Business leaders are gathering tomorrow (Friday 19 April) to mark the centenary of the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce.
As might be expected, it’s a working occasion even though those attending were invited to “The Business and Pleasure Summit”.
The title pays homage to the proverb about not mixing the two. But the day’s theme sums up why the old saying probably shouldn’t be applied to Brighton – the theme is doing business in a city built for pleasure.
From the days of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, Brighton has had a certain reputation. It has long been regarded as raffish, louche and synonymous with the dirty weekend.
The late journalist and author Keith Waterhouse, a one-time resident, once famously described Brighton as “a town that always looks as if it is helping police with their inquiries”.
That reputation has provided a valuable legacy for succeeding generations over two centuries.
It has helped attract an abundance of visitors – one recent estimate put the figure at more than eight million a year.
Most of those were daytrippers but almost 1.5 million stayed for at least one night.
Many come and go by car and pay to park while others take the train or travel by coach. Once here those who don’t walk everywhere pay for a cab or ride the bus.
Some of our visitors are here for business – the conference trade, for example, is a staple of the local economy – while others come for pleasure. Hordes of stags and hens spring to mind. Plenty come to study too from other parts of Britain and abroad.
Between them they spend millions of pounds in the shops, pubs, restaurants and clubs, cafés, bars and hotels.
And they spend money at the attractions that many of us take for granted – the Palace Pier, the Royal Pavilion and the Sea Life Centre are among the more obvious examples.
Kiss me quick hats and the bucket and spade brigade may seem to belong to a bygone era but Brighton Rock remains an iconic symbol of Britain’s premier seaside resort.
Some might call it a cliché yet the old phrase also calls to mind the Graham Greene novel and the Richard Attenborough film of the book – or the remake starring Helen Mirren.
And that’s appropriate given the way that Brighton is home to the biggest arts festival in England.
The Brighton Festival is, of course, the best-known of a series of festivals hosted here, with the Brighton Fringe and the Artists Open Houses running alongside it each May. The Open Houses also add colour to the Christmas shopping season.
Then there’s the film festival, comedy festival, digital festival and documentary film festival, among others. The digital festival, for example, showcases the digital and creative sectors.
Each attracts attention and brings in visitors and revenue.
The Chamber summit includes three panel discussions covering three topics: the arts and culture, the media and pleasure.
Brighton Dome and Festival chief executive Andrew Comben is one of the arts panellists as is Heather James, who chairs the Fringe.
They will be joined by Stomp founder Luke Cresswell, Brighton and Hove City Council leader Jason Kitcat and Paula Murray, assistant chief executive of the council.
The Mayor Bill Randall will chair the pleasure panel which sounds slightly risqué. The aim is for a discussion which is fun and informative.
Panellists includes Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber. They will be joined by Palace Pier general manager Anne Martin, Choccywoccydoodah creative director Christine Taylor and Andrew Mosley, the general manager of the Grand Hotel.
Like many Chamber events, networking forms a key part of the proceedings. Those signed up to attend already include existing Chamber members as well as non-members from the business world.
Some run firms, charities or social enterprises, others are freelancers and consultants. Some are employees or students interested in business as well as people from organisations such as the council.
While they will have chances to network, their focus will be the question: “What are the special opportunities and challenges for anyone wanting to do business in a city built for fun?”
The panellists will be among those addressing the question as will two keynote speakers.
The speakers are bestselling crime writer Peter James and Sam Roddick, founder of Coco de Mer, which describes itself as a luxury erotic emporium. Her mother, the late Anita Roddick, founded the Body Shop, opening her first branch in Brighton in 1976.
They will talk about both the business of pleasure and the pleasure of business before taking questions.
Chamber president Julia Chanteray said: “It’s the biggest event we’ve ever organised.
“We set out to make it a day of inspirational speakers, interactive workshops, networking, a ‘pleasure hour’ and more – the culmination of a year of planning.”
Being Brighton, the day will include an “unconference” where skills, lessons and experiences will be shared.
Topics include the way that Brighton’s economy developed and another on “gamification”, asking whether work should be fun or whether it’s a more serious business?
Ms Chanteray said: “The unconference is a way to showcase the talent in the city and learn from other businesses, one of the important jobs the Chamber does every day.”
The pleasure principle
When the Chamber held its first meeting a newspaper report described “gentlemen representing the business interests of Brighton and Hove”.
The report suggested that Brighton didn’t set much store by commerce but should cater more for visitors and commuters.
Even then, the pleasure principle wasn’t new. And today the idea of a coterie of crusty gents is definitely old hat.
The Chamber today is headed by two women – Ms Chanteray, the president, and director Sarah Springford.
If it’s not a contradiction in terms, they have worked hard to bring a sense of fun to the Chamber and those it helps.
And while celebrating the Chamber’s centenary, they will not be resting on past glories.
Apart from leading a campaign to encourage employers locally to pay a living wage, they have hosted a series of masterclasses, workshops and other events.
The Chamber’s business breakfasts have a well-earned reputation. And the annual State of the City is one of several “big debates” that they organise, giving business leaders the chance to listen to and quiz the city’s civic leaders.
Few could begrudge them a centenary celebration, especially one as constructive as the Business and Pleasure Summit.
They promise “a full day of fascinating, provocative speakers, interactive workshops, panel debates, discussion, networking and even a little of that famous Brighton pleasure … a pleasure hour and finale cabaret”.
And they added: “Expect to be challenged, expect to learn, expect to meet new people and even expect to have fun and be entertained.”
The summit is taking place at the Clarendon Centre – run by the Church of Christ the King (CCK) – in New England Street, Brighton.
It lasts from 9.15am to 5.30pm on Friday (19 April) and costs £65. For more information and tickets visit www.brightonsummit.com.
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