They left Birmingham for Skellefteå: ”Simpler family life here”
When Ellen and Kristopher Vanes decided to leave the village of Stonnall, just north of Birmingham in England, and move to another country, they chose Skellefteå in Sweden. After thorough research they found that the Swedish east coast ticked all the boxes, and their move to the village of Klutmark, just outside of Skellefteå, turned out to be the perfect choice for the couple and their sons Seth, 6, Isaac, 5, and Noah, 1.
– Here, there is more focus on family life than in England. Our salaries are higher, the house prices are reasonable and the boys enjoy the Swedish school and preschool much better, says Ellen.
It was in October 2019 when the couple first got wind of Skellefteå while they were looking for places to move to.
– Life in England was tough. ”Kris” had just been made redundant, Seth didn’t enjoy school and the fees for the school and preschool were high. So we began looking for other places to move to, says Ellen.
Canada and Finland were on the table initially, but then Ellen saw a picture on Facebook where a woman had posted a picture of her red house somewhere in North Sweden. She asked her where she lived – in Skellefteå was the answer.
– I showed ”Kris” the picture and observed that this person was living her dream. And that I, too, wanted this idyllic lifestyle, says Ellen, who is a teacher.
”The best decision for our family”
Then everything went smooth as silk. She had a look around on Skellefteå municipality’s website and found a job advertising which looked for teachers. She sent an application to the International English School and a few weeks later the principal, Fredrik Granström, called back and asked if Ellen could imagine moving as far north as Skellefteå.
– Absolutely, I replied, and after an interview I was offered the job on 23 December, says Ellen.
Kristopher, too, got a job at the school after a while and the couple decided to make the move. In February 2020, the house in Stonnall was put up for sale and three weeks later it was sold. And in July they moved into the house they had rented in Klutmark.
– We made a quick decision to give up our whole life in England. Sure, we miss our families, but for us, our mental health and for our children, this was the best decision. We didn’t need to take out a loan when we bought the house we live in now, and the Swedish school and childcare are much better than the English. Here they are more play-based and significantly more value is placed on the children’s social abilities. I also love that they get to be outside so much in preschool. In England they stay inside when it’s raining, says Ellen and continues:
– Here the boys get a better life and we have really made the most of the opportunities in Skellefteå. The other day, the boys got a skiing lesson at Klutmarksbacken ski resort and they loved it. It’s fantastic to live just ten minutes from that facility. We have been ice-skating, swum in lakes and fished for crayfish. People who have grown up here most probably take all these things for granted, but every time we go somewhere I am fascinated by the surroundings. When I share pictures on social media, my friends in England tell me it looks like a super place and want to come for a visit. I’m sure we’ll get more visitors once it’s possible to catch a flight again.
Moving away from an England in lockdown with a pandemic going on was a challenge.
– It was stressful and very trying as we were not allowed to leave the house. We worked from home and the boys got homeschooling, while we had to pack up all the stuff and get ready for the move, says Ellen.
Skellefteå locals welcoming
Getting all the stuff to Sweden involved some 2,000 km of driving and two ferry trips. A journey which Kristopher went on together with the family’s three cats in the beginning of summer 2020.
– I drove there and back in less than a week and when Ellen’s parents came to visit later during the summer, I did the trip again when I picked up her dad. Ellen, her mum and the children took the plane, says Kristopher.
As both he and Ellen could show employment contracts, getting Swedish citizenship became hassle-free.
– It was a quick process, with personal identity number and all that. Moving here has been almost too smooth a ride, so now we are just waiting for something to go wrong, says Ellen with a laugh.
When she read up about Sweden before the move, Swedish people were described as cold and unwilling to engage in small talk. But this experience is not shared by Ellen and Kristopher.
– Everyone has been really nice and welcoming and our neighbours in Klutmark are wonderful and very helpful. This also applies to our colleagues. I have never appreciated work as much as I do here, says Ellen and continues:
– In England we look up to the Scandinavian lifestyle, in which equal opportunities and parental leave, for example, are two major cornerstones. And certainly family life here is easier. If the children are ill, our employer encourages us to stay at home with them. In England we would never have done this, as that would have meant a risk of losing our job.
Positive for the future
Son Isaac opens the green door to the porch and trudges out into the snow. It’s the beginning of January and the last 24 hours have seen abundant snowfall, which has left a white, fluffy blanket on the yard in Klutmark, just under 20 km west of Skellefteå.
– We really enjoy living here. We set our selves a limit of no more than 30 minutes travel time to and from work, and from here it takes 20 minutes. We live in a nice house with six rooms, so there is plenty of space for the whole family. It was built in 1912 and there is plenty to do to keep it in good shape. In England we would call a carpenter to renovate our home, but here we have found that many renovate their house by themselves. In Sweden it’s a lot more expensive to hire a carpenter, so we simply have to learn to use our own hands to get things done, says Ellen.
She and Kristopher see a bright future for themselves in Skellefteå.
– It feels fantastic to give the boys the opportunity to grow up here and my parents think we have made the right decision. They are actually exploring the possibility of moving here, says Ellen.
Her dad Neil Garrity is a truck driver and her mum Julia Garrity has her own business renovating furniture.
– Brexit complicates things, but if we could just wave a magic wand we would want to move to Skellefteå tomorrow, says Neil and adds:
– When we visited last summer we made the most of our time by exploring the surroundings and we were very impressed of what we saw. Moving to Skellefteå was a huge decision for Ellen and Kris, and as parents and grandparents it was fantastic to see just how well they were looked after. Both by colleagues, other people around them and the day care the boys are getting. We are very grateful for this.
Regardless of whether they will make the move or not, Neil and Julia will visit their daughter and her family again next summer.
– We want to spend as much time as possible in Skellefteå and our wish is to move there permanently. Living near our children and grandchildren is important to us, but our ambition to move is not just about that. The opportunity for a simpler family life and the surroundings in Skellefteå and the lifestyle they offer is something we are not used to in Great Britain. We want to be a part of this, says Neil.