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Sussex alumni bid farewell to the digs where they loved, lived and laughed

Jim and Nicky Skinner

Ellen Jones

Warrell Harries and Sanchi Heeson

Warrell Harries was clear about why he wanted to revisit his old student accommodation block at the University of Sussex.

“I lost my innocence on East Slope. I’ve come back to see if I can find it.”

Warrell was among nearly 200 former residents who had gathered on campus for a special party and tour of the hillside warren where freshers have lived and loved since the early 1970s.  

The flats, which house nearly 600 students, are soon to be demolished and replaced with more modern accommodation for more than 2000 undergraduates.  But old East Slopers were thrilled to be given a last chance to walk down  - and up - memory lane.

Warrell, who arrived on campus in 1977 to study neurobiology, shared a flat near the top of the slope with Bob Mortimer, a law student who later teamed up with Vic Reeves to become one of the most successful comedy duos of all time.

“We did a lot of drinking together,” remembers Warrell. “Bob was always very funny, always making us laugh. I remember him pretending to mountaineer up North Street in Brighton.”

More memories surfaced when Warrell joined fellow former students Sanchi Heeson and Alex Garrett on a tour of Flat 44, inspecting each of the six study bedrooms leading off the two parallel corridors and wondering how they had squeezed into the small kitchen or had managed to share a single bathroom.

“Remember ‘Pete, the Animal?’” said Alex, who graduated in logic with maths in 1980. A cheer went up as others recalled how, Pete, who was something of a legend, kept a Norton motorbike in his room, and was studying “the notoriously difficult chemistry by thesis”.

Alex related a story about Pete trying to break into the library late at night by attempting to saw through a metal bar and “messing up his hands”.

Social worker Ellen Jones revealed how she rode around Stanmer Park on the back of Pete’s bike “without a helmet.” She was a punk in the seventies. “I had peroxide white hair and black makeup. I saw all the bands. I saw The Clash on campus. You could buy a tequila sunrise at The Crypt for 20p.”

Alas, there was heartache too.  An unrequited love affair led to her leaving Flat 7 and moving to Flat 5, where she was much happier.

“People say how much they loved living in East Slope, and it still has the same kind of feel,” she said, pausing a moment in fond reflection. “Slightly slummy.”

Meanwhile, as another bunch of former residents set off for the tour, married couple Thomas Trafford and Karla Young were delighted when they realised they were about to revisit the very flat where they first met in 2005 - when Thomas was studying sociology and Karla was in her first year in philosophy.

Back at East Slope Bar, where a nostalgic playlist of hits by the likes of Chaka Khan and The Stray Cats was enticing different generations onto the dance floor, Jim and Nicky Skinner were also reminiscing. They got together within their first week on campus in 1975, and are now celebrating 40 years of marriage.

Jim, who studied American Literature, and Nicky (nee Presland), a geography graduate, had their first child Robert in their second year, and were wed by their third year.

But it wasn’t all hunky dory in East Slope. Jim remembered having a run-in with a milkman who made his deliveries every morning.

“We thought we were being diddled, and I threw a dry Weetabix at him. It hit him on the head. We then heard he’d complained about having cake thrown at him.”

Nicky, helpless with laughter, finishes the tale. “And that was the end of the milk deliveries on campus.”

  • Nearly £2,000 from ticket sales for the party was raised for the Sussex Fund, which supports students in hardship, sports bursaries, and projects that enhance the student experience. 

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017

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