Early days of the NLCA

Photo:Kelvin MacDonald photographed in 1986 with the Brighton Borough Plan

Kelvin MacDonald photographed in 1986 with the Brighton Borough Plan

Photo:NLCA's first street party in Upper Gardner Street, 1976

NLCA's first street party in Upper Gardner Street, 1976

Photo:Antique dealer Mickey Dawes gave the children a ride around the block in his Rolls Royce

Antique dealer Mickey Dawes gave the children a ride around the block in his Rolls Royce

Photo:The NLCA logo, still used today, was designed by Ian Sherman in 1977

The NLCA logo, still used today, was designed by Ian Sherman in 1977

Reminiscing about the first few years

By Kelvin MacDonald, former North Laine resident

Ken Fines, former Brighton Borough Planning Officer, wrote in the North Laine Runner, No 180, May/June 2006 [now a separate page on this website], about the early days of the North Laine Community Association and the vital part played by the Planning Department in the rescue of North Laine and the birth of what was to become the NLCA.  This is a parallel story - the birth of NLCA as seen by one of its early members.

A small group of people

My first thought is that it's astounding that a body that started from such a tentative beginning should not only have survived this long (30 years at the time of writing) but, more importantly, should have grown and developed without losing the sense of purpose with which it started.  So how did it all start?  It started with a threat and it started, like all the best things, with a small group of people.

Proposal for an elevated road

As Ken Fines said, the threat was almost literally hanging over our area.  The planners (of which I am one incidentally!) had proposed not only that there should be an elevated road running above the area and ending in a car park in North Road but that much of the rest of the area was suitable for industrial use rather than housing and shops.

The area was much too lively to deserve that fate and so some residents and businesses decided to fight the proposals with a survey of local people and a public meeting.

A meeting in the old Boys' Club

I was intrigued by the survey dropping through my letterbox and offered to analyse the results in time for the meeting.  We waited nervously upstairs in the old Boys' Club in Upper Gardner Street before the meeting to see if anyone would turn up - especially as we had invited Ken Fines to attend.  We need not have worried.  People flooded in.  That meeting showed not only that local people loved the area and wanted it saved but that there was a tremendous sense of community in an area that others had written off.

It was this feeling that made us decide that we should start a community association rather then just have a short-lived protest group.

Ken Fines listened gravely to our protests but, it emerged later, he was on our side.  It was Ken who came up with the innovative idea that we should be a Conservation Area.  This gave a tremendous message that not only was the threat to the area lifted but that the jumble of streets and the small houses were valued.  It was also the Planning Department that suggested the name of 'North Laine'.  Giving the area a new and distinctive name really put us on the map.  Not everyone was convinced and Adam Trimingham - to his later regret - wrote an illustrated two-page spread in the then Evening Argus making fun of the Council's decision to conserve this 'tatty' area.

Some of the early activists

If I mention some of the names of people who should be really praised for starting NLCA, I am sure to offend someone by missing them out.  But here we go:  Alan Warr of Upper Gardner Street started that petition; Janice Battrick from Kemp Street was an early Secretary of NLCA;  Ian and Toni Sherman of Tidy Street brought their design skills to everything we produced and insisted that we set high standards for the Runner from the start.  Ian's drawing of houses in Tidy Street is still the NLCA logo.  Dick and Esme Draper of Queen's Garden, with Dick as the Chair, formed a doughty couple to keep the new NLCA on its toes.  There were the new Street Reps (another innovative idea for the NLCA), such as Rosemary Tate in Frederick Street, Arnold Whitehouse and Lottie Kaniuk in Robert Street, and Ivy Wilkinson and Glynis Simpson in Kensington Place.  Not least, we were soon joined by Jackie Fuller in Pelham Square, who started working on the North Laine Runner thirty years ago and has continued inspirationally and apparently tirelessly ever since!

My favourite memories

What are my favourite memories of those days?  Naturally the agreement by the Government that North Laine should become a Conservation Area (and an 'outstanding' one at that) and the agreement by the Charity Commissioners that the NLCA was a charity.  But two things told me that North Laine and its community association were destined for a bright future.

The first was a decision by the Council to build houses on the derelict site in Frederick Street.  This showed, at last, that not only were the threats removed from the area but that people were willing to invest in it.

The second high point for me was the first Street Party in 1976.  Sgt. Stone had brought his Punch & Judy Stall up from the beach, we had a band playing on the back of a lorry, food was served at long tables laid out down the street and there were children's races and competitions.  Amongst all this activity two things summed up what NLCA had achieved in a short period.  One was local antique trader Mickey Dawes, whose contribution to the event was to give kids a ride around the block in his Rolls Royce, and the other was the sight of a Brighton Councillor arriving carrying a huge tray of sausage rolls that he had made for us.  This combination of fun, involvement of all, and of making our presence felt in no uncertain terms lives on.

Enjoying North Laine

I am writing this after spending a joyous morning wandering around North Laine and having lunch outside in Gardner Street.  If it were not for those committed people 30 years ago [1976], this perfect area for living, trading, meeting and enjoying oneself would, literally, not be there.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kelvin and Elaine MacDonald lived in Queen's Gardens and still live in Brighton.  Kelvin still works in planning and, amongst other things, runs a government funded community planning project (2006) - some things never change!

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 181, July/August 2006]

This page was added on 17/06/2008.

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