wWw – To access the Brighton & Hove Speakers’ Corner website, please click here.
Though Bristelmestune was mentioned in the Domesday Book, it was not until the mid eighteenth century that Brighton gained recognition when a local doctor began prescribing seawater as a restorative. When the Prince Regent visited in 1783 and subsequently made Brighton his favoured leisure destination, commissioning the construction of the famously exotic Royal Pavilion four years later to serve as a palace by the sea, the former fishing village became a fashionable resort for the wealthy.
The coming of the railway in the mid nineteenth century made it accessible to ordinary Londoners. The arrival of the London and Brighton Railway in 1841 brought Brighton within the reach of day-trippers from London and in the course of the century its population increased from around 7,000 to over 120,000.
Brighton’s West Pier was opened in 1866 and closed in 1975 since when many restoration plans have been proposed but never implemented. The Palace Pier was built in 1899 and remains a tourist attraction.
Today Brighton lives up to its reputation as a centre for artists, intellectuals, bohemians. Its white stuccoed terraces are highly fashionable and in demand but the city has a very mixed population with major housing estates in Moulsecoomb, Bevendean, Coldean and Whitehawk and elsewhere.
SCT conducted a wide-ranging consultation among potential stakeholders over the summer of 2012 and, in December, a Speakers’ Corner Committee was establishedto take the project forward. Two initiatives are already in hand. The first will see links developed with the Brighton Festival in May and the second provides an opportunity for SCT to develop a model for consultation which will add an important new dimension to the Speakers’ Corner initiative.
Developing A Vehicle for Consultation
SCT is collaborating with the Workers’ Educational Association, the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. The WEA has developed a free five-week course designed to help adults (particularly from ‘hard-to-reach’ groups) understand better how their local democratic system works, how they can participate or intervene in it and how to acquire the basic skills they need to become confident and effective advocates for themselves and their communities.
Running alongside the WEA course, the initiative will be designed to help the community come together to identify and prioritise issues, select and coach their own advocates and at the end of the exercise create a ‘Speakers’ Corner’ at which, on their own ground and according to their own agenda, they can set out their ideas, concerns and aspirations and seek engagement with key local decision-makers.
It is hoped that, if the trial is successful, it will lead to the development of a new vehicle for consultation which can be used elsewhere, either as a feature of Speakers’ Corner projects or independent of them.
Speakers’ Corner’s New Website
With thanks to Democratic Society’s Susie Latta, the project has its very own and very stylish website which is generously hosted by DemSoc and will provide news, updates and a bulletin board as well as a first point of contact for Brighton & Hove Speakers’ Corner and its initiatives and events.
Speakers’ Corner made its first appearance at CityCamp 3, a free event spread over three venues and three days from 22 to 24 March “for people who are passionate about our city and want to find new ways of doing things”.
The third annual CityCamp provided people from every area of life including community groups, digital professionals, council employees and education professionals with an opportunity to share issues, problems, solutions, skills and ideas about how to make the city a better place.
On the first day, a special Speakers’ Corner was set up in the Sallis Benney Theatre to give everyone a chance to express a view on the future of the city – or anything else they wanted to their fellow citizens to hear.
Speakers’ Corner at the Brighton Festival
In a series of eight 25 minute sessions, speakers invited the audience to discuss a range of topics from the merits of co-operation, equity and sharing as the bases for both economic success and personal fulfilment and the business case for a living wage to the needs of older people in the city – by way of the provocative question, what’s the festival for?
The local groups and organisations introduced the topics include the Co-operative, The People Who Share, Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce, Democratic Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the Older People’s Council and Pensioners’ Association and Brighton University.
A People’s Platform for People’s Day
Speakers’ Corner came to People’s Day, the annual celebration of the city and its communities which took place in the centre of Brighton on 15 June 2013. The City Council provided space on Pavilion Gardens for the portable Speakers’ Corner and local people did the rest.
Three speakers sparked debate on a wide diversity of topics: Maggie Hall of Brighton and Hove Humanist Society spoke about what it means to be a humanist, Peter Hughes of Activ8 presented his ideas for a better transport policy for the city and Benita Matofska, Chief Sharer at People Who Share, argued for a sharing economy. Each of them attracted comment, counter argument and support from those who had gathered to hear them or were enjoying a coffee in the nearby open air cafe.
Speakers’ Corner Committee chair Philippa Thompson who organised and spoke at the event said: “It was a great success and a lot of fun! There was so much engagement, so much good nature and good humour and so many great ideas. What’s more, there was a tremendous encouragement for what we’re trying to achieve. All in all, it was a really exciting and enjoyable day”.
Local Democracy Week
In a joint initiative with the City Council, Speakers’ Corners were set up outside Hove and Brighton Town Halls on separate days during Local Democracy Week in October to give members of the public the opportunity to express their views about local services as well as their vision for their city. Students of Brighton & Hove Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) took full advantage of the opportunity to talk about their priorities outside Brighton Town Hall.
Speakers’ Corner Helps Hollingdean Residents Get Off the Ground
On 13 November Speakers’ Corner came to Hollingdean Community Centre to help celebrate the achievements of the Hollingdean & Stanmer Ward Neighbourhood Governance Pilot. Throughout the Get Off The Ground initiative, local residents had been working with Council officers and the Brighton-based Trust for Developing Communities to ensure that the community could have a greater say in the running of local services and in making their neighbourhood a better place in which to live.
As a key feature of the Speakers’ Corner project, the WEA ran a programme designed to help the residents develop the skills they needed to become effective speakers and advocates for their community and the event, attended by local people, service providers, Councillors and Council officers, provided a platform for them to talk about their priorities and the progress made in achieving them.
The lively and very positive discussion ranged from housing to recycling and from the importance of collaboration to the problem of debt culture, particularly for young people.
Speakers’ Corner and Philosophy in Pubs
Against the sunny backdrop of the promenade, a total of 17 speakers, including some first-time public speakers, gave fascinating speeches about an enormous variety of subjects ranging from nuclear disarmament, the end of the world and moon landings to the NHS.
Iris, a first-time speaker who was visiting Brighton for the Philosophy in Pubs conference, was inspired to give a well-received talk on Beauty and Mars and loved the experience so much that she got up again later and recited a poem.
Thought-provoking, funny speeches were punctuated by several poetry readings, including one by A.P. Whittick written while he listened to the other speakers.
The event was enjoyed by local people who had come along to see what was happening; many wondered why Brighton doesn’t already have its own permanent Speakers’ Corner and were enthusiastic about speaking at future events.