The transformation of Portland Road

Amit Patel, Portland Road Post Office owner and father Narotam Patel (former Post Office owner) SUS-170524-124425001
Amit Patel, Portland Road Post Office owner and father Narotam Patel (former Post Office owner) SUS-170524-124425001

It is fair to say as a city Brighton is mostly nailing it when it comes to embracing the 21st century and moving with the times. But what about the suburbs? How are the Hangletons, Hollingdeans and the like holding up when it comes to booming house prices and artisan coffee?

One suburb transforming is the Portland Road area in Hove, which has seen some quite dramatic changes in recent years.

Sue Baumgardt, 71, of Stoneham Road SUS-170524-124355001

Sue Baumgardt, 71, of Stoneham Road SUS-170524-124355001

Most notable was the demolition and redevelopment of the former Gala Bingo site into homes, which has brought new residents to the area and considerably altered the landscape.

There is definitely no shortage of artisan coffee either, as you’ll find a café every couple of hundred yards at the more commercial end of the road.

Costa Coffee will also shortly be occupying the unit currently sitting empty on the corner of Shelley Road, with the refit now underway.

But how does the area compare to the way things were 20 or 30 years ago?

The former Gala Bingo site on Portland Road (Photograph: Jim Stephenson, Architectural Photography and Films) SUS-170524-124407001

The former Gala Bingo site on Portland Road (Photograph: Jim Stephenson, Architectural Photography and Films) SUS-170524-124407001

Amit Patel, Post Office owner, has fond memories of growing up just off Portland Road and accompanying his father Narotam Patel, who bought the business in 1974, into work.

“There was much more variety here in those days,” he remembers. “When we opened up early in the morning all you could smell was fresh bread from the bakery next-door-but-one.”

The arrival of two big supermarket chains (albeit the smaller ‘local’ stores) is likely to have impacted on these businesses, which have since baked their last loaves and closed their doors.

Amit still enjoys being part of the local community and chatting to the Post Office customers, although his father admits he misses the ‘old days’ and friends who have long since moved on.

The development of homes and offices that now sits on the former bingo hall site on Portland Road SUS-170524-124514001

The development of homes and offices that now sits on the former bingo hall site on Portland Road SUS-170524-124514001

Sue Baumgardt, 71, of Stoneham Road, grew up in the area and, after time spent in both London and Copenhagen, returned in 1987.

She said: “When I went to Hove County Grammar for Girls in the fifties, now Hove Park School, the area was full of respectable, solid, working-class people living in mostly rented houses.

“Middle-class people tended not to live in these terraced houses, but in the larger semi-detached or detached houses south of New Church Road.”

During the eighties and nineties, the area had an older population and Portland Road and its surrounding streets were peppered with amenities such as butchers, fishmongers, grocers and even banks, none of which exist now.

Ms Baumgardt said she got to know people because of these shops as residents would stop and chat while running their errands.

Now, she still loves living in the area and believes its community spirit is alive and well if you are happy to go and look for it.

“There is a good community feel here but you have to go out to get into it, you have to be pro-active to be part of it rather than it coming to you.”

Jayne Austen-Goacher, owner of Black Radish, the organic produce shop and café on Portland Road said: “When I moved here many shops were boarded up and there wasn’t a decent pub to be found without going into Brighton.”

Jayne believes when the local pubs started to change hands and undergo major transformations, it began the rebirth of the area.

Hostelries once considered only suitable for adults who liked one-too-many drinks and maybe a brawl or two, have now been converted into family friendly gastro-pubs. The Stoneham, The George Payne, The Poets’ Ale & Smokehouse and The Westbourne to name a few, have all been renovated or refurbished in recent years.

Once the area had more of a family feel to it, the floodgates opened and suddenly it became desirable to 30-somethings living in the city centre, who were ready for a slightly quieter life without completely losing links with all the fun Brighton has to offer.

Poets’ Corner, just north of Portland Road, is now a real hub for families with younger children, originally drawn in by house prices more affordable than those in the centre of town, a little more space and the promise of things being ‘on the up’.

Lucy Dawe of Lawton & Dawe Properties on Portland Road said: “Brighton is at capacity, Central Hove is at capacity so everything is eking out. Everybody wants to be close to train links and getting to London is so easy, the area is really starting to up its game.”

As a result of this shift, house prices in the area have soared in the past five years. The average three-bed terraced-house in Poets’ Corner is now on the market for between £450,000 and £500,000 which is roughly a 36 per cent increase on the house prices of 2012.

“It’s a nice area because it’s not rammed full of new houses,” Lucy added. “You’ve got your character streets and the schools are so good locally people want to be here to raise their families.”

And it would seem that despite the changes, ‘character’ is what keeps Portland Road and its surrounding streets entrenched in the past while embracing the future. It is like village-living for those who still feel too cool to leave the city altogether, yet want a safer, quieter environment for their kids to grow up in.