My Brighton: Joe Henderson

March 26, 2019

Are you local?

I consider myself local to Sussex as I was born in Eastbourne but now live in Seven Dials, just round the corner from where my nan had a flat in the 80s. I’ve also lived in Seaford and Oslo.


What do you do?

My ID badge says I’m a Street Cleaner but sometimes I use the older term ‘Road Sweeper’. Basically, I keep the public footpaths tidy and litter-free whilst making friends with the local cats. The seasons dictate my workload, whether it’s natural detritus from the trees, animal waste, dust or bits of flotsam that wash up from general human activity. I’ve been studying philosophy at the Free University Brighton (who are based at City Clean depot) for the last few years so I spend these days meditating on Phenomenology. It can be a punishing job but there is a Zen-like quality to repetitive actions like sweeping.


How does being a Road Sweeper affect how you perceive Brighton?

I notice little things like the humming paving slabs outside the electricity plant on Spring Gardens, seagulls doing a rain-dance in the park (they sometimes do yoga too) or the strange drone emanating from the Clock Tower intersection. For a long time I’ve had a curiosity about street furniture – street lamps, abandoned phone boxes, esoteric road signs and markings – the ‘equipment’ of urban places. During major road works I’m reminded of what’s underground, hidden, but essential. The job I do is not for everyone, but there is a sense of camaraderie, diligence and a necessary love of the outdoors within the crew that is priceless.


What do you like about Brighton?

The sense of anonymity can be refreshing. I like being a little fish in a big pond. It’s still a small world, and you can’t get completely lost (although many do, there’s a lot of runaways in this town) but it has a transient nature which is what makes all the community projects and compassion in the city so important and special. We are in a UNESCO Biosphere region which recognises the unique geography of marine, urban and Downland. The texture of the climate and the soundscape of seagulls is a constant reminder of its coastal nature, which is comforting if you have grown up near the sea and find yourself in a new city like I did when I first moved here.Whilst central Brighton can get hectic you can always get on a bus and escape (the National Trust have actually funded the number 77 bus to Devils Dyke for this reason). There are also parallels with San Francisco, even more so with the tech work going on at Sussex Uni. In the future Brighton may become ‘Little Silicon Valley’, and where the Victorian pleasure town clashes with AI and VR is anyone’s guess. I’m keeping an open mind.


What don’t you like about Brighton?

The cost of living is astronomical. And ‘No pets allowed’.


When did you last swim in the sea?

A few years ago in Seaford. It’s usually deserted on the beach, even in summer. Last year I discovered The Pells outdoor pool in Lewes. It’s the oldest in the UK. Brighton buses are linked up to both these towns.

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