Opening up the doors to Brighton’s wartime history

Have you visited Take Shelter? No longer Brighton’s best kept secret, this Second World War air raid shelter was once a hidden gem (quite literally as it is ‘hidden’ under the playground at Downs Junior School) but is now a firm favourite in Brighton’s top places to visit.

Completely volunteer run, the shelter, has been turned into an interactive museum dedicated to the stories of those who lived in Brighton during the Second World War. This unique and quirky piece of Brighton’s heritage is the only one of its kind open in the south.

Led by Michael Button, Premises Manager at the school, the Take Shelter team have always been ambitious in their vision for the shelter and this year has been no different. After 8 years of fundraising they have replaced the cramped hatch access to the structure with a new more accessible entrance. With it they hope to welcome a wider range of the community to see what the shelter is like inside.

The team are thrilled that the new entrance has already enabled wheelchair users to explore the shelter and even some of our beloved veterans, for whom the hatch and ladder were too challenging, have gone down again for the first time in years.

“Every year we have a small but significant number of visitors who want to go into the shelter but can’t. They are prevented either by physical disability, a dislike of the cramped access, or they have pushchairs or babes in arms. We did not want to feel as though people were excluded from the shelter and this became the driving force to raising the money to build the new more accessible entrance.”

Michael Button, Take Shelter Chair and Premises Manager at Downs Junior School

The original shelter entrances were designed to get the school children and staff in and out quickly during a raid. The design of the new entrance echoes this style with a wide flight of steps and handrails. The original entrances were built over as Downs Junior School expanded leaving the original emergency hatches as the only way in and out. The project has welcomed more than 12,000 people since it first opened to the public in 2016 but they hope to host far more visitors in the future with the new more accessible entrance.

The new entrance was be formally opened by the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex and the Mayor of Brighton in April 2023.

Michael Button and family, wife Claire and children, Libby, Ruby & Jack.