A home from home
A big part of Brighton’s charm, many would say, is its shabbiness. A little frayed around the edges, a tad worn in the middle, and unevenly sunbleached ... what’s not to love?
It’s this very look that Poppy Wootton has in mind when decorating and furnishing the bars and social spaces for students at the University of Sussex campus at Falmer.
Poppy, Commercial Marketing Manager at the University’s Students’ Union, heads straight to recycling websites such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, as well as scouting residential areas renowned for leaving out “street treasure”, to find stuff that will bring a bit of Brighton onto campus.
“Some of our newer buidings are quite bright and shiny,” she says, as we chat in the bright and shiny Northfield Bar at the top of the campus. “But students prefer a warm, lived-in feel.
“A lot of them come to Sussex because it’s close to Brighton. And what they like about Brighton is that it’s a bit frayed, a bit falling apart.”
It’s also the case that the union has a tiny budget for furnishings and fittings, so Poppy, who has a degree in 3D design from the University of Manchester, has become expert at refashioning and repurposing the odds and ends she finds.
That’s why customers in the Northfield Bar find themselves sitting on old bus seats that she has re-upholstered with colourful vinyl, and reading under lampshades that she has made from spare material and discarded frames.
Sometimes she finds alternative uses for objects, such as turning old filing cabinets into planters. At Falmer Bar at the other end of campus, pallets scavenged from building sites have been given large cushions to create an outside seating area, while tin buckets are used to grow herbs for the kitchen.
Inside the bar students are resting on some of the old sofas Poppy virtually leapt on the moment they appeared on eBay.
“As soon as things become fashionable, the price goes up,” she points out. “A while ago we bought some really great, solid-wood kitchen tables for the bar. They’ve become much more expensive now.
“The furniture here gets a lot of wear and tear, so I tend to look out for the stuff with solid frames. I’m a real hoarder. I never throw anything away. You never know when you’re going to need it again.”
One of the popular initiatives organised by the union and the University’s estates team is the Re-Use Scheme. At the end of every academic year students can donate items that they no longer need, or want to take away with them, to the union’s Free Shop.
“We get a huge amount of electric rice cookers,” says Poppy. “We also find that students bring back all the pint glasses they have borrowed from the bars. And there’s usually plenty of crockery and cutlery. I make a point of looking out for teaspoons, because they’re always the things that go wandering from our office.”