Caroline Lucas on what she loves most about Sussex
PUBLISHED: 12:54 04 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:54 03 November 2017
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, made history when she entered the House of Commons as the UK’s first Green MP in 2010. Here she tells Amanda Riley-Jones what she loves about Sussex and the unique city she’s proud to call home. Photo by Jim Holden
“I believe Brighton is the best place to live in the UK. We have culture, strong communities, the sea and such beautiful countryside,” says Caroline. One of her favourite ways to get away from the harsh world of politics is to take her beloved rescue dog, Harry, for a walk on the Downs. “I feel lucky to have such beautiful countryside and so many wonderful places to walk around Brighton. One of the best moments is taking Harry off the lead, that moment when he runs off with so much joy and freedom. It makes me feel joyful and free too!” says Caroline who lives in the city with her husband Richard Savage, an English teacher.
Harry is the second Labrador the couple have adopted from the RSPCA at Patcham. “When our first dog, Alfie, died last summer, I was grief-stricken,” reveals Caroline. The loss was compounded when their younger son, Isaac, left for Norwich University to take a degree in American Studies. With their 22-year-old son, Theo, abroad studying for a Masters in Politics and International Relations, the family home felt achingly empty. “So we filled it with a very large, lively rescue dog!” laughs Caroline, who’s vice president of the RSPCA. “When there are dogs that have been given up, for whatever reason, to be able to give them a new home feels very special. And I defy anyone to walk into the RSPCA kennels at Patcham and not fall in love with at least three dogs.“ Caroline has a particular soft spot for Labradors, explaining “I love their loyalty and sense of real joy. They genuinely seem to smile!” Staff helped match her up with a spirited Labrador crossbreed called Harry. “They thought he was about two but he seems a lot younger. Harry is quite naughty, very naughty actually. He ate all my birthday cards! We don’t know what he is crossed with, but he can jump about four feet from a standing start and throws himself at us at the front door – which I interpret as affection!” she laughs. “We’re training him to be a bit less effusive and having him curled up by my feet while I read is very comforting.” Fifty five-year-old Caroline is polite, softly spoken and good-humoured. It’s easy to see why she’s popular with politicians from both sides of the House. When I mention that she and I both studied English Literature at Exeter University, she enthusiastically asks which hall I was in. It turns out that we lived in the same place, one year apart. But as we’re on a tight schedule, it’s soon back to business. “I get the sense that people in Brighton have chosen to be here and really love it. The shared pride in the city is very special. I’ve never lived anywhere like it,” says Caroline who has previously lived in Oxford and London. Brighton is the couple’s only home. “Do include that. People tend to think that politicians have about ten homes!” she laughs. Like so many of us, she loves living on the coast. “When I get off the bus and walk past Fabrica, the art gallery in Duke Street, and then turn the corner into Middle Street – where my constituency office is – it still surprises me to see the sea so close,” she says. “It’s a wonderful view.” She says there’s something special about Brightonians too. “There is something experimental and forward-thinking about people here. They are prepared to think outside the box. To be first movers.”
She gives the example of sisters and entrepreneurs Ruth and Amy Anslow, who cofounded Brighton’s ethical supermarket, HISBE (How It Should Be). They have reinvented the way supermarkets do business by, for example, paying their employees above the living wage, refusing to throw out food that can be eaten and offering a fair price promise.
“Ruth and Amy talked to loads of people and had the courage to create a completely different business model. When I was first elected, I visited them in their flat where they had plans and drawings all over the kitchen table. One of my proudest moments was cutting the ribbon to open the shop. And now they’re planning to open up to ten stores more in the next five years,” she says.
She’s keen to talk about the less sunny side of Brighton too. “The city suffers from huge inequality and a very visible homeless crisis. Much of my work in Parliament is about opposing legislation which makes matters worse,” she says. “My vision is for all the good things here to be more accessible to everybody. Despite the government cuts, we need to do as much as we can to make the city more inclusive.” She talks appreciatively of The Real Junk Food Project Brighton. It’s part of an innovative international movement to bring two huge challenges together: millions of hungry people (an estimated two million Britons are malnourished) and millions of tons of food which is currently thrown away every year. “Although not a long-term solution (which would need urgent Government action), the project intercepts wasted food destined for landfill and feeds it to people who need it,” explains Caroline. “They have a pop -up café on Fridays at One Church, Gloucester Place (from 1 -2.30pm) and there is a “pay as you feel” ethos. So it’s a lovely mixture of people who can afford to pay and those who are in need.” She’s also a board member of Good Money, which is exploring ways of linking up spare capacity (for example empty cinema seats) with people who can’t afford to pay. “We’ve been talking to local traders and they want a way to share the value of the city and make it more accessible to people. There must be a way to make it work,” she says.
My favourite Sussex
• View: It sounds a cliché, but I love the West Pier. When we first moved here, we lived opposite it, in Bedford Square. Sometimes I feel sad that it’s not been renovated but, on the other hand, it has such a haunting beauty. Some people say that the starling murmurations are better because the birds can roost on the ruins. It’s such a tragedy that these beautiful birds are in decline.
• Café: There’s such a range of restaurants and cafés, I feel spoiled for choice. I do have a soft spot for cake and Marwood Coffee Shop in Ship Street is handily close to work. It’s decorated with very quirky bric a brac and their cake is wonderful!
• Walk: There’s a lovely walk just off the Ditching Road which takes you to the top of Stanmer Park. You see different landscapes within a short walk – over the stone wall to the Downs one way and woods the other. I enjoy seeing the way the scenery changes over the seasons.
• Pub: We often go to The Trevor Arms at Glynde at the weekend. They have Harvey ales, a log fire burning and are very welcoming to dogs.
• Shop: I like to buy some of my staples, like vegetables and pasta, from HISBE – the ethical supermarket in York Place. And my son rather likes the corn chips I get there. They undercut prices charged elsewhere and run on a low profit margin. It shows it is possible to have ethical food at an affordable price.
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