My Brighton: John Varah, Same Sky

August 29, 2018



Are you local?


I’m originally from London. I lived in Devon for about four years, which was lovely but a bit remote, and then I ended up living in Spain for seven months. When I was thinking about where to come back to in England, I thought, well, I’ll go to Brighton.

What do you do?


I’m the Artistic Director of the community arts charity Same Sky. It was started in ’87 after the murder of the two girls in Wild Park. The council went up to Moulsecoomb and realised it was more run down than they thought. They realised there were problems on the estate and they put some resources towards an intervention or a community engagement project. Obviously, the murderers have never been found, and after a while the remit became more Brighton-wide, particularly on the estates. I got involved in ’92 as a freelancer and then in 2001 I went for the interview as Artistic Director. I was part of the team who started the Phoenix over the road, so I obviously had skills in finding money. The trouble in Brighton is there’s often no money for anyone to do things, because it appears on the surface to be well-supported.

Which events does Same Sky put on?


The main ones we do in Brighton now are the Children’s Parade and Burning the Clocks, and we do about 28 other events in the region. We took over the Children’s Parade, which had been running for two years in the Pavilion Gardens, and we’ve done 26 of those. In about ’97 we started Burning the Clocks and that’s now totally self-funded. We raise money through crowdfunding, from donations on the night, and from local organisations like Chilli Pickle and ARKA supporting us.

What do you like most about Brighton?


The diversity of ideas. It’s not as culturally diverse as some of the places we work, but there are high-tech people and low-tech people and they all tolerate each other, generally speaking. There’s a great willingness to network with people from different creative backgrounds, and there are a lot of interesting, quirky, give-it-a-go things happening.

What would you change about it?


I think the problem is that everything’s now becoming more homogenised by the drive to build more housing. Obviously it’s necessary to have places for people to live, but it means that over the years, lots of little places have been disappearing. We’re going to have to leave our premises soon because the building is being sold by the council. We’ve been hiding in here for 30 years hoping no one would notice, and there are about 20 illustrators working upstairs, because it’s stayed so cheap while the rest of Brighton has become so expensive. Everyone wants to come to Brighton because interesting things happen here, but if everyone’s gone that makes those things happen, what will be left? I guess my worry is that it will end up becoming a victim of its own success.

Where would you live if you didn’t live here?


We’ve been toying with living in the country but we’re not too sure… We’ve been wondering about experimenting with it – going and living for three months out near Ditchling or Barcombe. Otherwise probably somewhere like Wales. I’m sixty next year, so I probably haven’t got that many changes left in me. And we’ve got kids, and they’re starting to have kids, and that pulls you more in to being nearer.

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