London Road Businesses



London Road has become Brighton’s neglected high street but Joe Nichols has the job of turning its fortunes around. Words by Daniel White

I met Joe Nichols on a dreary Monday afternoon at the Brighton Emporium, a charming shabby chic café, with one topic on the cards – London Road.

The gateway to our city has often been seen as a run-down area, lacking the spark and excitement that is so prevalent in the heart of Brighton. Cheap booze, boarded up shops and anti-social behaviour are just some of the thoughts that spring to mind when discussing one of the city’s most important high streets.

As an introduction and farewell to the centre of Brighton, it is invaluable to the growth and popularity of the city and currently holds a reputation of a high street in crisis.

However, things are beginning to change.

In 2011 retail expert Mary Portas was asked by the Coalition Government to lead a review into the state of the country’s high streets and, following a bidding process, London Road was one of 27 successful applications across the country to receive over £83,000 each in funding.

Last July Joe Nichols was appointed as the Town Team Coordinator for the London Road Portas Pilot project and he has been charged with the job of regenerating the city’s flailing high street.

After exchanging pleasantries and a brief discussion with Joe on that dreary Monday afternoon about the cooky and varied seating that Brighton’s Emporium has to offer we delve straight into the project’s mission.

“London Road has got a reputation in Brighton, one that a lot of people would probably consider a negative one,” he explained. “The reputation is something that was probably true 10-15 years ago but isn’t quite a true representation of it now. It still has its issues, it still has its problems but it’s nowhere near as bad as people think it is. So for us it’s about changing perceptions, it’s about changing people’s attitudes towards the place.”

Joe, who lives just off London Road, has been working hard to make some noticeable changes since being hired last July and has already seen an adjustment in the atmosphere around the area.

“We’ve worked with trading standards, the police and the local action team to remove all high-strength alcohol from the streets,” he enthused with a motivated passion. “We can’t force them, but we’ve just asked them ‘can you stop selling lager or cider over this percentage?’ and they’ve all done it and that has a massive effect on the area and it is another way to engage the businesses; they probably didn’t really realise the effects it was having on the area but those little things make such a difference.”

If the project is to be a success then it requires everyone in the area and beyond to get involved and help out. The Town Team is currently in the process of being formed and has been set up by the Portas Pilot project to allow anyone to get involved in voting on and discussing the solution to existing problems. Despite being a native, Joe has been surprised by the community spirit and the willingness of shop owners to get involved in the project.

“Feedback has been good, obviously we’ve still got challenges, there are 235 businesses here, it’s hard to build a relationship instantly with all of those businesses so you have to go step-by-step-by-step but so far it has been a really positive thing and I think the sense of community down here is something I probably wasn’t expecting as much as it is, businesses helping each other out, it’s nice.”

One of the pivotal cogs in the wheel of the Portas Pilot project is to heavily crack down on the anti-social behaviour that has been seen on London Road in the past and a new system has been put in place to ensure not only that violence is cut out but that there is an approachable face at all times on the street.

“We decided to pilot having town centre security guards we called our Town Centre Liaison Officers and their job was to try and reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, that is their first role but secondly, it is as an ambassador of London Road,” Joe happily explained.

“We did a four-week trial and everyone seemed to like it so we did another four week trial, then we put a survey out there and 90 per-cent of the businesses were in favour of it. So we extended the shifts to more hours of the week and it seems to have been a really positive thing for the traders to have someone to rely on and someone to call on because it’s just a friendly face. They work incredibly hard to support businesses and to try and make it as nice and friendly a place as possible to live, work and shop, which is what all high streets should be.”

However, high streets all over the country are still suffering from the competition out-of-town retail parks, large shopping malls and internet shopping offers, while the global recession and subsequent austerity measures are also placing pressure on consumer spending. So how do we go about resuscitating London Road’s pulse?

He said: “There is no one fix for every town because every town has it’s own personality, every town has its own strengths and weaknesses, you just can’t compare, you’ve got to look at it on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s about businesses and stake-holder coming together and saying ‘we want a long-term strategy, this is where we want to be in five years time,’ at the moment we’re just in the process of constituting the town team, so it’s very early, but when I leave, if that is a fully functioning system, then that will be job done.”

And with that we were done. I was off to another meeting while he had plans to visit a printing shops. I shook hands with Joe and set off, back down a high street that didn’t seem so dreary any more.

To get involved with the Portas Pilot project or to read more on the developments of London Road, please visit the London Road Portas Pilot website at: