Words: John Worsey. Photos: Maison Manning
There are several reasons why the table in the window of The Southsea Deli recently became one of my favourite places to sit. For starters, the view is great whichever way you’re facing. Look into the shop and give your tastebuds a healthy portion of inspiration, as you take in the carefully curated selection of tempting food and drink. Look outwards, and you’re at the gateway to Albert Road – a road that is always inviting and often surprising.
What seals the deal is the memory of a warm, enthusiastic conversation I had at that very table, with four Albert Road business owners – Neil Williams of homeware and interior design gurus Bureau of Change and Rose Clover; Russell Ison of speciality coffee roasters Home Coffee; Debbie Parker of Southsea institution Bellamy’s (for antiques and much more); and Daniel Nowland, proud owner of the new Southsea Deli, which had been open less than a month when we all met up in March.
We were there to talk about what makes Albert Road such a special place. Our chat flowed freely, fuelled by shared enthusiasm for this hub of truly independent businesses. It seems a rare privilege in today’s nation of identikit high streets, to have a road like Albert at the heart of the community, providing products to meet just about every need. To my mind, the table around which we sat encapsulates so much of what’s great about the area.
Daniel explained that he purposefully chose to have just one large, square communal table in the Deli. It accommodates eight people, and everyone can see everyone else, from every angle. It is designed to spark conversation and, in Daniel’s words, “It is magic.” He told us, “The amount of new friendships that have begun around this table in our first month is amazing.” Debbie, who has experienced this as a customer, agreed.
In designing his seating arrangements as a conversation engine, Daniel was driven by the sense that people “Don’t want to live like this anymore, walking along staring at their phones and not talking to their neighbour.” Perhaps longing for a way of life that’s more community-orientated is part of what makes Albert Road itself so appealing: a modern high street in the old fashioned style.
Debbie has had her shop on Albert Road for thirty years. Bellamy’s is now in its third premises. The business has evolved with the tastes of its customers, and she now serves the grandchildren of people who first came to her to deck out their homes in the 1980s. In that time, Albert Road’s fundamental character has endured. She told us, “I have seen tremendous changes, but I have to say that now it is at its most vibrant and interesting. It’s the unique people who run the businesses that make a difference; I call them Albert Road treasures.”
Russell echoed this: “The nice thing about Albert Road is the sense of community. Premises are never empty long, and when we hear a new shop is opening, all the traders are excited.” He added, “There is so much character to Albert Road, it’s a bit like the Lanes in Brighton.” For the business partners behind Home, Albert Road was a no-brainer of a location. Their blend of top-tier coffee, plus vegan and gluten free food, was immediately a big hit with the community. Now, three years on from first opening their doors, they are planning a third branch.
Neil is no stranger to independently minded retail destinations, having previously run a successful shop and interior design practice from London’s Portobello Road. He agreed with Russell that Albert Road is reminiscent of Brighton’s quirky Lanes, but it was its resemblance to the Portobello of days gone by that drew him here. These days, Portobello is a mix of multinational chains and empty windows, with small businesses driven away by high rents. Having seen Albert Road, Neil was inspired to open a shop again. It hadn’t been part of his plan. He just wanted to enjoy a day trip. But after one visit, he was hooked. And now, happy customers are hooked on Bureau’s home style know-how and the expertise of resident florist Rose Clover.