Fire at Southern Rail Station in Hove increases concerns over unmanned ticket offices

A small fire broke out on the footbridge of Hove station and was reported to Southern Rail at about 5.30am on Tuesday 15 August. A spokesperson from Southern said East Sussex Fire Service attended and extinguished the fire within a few minutes. Operation of the station and train services were not affected.

A Southern Rail staff member, who opened up Hove Station at 3am, said the fire took place on the footbridge where there is no CCTV between 2am and 5am. She said the station, “just smelt of smoke. You could smell it from the bottom of the road” at the junction with George St.

The fire is the second incident of antisocial behaviour in the last ten days. The Hove Station newsagent, had some magazines stolen in two boxes and comics were removed. He thinks it was a late-night prank by young people. The newsagent said: “There’s no rhyme or reason to it. They did it just for a laugh, you know. The station is unmanned at night. Anyone can come in here. The doors are shut from 1am until 5am.”

Southern Rail

Samantha Facey, Govia Thameslink Railway’s Safety, Health and Security Director, said: “We know from other organisations that youth disorder is a community issue being experienced across West Sussex. Incidents of anti-social behaviour have been more common across the county since the start of school summer holidays.

“Our teams of Travel Safe Officers and Rail Enforcement Officers continue to support the efforts of our policing partners, schools and social services as we work together to tackle this issue.”

A spokesperson from Southern Rail said that Hove Station does not have a high incidence of antisocial behaviour compared to other stations along the coast.

Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum has been campaigning for CCTV on the footbridge next to Hove Station for several years now. Brighton and Hove Council allocated £250,000 in 2022-23 and the same amount next year, 2023-24, amounting to half a million pounds to make the footbridge safer for rail passengers and other residents of the neighbourhood in their five year budget. The footbridge remains in need of urgent refurbishment and very little work at all has yet been undertaken.

Network Rail, which owns the footbridge, has been approached for comment and said Brighton Council is responsible for repairs including CCTV. Mike Gibson, Chair of the Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum said CCTV should be linked to the existing CCTV in the station and monitored by station staff before the ticket offices close.

A spokesperson for Southern Rail said: “We will always welcome practical proposals to improve safety and security around our stations for local communities, our passengers and colleagues.”

Govia Thameslink has also launched an unpopular public consultation about the closure of ticket offices across the country. Their proposal is to move staff out of ticket offices onto the station concourse because most people now buy their tickets from a machine or purchase e-tickets online digitally.

Following a public outcry, this consultation has been extended until 01 September to give more passengers the opportunity to make their views heard. Concerns are greatest among disabled and elderly passengers who may struggle to use a machine. I simply prefer to buy my ticket from a person, to ensure that I get the cheapest fare.

Sanja Bignall, who is a resident of Hove, said: “I can use my phone to buy a ticket, but a lot of elderly people don’t have smartphones and they don’t necessarily know how to work machines. It’s nice to have a chat, the lady here is lovely. I think people have forgotten how important it is to have human contact.

“At Shoreham, there is a bank of machines, they had to employ people to run between them. It’s just horrible, that’s the future. The foot traffic in Hove is going to increase with all those people moving in (to the new high-rise buildings under construction currently.) You’d think they would keep the ticket office.”

Hove Station footbridge graffiti

When Govia Thameslink launched the public consultation, a spokesperson said wrote in a press release: “It’s important to say that no stations that have staff today would become unstaffed and all the accessibility assistance we provide to today would remain.

“The aspiration is that ticket office colleagues would have broader roles in the future, helping with many different types of customer service and offering a more diverse, interesting role for our people.

“These proposals are being made because the way customers buy tickets has significantly changed in recent years. We want to adapt how we sell them to modernise and improve customer service.

“Most tickets are now bought online or from ticket machines. In fact, 9 out of 10 are now bought away from traditional ticket office windows.

“Staff would still be available to help customers buy tickets and find the best value fares.

“In-person assistance would still be available to support customers purchasing from ticket machines and to support the safety and security of stations, for example by being a presence to deter anti-social behaviour. Additionally, it is proposed that 18 of GTR’s largest and busiest stations will have the ability to open their ticket offices to retail specialist tickets.”

Under the new proposals, ticket assistance would be offered at Hove Station from 6am until 11pm on weekdays and Saturdays and from 7:30am until 11:30pm on Sundays.

Govia Thameslink said: “It’s key to stress that no final decisions have been made though. The public consultation has been launched (and now extended to 1 September) so the industry can get everyone’s views first. We really want to hear from as many people as possible.”

You can respond online to Southern Rail’s public consultation here.

Printed copies of the consultation information that is available on GTR’s websites can be requested at staffed stations and alternative formats are available by calling 0345 026 4700 or textphone 0800 138 1018.

An edited version of this article was published on Brighton and Hove News website.

Shakespeare in Love by Lee Hall

Shakespeare in Love is a play about William Shakespeare meeting his muse, finding his voice and writing Romeo and Juliet. One hundred pairs of eyes are eagerly await every word that flows from his pen. At the start the sense of expectation is acute, as we meet young Shakespeare who carries the responsibility of being a playwright magnificently and battles writer’s block and self-doubt.

In Elizabethan England there are two eminent playwrights: William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe; and two rival theatre-companies owned by entrepreneurs, Philip Henslowe and Richard Burbage. Shakespeare in Love sparkles with wit and exuberance and transports you effortlessly back into the chaos of Elizabethan England, the shambles of most theatre-companies and the financially precarious life of theatre-owners.

Particularly in the first half, the script is complex, jumping from one Shakespearean play or sonnet to another. If you know your Shakespeare, it’s a delight. The play is based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. The rivalry between Shakespeare and Marlowe is an interesting conceit – think Cyrano de Bergerac and look out for conspiracy theories.

Lewis Todhunter is compelling as William Shakespeare, in his second major role as the male protagonist this year. (He was Bertie in the King’s Speech during the Fringe.) He is self-assured and has great presence. His muse is Viola de Lesseps acted by Melissa Paris, she loves acting in Shakespearean plays, and is vivacious and diffident in equal measure. Emmie Spencer, who is cast as the Nurse in the most comic part in the play, performs superbly well and gets the most laughs.

Arlo Giles-Buabasah is the youngest member of the cast of Shakespeare in Love. He is on set a lot of the time and overlooked, as children often are, but he saves the day. I look forward to seeing Arlo in another production at Brighton Little Theatre (BLT.) I think he is only upstaged by Mollie, the dog called Spot.

Mike Skinner is affable and astute as Mr Henslowe and keeps his financial pressures to himself. Richard Fisher has piercing eyes, fit for any villain and not unlike those of Nikki Dunsford who plays Queen Elizabeth I. She is commanding with natural authority. Oliver Russell is the controlling suitor, Lord Wessex. Andrew Bird does not have many lines but he delivers them with aplomb.

The character of Burbage could be better developed in the script.  After his death, a consortium of the Lord Chamberlain’s men, including Shakespeare, built the Globe theatre in 1598 where almost all of his later plays were performed. You can still visit the Globe today to watch Shakespeare in a reconstructed theatre on the Southbank of the River Thames in London

Organising a cast of 23 is not easy, it was popular among the BLT company, of course, because it’s a play about the theatre. Direction of the play by Claire Lewis and Howard Abbott is excellent. The set is imaginative and compact.

Shakespeare in Love is an exhilarating romp through the playwright’s most famous scenes and offers a window into the mirth and magic of the theatre. It’s a timeless play about the private life of a writer whose unparalleled ability to write about the human condition is unmatched. I recommend this play as a celebration of life, love and loss.

Four stars ****

Muslims urged to remember the poor at annual festival

Last weekend more than 40,000 people flocked to Oaklands Farm in Hampshire to hear their spiritual leader speak at an annual Muslim festival of prayer and food. The motto of the community is ‘love for all, hatred for none.’

The international festival of the Ahmadiyya Community, called the ‘Jalsa Salana’ is held every year in Alton on a 210-acre site in Hampshire. Delegates travel from every corner of the globe to get there including Asia, Africa, the Pacific Isles, North and South America, Canada and Oman.

Rafiq Hayat said the festival helped to “remind people that it is their duty as Muslims to be loyal, peaceful and dutiful citizens, to protect others and be of service to humanity.” Mr Hayat is the national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in the UK.

The Caliph, Hazrat Mizra Masroor Ahmad, warned world leaders, in a keynote speech, that the Ukraine war could spread. He advised the international community not to try to “humiliate the aggressor” by punishing Russia in a way that might feed further conflict.

He was speaking to 41,654 Muslims from the Ahmadiyya Community who came together for their annual festival.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, said that the Koran teaches Muslims not to “let the enmity of any nation or party prevent you from upholding the true standards of justice.”

He said of the Ukraine conflict: “There are genuine concerns that the Ukraine conflict could spread or that other nations could be emboldened to abandon diplomatic efforts to resolve their disputes and resort to force.”

On Friday 28 July, the Caliph, who is the community’s spiritual leader hoisted their flag alongside the Union Jack held by Mr Hayat. On Sunday, Ahmadi Muslims pledged their allegiance to their leader and to their teachings of Islam.

annual Muslim festival
Flag raising at the international festival of the Ahmadiyya Community

More than 7000 volunteers made the annual Muslim festival a success, serving 270,000 meals – lentil-based dahl for lunch and lamb and potatoes for dinner. Volunteers made 9,000 rotis an hour in the on-site bread factory, starting at 3am.

There are 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims in the UK and 10-20 million spread across the world, many in Africa. The Ahmadiyya Community is a minority sect of Islam that is outlawed in Pakistan because Ahmadis do not believe that Muhammed was the final Muslim prophet. It’s a claim that some Sunni and Shia Muslims consider to be blasphemous.

Hailey Rose is the Youth Chief from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan Canada. Describing her experience of the annual Muslim festival, she said: “I feel the energy, it’s an awakening, it woke me up, I feel a sense of belonging, the community, the people are very loving and welcoming, kind-hearted. They take good care of us.

“You feel like family. Everyone just wants to feel like they belong. When we were up on stage it was very empowering and uplifting to see how the men treat the women. Women have very high status.”

Indigenous Canadian Delegation
Hailey Rose (right) is the Youth Chief with the Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, Canada and JR Larose, retired footballer

Ahmadiyya Muslims follow the same holy texts as Sunni and Shia Muslims, but believe that the messiah promised in Islam has already arrived, believing it to be Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in 1835 in Qadian in India. He is revered as a prophet by Ahmadiyya Muslims while Sunni and Shia Muslims hold Muhammad to be the last prophet.

Farooq Dean is an A&E doctor working in the UK. He went to Turkey in February to offer assistance after the earthquake with the non-governmental organization, Humanity First. Its mission is: ‘to serve disaster struck and socially disadvantaged individuals and families in the poorer communities of the world.’

Dr Dean, who is a registrar, said: “The destruction was unimaginable and we were providing primary care. We offered an initial response to the disaster. First, we provided aid to Syria. There were a few channels open to get aid over the border.”

Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Californian corporate lawyer based in LA and a Law Professor at the University of California (UCLA), said compassion is in the DNA of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is my experience as a guest  journalist whenever I meet them.

IAAAE General Secretary Europe Mahboob Ur Rehman
Mahboob Ur Rehman is a structural engineer and general secretary of the International Association of Ahmadi Architects and Engineers for Europe

Mahboob Ur Rehman is a structural engineer and general secretary of the International Association of Ahmadi Architects and Engineers for Europe (IAAAE) set up in 1980 to connect poorer countries to the rest of the world. He was inspired by the Caliph at the annual Muslim festival to use his skills help the poor overseas.

It costs £75,000 to transform a village in Africa, installing water systems, solar pumps, building a medical clinic, a school and houses. The first pilot village was in Burkina Faso, they have now brought water and, where possible, electricity to 37 villages in 15 countries across Africa, including Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Benin, Tanzania, Uganda and the island of Mayotte off the coast of Mozambique.

Most Ahmadis do not claim expenses when they travel to other countries to share their expertise because they are highly skilled and successful people. They live in tents, ensuring the overheads are low and the project is completed at cost. They train people on the ground to maintain the infrastructure and during the pandemic, they used YouTube to support them. Since then, this sustainable development work has accelerated.

The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continually urges the West not to overlook the searing poverty of developing countries who have battled famine, drought, floods, and sometimes armed conflict, for centuries. At the peace symposium in 2018, he said: “People living in the world’s poorest nations do not concern themselves with the environment, or the latest figures on carbon emissions; rather they wake up each day wondering if they will be able to feed their children…

“We must not consider such hardship as other people’s problems. Instead, we must realise that the result of such poverty has severe implications for the wider-world and directly affects global peace and security.” Ahmadi Muslims, the Caliph said, need to leave behind, “a legacy of opportunity” for future generations.

“By helping the developing nations stand on their own feet, and by giving their people opportunities and hope, we will actually be helping ourselves and safeguarding the future of the world.”

When asked about climate change by students in Indonesia in 2021, the Caliph said we need to plant two trees for every one we cut down because of population growth that is fueling deforestation across the developing world.

Humanity First School in Mayotte
School built by Humanity First on the island of Mayotte near Mozambique and Madagascar

In his speech in 2018, he asked: “Is there anyone who thinks that heavy bombardment has no effect on the atmosphere?

“Furthermore, if peace ever does prevail in the war-torn countries, their towns and cities will have to be rebuilt from scratch, and this, in itself, will be a huge industry that will cause an increase in harmful emissions and pollution. Thus, on the one hand, we are trying to save the planet, yet with our other hand, we are senselessly destroying it.”

With thanks to Kaya Burgess, Science Reporter and Religious Affairs Correspondent at the Times and Sunday Times who supplied a significant amount of the content.