Meet the People Behind the Huts

Meet the people behind 2016's top ten beach huts.

Jessica Christie-Miller, The Boho Hut

Jessica Christie-Miller and her family moved to Brighton from London in 2009. Having seen how much she and her young family loved the beach, her father-in-law offered to help buy them a beach hut so that they could have a family base to use for swimming, barbecues and for when Jessica’s husband, James, windsurfs from Hove Lagoon.

Jessica and James set about finding their ideal beach hut and were overjoyed to find Hut 357, AKA ‘The Boho Hut’, close to Hove Lagoon, where James windsurfs. Although the hut was new and in excellent condition, the interior was completely bare; offering Jessica the perfect blank canvas for a stylish recreation.

James and Jessica Christie-Miller

Following storms a few years back, several huts in the area were destroyed. Jessica and James took part in the community recovery effort; cutting down broom handles to make rollers, which were placed under the strewn huts to push them back into position. Although this was a difficult time for the hut owners, it enabled everyone to bond over many cups of warming tea!

After James took voluntary redundancy from his job earlier this year, the family went on holiday to Sri Lanka. The colours and culture of the country made a huge impact on them – inspiring Jessica to create a lasting reminder of the holiday in the form of their beach hut: ‘The Boho Hut’ was born!

Scott Roedersheimer, Grace Eyre Foundation, Hut 279

Hut 279 is “a force for good”, says Scott Roedersheimer, volunteer at the Grace Eyre Foundation. The foundation acquired Hut 279 with the purchase of a nearby property. It is now a place for people with and without learning disabilities to come together and enjoy life enriching activities.

The Grace Eyre Foundation social group

The foundation is ecstatic to be in this year’s top ten and have been posting on Twitter and on Facebook, hoping to generate awareness and support. They hope to generate more awareness and support. In fact, Scott came across the competition when looking for ways to advertise the hut for private hire, the proceeds of which are invested back into the foundation’s vibrant learning and skills programme, innovative projects and housing for people with learning disabilities.

The hut is a hub of activity during both the Brighton Marathon and the Brighton Half Marathon each year, where it is used a base to cheer on Grace Eyre’s volunteer runners. It also hosts friendship groups, drawing classes, barbecues and parties.

Janette White, No. 303

Janette was overjoyed to see her family’s hut in the Sunday Times – and for good reason. The hut was built lovingly by Navy World War Two veteran ‘Uncle Jack' and has been in her family for six generations. Janette has enjoyed the hut since childhood and fondly recalls boarding the local steam train, affectionately known as the ‘Crab & Winkle’ to make the ten mile journey from Colchester to Brightlingsea.

Janette White

Although a storm and tidal surge in 2013 caused considerable damage to the Brightlingsea beach huts, Janette is thankful that Hut 303, although flooded, stood strong. It has since been restored to its former glory.

Janette feels that her hut, with its unique and rich history – having been built by a sailor – depicts all aspects of the seaside. She is grateful to own a small package of Paradise.

Lili Sanchez, No. 31 AKA ‘Shed’

Lili couldn’t believe it when she saw her hut in Towergate’s Beach Hut of the Year 2016 top ten. She recalls “I didn’t do up my shed for the photos – it’s just how it is!”

Lili moved to the area, alone, a few years ago with no previous experience of beach huts. During her first summer in the area, she noticed that beach huts could be rented. She rented one out for the day and it was very basic - just a small space with a gas fire. But immediately after stepping inside she turned around and rushed home to book it for as long as possible.

Lili Sanchez standing in the doorway of her beach hut

Soon after, Lili rented a beach hut for the winter, whence began her family tradition of Christmas brunch at the hut. As Lili’s family don’t live nearby, Christmas is one of the few times that they are all together each year. She packs a full English (but vegan) breakfast, bubbly, bagels and they have a party. She sometimes has friends from abroad visit and they find the hut fascinating.

Beach huts are usually photographed in the summer and considered a warm weather place to be. Lili’s hut is an all-year-round hut. In fact, she thinks she probably uses it more in the winter. As tiny as it is, it is organised into sections – with a library and a larder. Lili even has a futon that she rolls out if she feels like taking a nap. In the winter, she likes to sit in her armchair wearing thermals. She reads, listens to The Archers and various radio plays. She has a little fire if it gets too cold.

Although Lili is self admittedly non-competitive, she was thrilled to be in the top ten – so much so that it prompted her to make her first ever tweet!

Lisa Hammond, No. 14

Lisa was delighted to see her hut in Towergate’s top ten beach huts. Her philosophy is “it’s not just how it looks; it’s about spending time there”. Over three years have gone by since her mother Sally (who had long yearned for a beach hut) passed away. After a nine-year-long wait, just after Sally’s passing, Lisa’s family was offered a plot at Bexhill-on-Sea. The family came together in Sally’s honour and now enjoy merry times with family and friends.

Lisa Hammond outside her beach huts

Huts at Bexhill-on-Sea must be taken down during the colder months, so one of the highlights of Lisa’s year comes in spring, when she is able to put up her hut.

Lisa enjoys hosting an array of events at the hut, recently holding a hen party for a friend and, for two years running, has held a Macmillan coffee morning in her mother’s honour, inviting friends and family, and also enjoying the company of passers-by. In just two years she and her friends have raised around £800 for Macmillan. She chose Macmillan as her mum, Sally, accessed the charity for a very short time and had great praise for the support she received. Sally adored her grandchildren and would have loved sharing the hut with all the family.

Cathy Knapman, No. 65

After years of stress and ten years of dreaming about having a hut, Cathy found “a beautiful retreat, a hobby and a family gathering place, all rolled into one”. When Cathy first walked into No. 65, “she [the hut] was in a very sorry state and crying out for lots of TLC” - a far cry from her current ‘Ship Shape Cath Kidston’ style.

Cathy Knapman and family sitting outside their beach hut

Over the past year, Cathy has completely revamped the hut, with new boards and a roof and decorated it using handmade objects and items sourced from local charity shops. Although Cathy doesn’t believe No. 65 will ever be “done”, nor will she ever be “done” with No. 65.

In fact, with No. 65 came Cathy’s foray into social media. Her daughters were stunned to find she had joined Facebook, but their initial surprise was appeased when Cathy explained that she had made an account in order to join her local beach hut group’s page.

With grown up daughters and grandchildren, No. 65 is used and loved by people of all ages - whether it's an impromptu after school barbecue, tea with friends, or during peaceful alone time. One of her daughters calls it her ‘little wooden palace’ - this hut is set to be cherished and enjoyed for many generations to come!

Anna Davies, My Happy Hut

It’s difficult to look at Anna’s hut without smiling. Despite the fact that Anna didn’t have a set plan to how she was going to decorate the hut, it evolved and reflects her own personal upbeat style: “fun, happy, bright and cheerful”. She tries to make it look as happy as possible - like a ‘50s home or a dolls house.

Anna Baria in her happy hut

However, things have not always been so bright and cheery for Anna. Following difficult times, she and her children moved to the area in 2013. Soon after, Anna made friends who owned a beach hut, which inspired her to do the same. She fell in love at first sight with what is now ‘My Happy Hut’. The name, thought up by Anna's ten-year-old daughter, came about last year when Anna decided she was going to rent it out to help pay for its keep. "It's our happy place after a traumatic time and we hope the people who rent it out have happy memories of their time there."

Its bold, fairytale-esque facade was begun just two weeks before Beach Hut of the Year entries deadline - and finished with just a day to spare!

Liz and Martin Baum, Serenity-on-Sea

Serenity-on-Sea is a lifeline for Liz and Martin Baum. Over 18 years ago, the couple were living in London with their three-year-old son and Martin’s multiple sclerosis was making life difficult. Liz thought a long weekend break would do everyone some good, so she took Martin and their son down to Bournemouth. Martin felt so much better following that weekend, so they kept visiting. During and following each visit, Martin would feel better, but would then take a major step back in London.

Liz and Martin Baum

When their son reached school age, the couple began to seriously consider relocating down to Bournemouth more permanently. It was a big step, but they know it would be beneficial to Martin’s health and good timing for their son’s education.

When they first moved to Bournemouth, they would hire a hut from the council. They then put their name on a waiting list. Four years ago, they were granted a plot. Thankfully, Bournemouth council were understanding of Liz and Martin’s circumstances and they needed a plot that Martin would be able to reach, they were given the plot on which ‘Serenity-on-Sea’ now stands, easily accessible from a car park.

Victoria Gunn, Millie

Hailing from coastal Scotland, Victoria is used to the beach scene. It’s the only time when she’s in the UK and can “switch off and forget about work”. That’s why she bought her first one. However, by “switch off” Victoria isn’t necessarily talking about peace and quiet - she believes beach huts are for families to enjoy, just as much as they can be sanctuaries for more quiet enjoyment.

Victoria Gunn

Victoria describes Millie as ‘Marmite’ (you either love her or hate her). But, as she points out, “huts are different to different people” and Millie is bold and unique, “You can’t go in without smiling - for whatever reason that may be.” Her playful decor and giant ice cream cone evoke memories of play-dough and childhood - and who doesn’t like ice cream anyway?

Victoria rents out Millie and her other huts for two reasons: firstly, the cost of upkeep; and secondly, she hates them not being used - “Beach huts need to be used because they are so in demand.”

Chris Dewey, Buggleskelly

Buggleskelly, named after a train station in train driver Chris’s favourite film, ‘Oh, Mr Porter!’ is his first adventure into beach hut life. Having only had Buggleskelly since April this year, Chris’s inventive hut has made a strong and positive impression on his local beach hut community.

Chris Dewey outside his beach hut

Chris’s beach hut and Southern Region train station fusion is already a focal point of the Dewey family and recently hosted Chris’s granddaughter’s first birthday party. Chris, his wife and their three dogs are enjoying getting to know the beach hut community and hope to spend more and more time there. As he candidly points out “I think we’re an unusual beach hut. They usually have a beach hut theme.”

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