pick me up in mid conversation,” she said. “But if I had to choose anyone in the world to go into lockdown with, it would be Jodey. We share the same taste in music and he’s the most like me.”
Cireena says she is unfazed by the prospect of catching the virus having brought up her sons in South Africa where she also suffered domestic violence.
“My husband was a psychopath. And we were living in the middle of a war zone. I’ve been through quite a bit of shit and, once you have, it’s a bit like catching the virus - you’re insulated.”
Gemma and Peter Ogston run Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen from their home in Brighton where they live with their children Carmen, 9, Hendrix, 7, and the family dog Flash.
Gemma, well-known for delicious plant-based catering delivered to your door, says the business has adapted and diversified since lockdown began. Instead of monthly week-long nourish packages, she is now offering Meat Free Mondays. She is also cooking online, hosting free workshops for kids and filming the preparation of mood-boosting recipes on Instagram, working with brands such as Holland and Barrett, Lucy & Yak and Sweaty Betty. Gem has been making meals for NHS staff and has loved cooking with her daughter Carmen.
“We’ve had the time to regroup and think about what we want to do and where we want to go. I can’t see my business going back to what it was before.”
Peter, a music producer, DJ and former teacher, gave up his job several months ago to work full-time with Gemma. He says the recent change in pace has given him time to work on a music collaboration with friends in Ibiza over Zoom.
“I’ve had the space to rekindle that passion and also to teach Hendrix how to produce music. He’s even put out a little album on Bandcamp.”
Hendrix says the best things about lockdown have been making music and being at home because he can lie down whenever he likes!
Carmen has enjoyed online art tutorials with Emma Scott Child, learning about artists such as Frida Khalo and Matisse. Carmen recently won a writing competition for her story ‘Lockdown Through My Dog’s Eyes’.
Drew Curran, 33, a tree surgeon from Storrington, spends much of his spare time reading about the impact of coronavirus. Whilst he follows the rules, he does not agree with the course we’ve taken. “I am concerned about the government overreach on freedom and liberty and how easily it has been given up by the public. I think the onus is on the proponents of lockdown to prove that crashing the economy to a level not seen since the 1700s, locking people away from interacting with family and friends, shutting schools and destroying businesses etc is justifiable, especially when the evidence suggests that lockdown has done nothing to stop the spread of the virus.
"Peak infections were before lockdown was put in place. And the current strategy is causing excess deaths unrelated to Covid - 13,600 in the past 6 weeks - in the form of increased suicides, untreated heart attacks, missed diagnosis and cancelled treatment for cancer patients to name a few.” Drew says restrictions it should now be lifted.
“The last time I checked, there had been around 253 deaths in hospitals among the under 65s with no pre-existing health conditions. To put this into perspective, 400 people a year die from drowning, excluding suicides. For the under 40s it was around 33 deaths. On average, 49 people a year get struck by lightning.
“The statistics show that 94.8% of Covid deaths have one or more pre existing condition. I am not saying it’s ok to just let people die - death of a loved one is devastating for families and communities - but death is inevitable for all of us and this virus targets old and sick people. Even then, it kills a minority of these people.”
Drew has been reluctant to express this view through fear that he will be misunderstood or misrepresented.
“If you have a different opinion from the popular rhetoric you’re called a conspiracy theorist or told you don’t care about people’s lives. It’s a way of shutting you down.”
Drew recommends @Alistair Haimes and @MarkChangizi on Twitter and www.lockdownsceptics.org.
Lucy Darling, 39, met Diogo Marquez, 35, from Rio, in the north of Brazil 5 years ago. They fell in love, in spite of having no common language. At first they communicated solely through Google Translate. They married three years ago. He now speaks fluent English and wants to help other people improve their language skills. Diogo hasn’t been able to work as a plasterer since the beginning of lockdown, but he has had more time to spend on his Instagram feed. ‘It’s about my life in the UK. I encourage Brazilian people improve their lives and give them advice on how to learn English.”
Lucy is an English teacher at a secondary school. She continues to work, with learning now taking place online. She says the younger students are more engaged, with around 50% logging on for lessons. The numbers are far lower in the older age groups - and particularly amongst those in year 11 - who are struggling to feel motivated.
“They don’t have exams and they don’t need to study. They’re in limbo. It’s tough for them.”
Lucy says she’s enjoyed working during lockdown and is full of gratitude for the life she has. “For me, there are lots of things to miss, but too many things to feel fortunate about. I’m very lucky. I’ve got a job that I love, I don’t know anyone who’s ill and I’m in a good relationship.”