Native Brightonians, it seems, are a rare breed. I, like most people I meet, am not Brightonian. I moved here in search of sun, sea and student debauchery, and never left. And so, seven years on from Freshers Week, with my Uni ‘family’ still in tow, the sunset over West Pier seems as idyllic as ever. Why would I want to live anywhere else?
Brighton's emerging role as the UK's Silicon Valley or 'Silicon Beach' should serve as an attractive reason to stay. In recent years Brighton has spawned numerous tech startups and digital enterprises which along with its bohemian coastal chic have made it an increasingly popular alternative to London. Success stories like Brandwatch, which has grown from a small Brighton startup to a company with offices in Berlin, New York and Chicago are shining examples of Brighton's potential as a tech hub. As its residents will proudly tell you, it's like London but with a beach, you don't have to get the tube, and people are friendlier. Given this charm, a growing digital sector, a digital festival and two universities brimming with young talent, a Silicon Beach must be a better place to work than a Silicon Roundabout? (London's tech cluster is often referred to as Silicon Roundabout.)
However, it would appear that for many of us graduates-turned-adopted-locals, there is a breaking point, and ultimately the Brighton bubble bursts. The iconic images of Brighton life are dragged out with the litter-filled tide and are too often replaced with a much bleaker reality. Swap cider on the beach for rainy days at the Job Centre. With every grey winter we spend in the post-university bubble, Brighton’s meretricious facade is peeled away, gradually revealing its seedy underbelly, its paltry job market, its homelessness epidemic.
Perhaps I’m just displaying the kind of bitterness symptomatic of the mid-twenties crisis. Perhaps I’m just jealous of the fresh-faced students enjoying the naive hedonism that I can never relive. Perhaps, sitting in my flat on Hove seafront I have no right to whinge. The reality is however evident. Graduates and other supposedly skilled individuals are leaving Brighton in their droves. The pattern is simple: Study in Brighton. Love it and make it home. Work in Brighton for a few years. Reach a financial and intellectual ceiling in your career. Move to London. Many break into Brighton’s growing digital sector and bathe blissfully on Silicon Beach for several years. Yet, they too soon flock to the shores of the Thames.
So why the exodus? Although the digital sector is growing rapidly in Brighton, the reality is that talented developers and designers can earn substantially more in London. It is also a rather insular world. Many begin their careers with internships in one of the digital companies before using their newfound contacts to progress to others. The Brighton Digital Festival seems to confirm this. To an outsider it could be perceived as a festival made by and attended by people who already work in the industry and who already know each other, thus doing very little to quell the exodus to London.
What is the solution? A world-renowned festival that combines music, technology and much more, like Texas' South By South West would be a good model to emulate. It is also surely about time that major companies other than AMEX capitalised on the overflowing talent pool and saw Brighton as more than a seaside playground for hippies, students and tourists. Or like most issues in Brighton we could just blame the Green Party. Either way, I’ll pretty soon be one of those London types invading the beach on sunny bank holidays, musing wistfully about how nice it would be to live in Brighton. I’ll take my f****** rubbish with me though.