Jake Gomilny

Jake Gomilny

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Can you tell me your name, birthplace, date and present address?

My name is Jake Gomilny. I was born 20 August, 1947 in a place called Kiev, USSR or the Soviet Union as it was then. I am probably the only one of your interviewees whose country is no longer there.

I have spoken to a young Ukrainian women.

Well, same thing.Yes.

Well, of course Kiev is Ukraine, but at the time Ukraine did not exist as a country. It was part of the Soviet Union, so technically speaking, she was referring to, the country does not exist any more technically speaking.

Do you feel yourself Russian or Soviet or do you feel Ukraine or do you feel British now?

It depends on what kind of day I’ve had! It’s all very, very mixed. People always say that and I just say what I’ve just said as a joke but in some ways it’s an unhappy joke because it is very mixed up. At the time the country was called the Soviet Union and your nationality was Soviet which was at the time very common as I sort of was surprised to discover when I left it was very commonly described as Russia. Even though Russia’s only one of the republics at the time. Having said so, Russia is an inaccurate way of describing, having said that, Russian is my mother tongue, but I did live in the part of it that was called, even then it was called Ukraine, but it was just like one of the republics, it’ done as a punishment. A further complication was mainly, this is just the beginning, the further complication is that I’m Jewish and that kind of imposes a whole new kind of layer of ethnicity on me and I also lived in Canada for about 8 or 9 years and I have now lived in this country for 25 years. Each of these kind of major periods of living somewhere kind of makes you, well, I’m a little bit of a Canadian. I think I’ve lost all the accent by now, but I had a little bit of a Canadian accent. Obviously though I’m British too, in some kind of a degree and in the past, you know, very easy to fool people abroad into thinking I was British because maybe I’m not British to you or some guy walking down the street, but to somebody who’s in Turkey, I’m British, because I am British.

So have you lived in Hebden Bridge for those 25 years?

I have lived here since 1980. I arrived here on the Russian Revolution day, 7th of November.

So how did you actually come to Hebden Bridge then?

I used to live in Bradford. And you got to know a few people who lived sort of at the University there, and a few people I knew lived in this area and I visited them a couple of times. It was very nice and very early on since I left the Soviet Union I’ve been attracted to what you might call alternative communities. I lived on a Kibbutz in Israel once. Hebden Bridge was one such place, it’s just something that………

So mainly it was the lifestyle that brought you here then?

As well as, obviously, well at the time obviously none of this Café culture yet existed. But, yes, it was a very pleasant rural area. Also very accessible to Manchester, Leeds, easy to move about and do something in a big city. So seemed just like a perfect place really.

What made you leave Kiev?

Oh, it was horrible.

For economic reasons, political or religious or?


All those, then?

I don’t like the feeling of being completely stuck in one place for the rest of my life, which is, you know, what it looked like when I was growing up. And then the opportunity arose to leave and I jumped at it. Economically, yes, it’s a very poor country. Obviously, I figured that I might just be better off elsewhere. And yes, yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism and it could be very, very nasty and basically I felt very bitter at the time. I just didn’t want to have anything to do with these people. And politically, yes, yes it was very much against the regime.

Can you tell me a little bit about maybe your youth, your background, your family and what it was like in Kiev when you were younger?

Well, I left when I was 26, I was. I grew up there. I was a lad when I left. I was born in an inner city neighbourhood in Kiev. It was quite a rough neighbourhood. My parents were Jewish, I’ve got a sister.

What was it like?

Well, as I said, it was rough and looking back it wasn’t all that bad. You know, my parents left me in a kind of room, on a bad day I might say they neglected me, but on a good day, I’d say that you know, looking back I much preferred that than sort of them slightly overdoing it. Because I was left to find my own way, you know.

What work did they do?

My mother was a typist, working at home. My father was a laboratory assistant, so you might say I’m rampant proletariat, aspiring middle-class. Still aspiring after all these years!

Did you go to School, University there?

Yes. I went to a secondary school just down the road. I attempted a couple of times to enter University and I couldn’t pass, quite tough exams to pass to get a university place and the draft was looming up, so you got like a year or two to pass your exams between finishing school and getting drafted. You finished school at 18 and got drafted at 19. If you get into University you beat the rap. If you don’t go to University and failed exams then within months I was going to have to go off and join the glorious Red Army, which I wasn’t at all keen on. So I found a college that would, without going into details, get me off the hook. It was on a par with University because it had military implications. So, that’s what I did.

My history is very similar. I went to University, which got me out of the draft to go to Vietnam, so I understand that one. You’d do anything. You’d bend over backwards.

So what work do you do then?

Well, currently I work with computers. I work from home, run my own company. I provide information, internet information, for clients, for an internet database. It’s European Union run, so an internet database called Anderson and Trium Database so, whenever a local authority wants to build any schools, or maybe an NHS Trust wants to build a hospital, they advertise for architects to design and build for them and I am a kind of broker between them, letting my clients know what ever has come up today that they are particularly interested in. So, I’m an Information Broker, whatever that means.

Before the internet, what kind of work did you do then, because that would have only been the last 10 years perhaps?

I’ll give you the progression rather than going backwards.

I left with my mother in 1973 and we went to Canada because that’s where her mother lived, or my grandmother lived, as they got separated some 40 years ago by the cold war. She went to Canada, which is where I went to University, because I didn’t manage it earlier and so I did a degree in Town Planning. So when I came over here I started looking, after I’d graduated I came here. Then I started to look for a job and again I was looking for something, I didn’t want to work in an office. I was looking at alternative planning, what they call planning A, is plans working with community groups on planning issues and stuff. And that’s what I did in Manchester for 10 years in the 80’s. Working in environmental issues and stuff, building new community centres. In fact I’ve done quite a bit of work in Hebden Bridge because it covered all the North West, the extension to the Ground Floor computer centre, the old one and the College at Pecket Well, I did some fundraising for that, and NAG.

I was involved with that.

In the old place when they were in Moss Lane. I raised them at least ten thousand.

You know Jude?

She was my contact. So, that was quite successful and very satisfying.

For 18 months I used to be one of the management group. I knew there was somebody doing fundraising, but I never met that person and it was you?

I’m very surprised because I never shut up about it. I thought you’d know by now.

Once we got up and running, we hired the people who started working there and I more or less dropped out and let them get on with it.

Well obviously you know, my kid, my daughter was in NAG at the time and as she grew up, we moved on, another generation of parents took the project over. So after I did that in the late 80’s I got money for computers and I got very interested in that and very quickly got interested in something that would eventually become the internet, but it didn’t have a name at the time and I set a European project because you know I’m out to get money out of Brussels, which as you learn you realise like a lot of other people you might as well do it for yourself, and set up a project on an internet database on the best European practice in environmental action documenting all these community projects – Alternative Technology Centre in Wales, with the unpronounceable name.

In Machylleth?


I went to it in the late 70s when they first began it.

So I did a write up on that. So I did that for about 5 or 6 yrs and then I had a fall out with the management committee and I decided that I should set up my own work, without a management committee, if they’d have to shoot me in the end. So, I decided to find something that I could just, I think that constitutionally, I’m not suitable working with the rest.

You like your independence?

I do. I’m afraid I do, it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for me, so might as well do what I’m good at and that’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’ve been doing. Your viewers can’t see the dog, and not that I haven’t invited him to take part in this interview, but he’s still too busy with his rubber ring.

Oh, I’ll have to get him in. What’s his name?

His name is Bash, he’s lovely, but he’s not very bright, even for a dog. And there is, Bash, say hello. Well, ok, they’ve just seen Bash. That’s official, he’s famous. That was a nice little incident, light relief.

Yes, indeed. He wagged his tail on cue.

He did, didn’t he; maybe he’s not as daft as he looks. Millions of people are watching him, you know, he figured that out. He twigged it.

You seem to have done an awful lot with the community, so do you feel that you’re part of the community now, in Hebden Bridge?

What is the community? That is the big question. It’s probably 50/50. Offcomeders, so, that’s a completely different community, really.

It is.

Realistically, there is still, the locals. Originally, the people used to work in the mills and I have several friends who are just local and some that actually worked at the mills. And then the sort of hippies came, that was the original kind of, original wave of people from the outside. And again, many of them are still around and I know them, but they are not necessarily. You know, they are obviously, they are a community of their own so, that they came here, they stayed and some of the probably left and they stayed and that’s their culture sort of and that’s the people and they’re still hanging around with each other.

That’s a group I’d like to talk to.

Yes. The old ageing hippies. They’re no longer ageing, they’re ancient! I think I came in with the second wave and that’s the people kind of mostly who are university graduates from sort of, the left leaning, kind of community based, further education, social workers. Those kind of lower middle class kind of, sociology, sort of degrees. I’m part of that community in terms of my, in terms of people I hang around with, people that I know. The parties I don’t go to any more. And I think recently it much sort of yuppies came. Well, more recently its just people who, I remember the first and second wave, they were kind of ideologists slightly, sort of committed, so they were kind of alternative, sort of left wing, more communities oriented and I think you’re probably one of them.

I am, yeah.

You’re one of that group. The recent group, I don’t want to malign them, but they are just kind of probably younger, just professionals – lawyers, young specialists and, of course, they’ve formed their own, they’re younger to start with and they’ve formed their own. They’ve got young kids so again, you know, they’ve formed their own associations with the schools that their kids go to. So, I think, I would have thought that’s kind of, another group. So, when you say local community, I don’t think there is a local community.

Well, I would agree there. I do think they do tend to mix at the edges in my experience.

Oh, yeah. I’m not saying they’re completely, totally.

And I have a lot of friends of all those categories, to be perfectly honest. I know people who are young with young children who are better off shall we say than I am. And I came in that second wave of hippies, as you called it, but I know quite a few of the original.

It’s remarkable that we never met.

It just happens and I know a lot of local born and bred people, as well. You do get a mix, I find, but they do, they are, as you say, you can identify them as being sort of different, but do you feel part of any of that in particular? I mean, obviously, the one that you came with, but your identity, within that, how do you see that?

Well, I don’t know, I’m just Jake. I’ve been here for a long, long time. I use to be for it and I’m very loud and I think it makes you visible. I kind of hang around at the cafes because I work from home and so, during the day you bump into other people. You say hello, goodbye or having coffee together.

How do you feel about it?

Well, obviously, I can’t, it’s a great place to live in, the fact that its, up until Hebden Bridge I’d been all over the place, you know, I’ve been everywhere. The fact that I’ve settled down here is obviously, because I like it. It’s a great place.

You’ve talked about all those various changes. Why do you think those changes have occurred? Or do you think it’s been a good thing that changed in the way that it has?

I think its just certain sequence of events. I mean, I don’t know if you know a man, David Fletcher?

Yes, I know him.

He’s a good friend of mine and I think he’s of all the connections individually, he actually, he’s taken a lot of flack over the years from people who don’t know any better. We won’t go into that. If you had to lay your finger, from what I know, any individual who, maybe, played a major role in it, I would say it would be him.

What? The regeneration of the place?

A regeneration of the place. I would obviously say the hippies were nothing to do with him, but the hippies came here when a lot of the mills had just started closing down because of cheap Japanese imports, it just put them out of business and they were just not ready. They had no plan B. It did not work out. Well, obviously, you know, the place got devastated and as a consequence there were a lot of empty properties and it was like, there was no employment. And so, the hippies moved in to squat these properties. And the hippies you know, between you and me, they were middle class, most of them, so they had, actually, they either got jobs or they had wealthy parents and actually they were a lot less poor than they appeared to be. And so they had a little bit of money to put into the town. They had some income and at the same time I think, and that was before my time actually, so I can’t reconstruct that event. David, who was at the time I think, he was in charge of a department at the Polytechnic, he sort of had a town planning background and that’s how I know him. He formed like a branch of the local civic society.

The Round Table sort of thing?

Yes, called Civic something. Anyway, a group of local people who, because he had that kind of job, he travelled quite a lot and he became aware of what can be done in terms of regeneration. Places where a local economy, a traditional economy, had collapsed and how do you put the place back together again, you know, attract new business, attract new money in. And so, I think he knew what he was doing. He did some of the things that people had done elsewhere, so I think he helped implement some of it. Both in a personal capacity, because he bought Bridge Mill, which, of course, would have been a hole in the ground had he not bought it. It had closed down and they didn’t know what to do with it.

So the things he has done then, I mean, obviously.

There were other people involved, not just him. The Civic Trust, I think it’s called the Civic Trust. So, that group, the Civic Trust, both in a personal capacity, but also they formed a regeneration society and they put funding in and saved a few mills, remaining mills from getting knocked down. All of that had a cumulative effect.

So you think they were actually working towards rebuilding the community, rather than just trying to make money out of it?

Some people have made money. There was a guy called Derek who has done extremely well. I don’t remember his last name. Sotherby? Ahhh. Setbray?

I don’t know him.

He owns half of Hebden Bridge.

I know there’s a bloke who lives up Hurst Road.

Yeah, that’s him.

Who’s done quite a lot of?

Yes, he’s built up the place Shepherds Garage and that row along there. Where they have the office above Hebdens, what’s it called?

The gym and ?

No, above Hebdens.

Hebdens, the restaurant?

Yes, There’s offices above it.

Yeah, there use to be alternative therapies there isn’t there, at one time?

Yes, it’s just his office space and they rent it out. He owns a lot of shops in the main street.

As I say, it’s just a combination of factors. The place had a lot of very cheap, knock down properties, surrounded by wonderful scenery.

It’s quite different now, isn’t it?

Yes, surrounded by wonderful scenery, very accessible to Manchester and Leeds. All this had that potential. And so, a lot of people saw that, you know, and have done well out of it. But, yes, I think it’s now become too much. For a long, long time it was a good thing. To come from a totally devastated economy, houses back-to-backs and all that, up until maybe 10 years ago, a lot of the people who have benefited from it, you know, in terms of buying a house from early on and appreciated property values, but it’s become a bit too much. It’s become a bit too gentrified, a bit too gentrified. It’s OK up to a point but then it started getting out of hand, you know and I think, to me.

Do you think it will continue to go that way?

Well, I think it’s up to the local authority to kind of see that it’s too much. I shouldn’t be the one who is saying this in terms of everything is new apartments these days, where before if there was a local business folded and there was like a mill standing empty, they would try to manage what space, some office spaces for people, maybe small offices, community project, maybe some houses, a variety of uses. These days, it’s just all apartments and it just happens that I live in one! But it’s changing this town into a commuter, dormitory town.

I mean, building houses and apartments is all well and good if they’re affordable to people who live in the place, and what seems to have happened is that prices have sky-rocketed so much, so my son who is 15, in 5 or 10 yrs time won’t be able to afford to live here and he’s spent his whole life here.

It’s becoming like a middle class ghetto and that’s not good. Also, in terms of optimum land use, a properly functioning community should have a variety of uses, a little bit of light industry, a little bit of commercial use, a little bit of houses, family houses, a little bit of apartments for young couples and stuff, low income affordable houses. It’s just becoming one single thing. So, that’s not very good.

So you think the Town Planners of the Council, part of it is down to them?

They don’t seem to, they think, basically, it’s a wonderful thing. They don’t seem to, that’s what Planners are there for, to steer things in a direction, where they think it should be steered, you know, in terms of planning applications, you know, at some point in time they should just say that’s enough apartments and encourage other uses.

I’d like to go on a little bit now, to talk about the landscape around here. How important is it to you, this landscape?

Well, I think I’m a bit blasé about it over the years. I used to do a lot of, it’s wonderful. I used to do a lot more walking and stuff.

Is that to do with your age, do you think?

Yes, it’s age, but you do become very familiar with it and the only time I probably do it, when I probably walk the dog on a nice day, or if there is a visitor coming, you can show them around. So, otherwise you don’t go out that much. I use to do a lot of exploring on footpaths and stuff.

So, do you know anything about the history of the landscape around here then?

Well again, initially, you know, I got a few books out of the library and I read up on things a fair bit, but that sort of tailed off and it just stopped, really.

But don’t you think…

I stopped actually learning about any of this.

If the hills, and the woods, and the walks, I mean the canal has changed quite a bit in the last few years. There’s much more boats on it and the character of that’s changed a lot. But, if the landscape did change, if they started cutting down some of the woods or buildings, not very nice housing somewhere, it would really affect the area, don’t you think? So the landscape, even though you might take it for granted after you’ve been here for so long, it seems such an important part of the area.

Yes, but what are the issues. I mean there’s all these sort of wind farms, that’s a big issue.

Yes, that’s true.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with them, but a lot of people don’t like them.

I don’t see anything wrong with them, with slight reservations, I suppose. I wouldn’t want to see them everywhere, but there’s a couple about here aren’t there. And people doing alternative, particularly technologies, but I think that’s a minimal change, really. It might change your visual outlook on a particular walk.

What are the actual threats to the environment? The rivers been cleaned up quite nicely. It used to be this horrible blue colour.

No, I’m not saying there’s a threat. What I’m saying is if it did change, for any reason it did change, it would totally alter the character of this place. I do believe this type of landscape almost, kind of created the community in one sense. It’s like if we can go back to when you were young, you were born in an inner city area and now it’s a very rural area you’re in, and if you had to compare the two; the differences are quite vast, aren’t they?

Well, I think because of the geography, because its such a narrow steep valley, the danger of it being over-developed is fairly minimal, because there’s nowhere to build, because it’s just so steep. It could have been built on, has been built on, basically, there’s a little bit going on in Old Town and places further up the hill, but Hebden Bridge itself, I mean, this use to be an old garage, they’re converting old mills and the Charlton Hotel. There’s very, very little that technologically can be built on. So, I don’t think the environment is under threat here from, kind of like, you know, I’m trying to think, you know, Lanzarote or some Canary Island where they’re just going to build, build, build until it just disappears. I don’t think it’s likely to happen here in the foreseeable future, because, nationally there are other places where it’s a lot cheaper to build in, so I don’t think it’s under that great pressure to develop things for houses and stuff. As you said, wiping out the ahh?

The character of the place.

The nature and the character of the place. In this case the geography takes care of it.

But, I’ve been here for 16 years and the amount of traffic that’s built up; I know it’s a major route between Yorkshire & Lancashire. The M62 is the main one obviously, but this is obviously quite a through route and there seems to be an awful lot more traffic these days.

Oh yes, it’s bizarrely the planners actually encourage it, which to me is complete idiocy. They just think more tourists, more tourists, more tourists. It’s good for the local economy. The local economy is doing OK and shoppers are, shoppers will always moan about this or that. Shoppers are doing OK, we don’t need any more tourists. More tourists just means traffic. We can’t accommodate traffic. It’s stupid. You try to discourage it, that’s what you do, cos it’s a small town and its already, kind of, at weekends it’s madness. And they’re still trying to bring in more traffic. It’s just insane. Because I’ve worked in this area years and years, in certain local authorities in this country, like Cambridge have adopted a policy of discouraging tourists, deliberately and I think that’s what this town needs, cos it’s got as much as it can cope with, basically. Bringing in any more tourists is actually making the place worse. It actually doesn’t make it better. Congestion, pollution and all that jazz, there’s only so much a small town in the middle of nowhere can cope with. We are well beyond that point.

I just wanted to ask you about things you like and dislike about Hebden Bridge, then. Any particular things?

Oh yes, I like the social scene here, knowing a lot of people and being known, the cafes are wonderful, the pubs occasionally.

So you like the cafes and you used to like the pubs?

I don’t go in the pubs as much. Because they’re sad places full of alcoholics. I go occasionally with mates to watch a football game. A lot of people who came around the same time as me used to go to the Nutclough, in Keighley Road and that closed down and we all kind of became homeless, basically. Some of the people went to the Fox, which is where we met, but the Nutclough was the heyday of the social worker, revolutionary Hebden Bridge. Had a great night gig nights, on Thursday nights, it was a good, good place. It was the passing of an era when it closed down. It had quiz nights on Tuesday nights, it was good, it was good. So, I like the social scene, I love the nature. I look out here, I can see the trees, you know, if I was suddenly stuck somewhere like in central Manchester, I would probably killed myself, you know. I love it, clean fresh air. It’s wonderful to see the seasons change and you are so much a part of this. It’s very accessible, I occasionally go to ahh, but not so much now. What I don’t like. Like I say, I don’t like traffic, particularly weekends. Some of the walkers can be a bit small-minded and you can feel, well, there’s the offcumdens, yeah, the London lot, but I mean I’m even worse than that, I’m nothing, I’m not even English. So, sometimes you get vibes from people.

Do you have problems from local people then?

You get vibes. Well, every now and then someone calls you a foreign git, but that hasn’t happened for a while. These days it’s more like, sort of vibes, that’s because the English don’t tell you anything to your face, anyway. They keep it to themselves, but you get the vibes, you get the vibes and local people have been resentful. Those of them who got kind of passed by. Remember, David Fletcher, you know, he’s a local person, but he’s very much part of the whole thing, I’m sure he doesn’t feel resentful to us. But you know a lot of locals, you know, they kind of, you know, these people came in and they got more money than them, they’re loud and foreign like me. You can tell, you can tell, you get those vibes.

Don’t you think that a lot of small town people are like that or is it just?

Anyway, you’d get that anyway, but I think in Hebden Bridge it’s more pronounced, because the swing is just much more spectacular than it would be in Mytholmroyd. I’m sure in Mytholmroyd there would be a small influx of, you know, middle class people from the outside buying up cheap property, but in Hebden Bridge it’s been so pronounced. So, I think there’s that kind of fact, most of the time I just laugh.

Have you brought any, from the Ukraine, Kiev, any traditions or any customs or things you do on special occasions?

Yeah, my cooking, I cook a mean Borsch. Yes, and beef stroganoff, and some nice Ukrainian salads and stuff. Yes. Special occasions, I invite a few people over and more likely than not I’ll probably cook Russian.

So it’s mainly cooking, there’s nothing else?

Russian classical music I’ve always been into. Got a fair bit of that. So, you’ve got that.

So, nothing to do with birthdays or Christmas, New Year time, any special dates that might hold significance for you?

Well, when I left I was so pissed off with that place, it was like I, I made a very conscious effort just to become something else. You know, to be a Westerner. And, that’s how I ended up in Hebden Bridge, because it was as far away from back home as I could, because it’s just a very isolated little place. I kind of made my amends with Russia, so I don’t kind of feel that bitterness that I felt when I was a young lad. And because I just kind of left all that baggage behind at the time, very consciously, but what happened since is that while I was one of the very, very few people that left at the time, of course, since the collapse of communism, a lot more people, you know, people are now allowed to leave and conditions, they are so awful, that they want to leave. So, there’s actually a few other Russians here.

Yes, that’s true. Have you ever been back?

A couple of times.

And how did you find it then, compared to here or when you were first there?

The first time I came was right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was very exciting, because it was such a change. It was like a Russian spring. When I came back maybe a year later, you could just see that it was going to end in tears. I came back again some 5 or 6 yrs ago. I find it quite a grim place. A terrible, terrible glaring inequality on a level you just don’t find in this country. There’s, obviously, poor people and the very rich, but there its just, you know, 1%, half a per cent, are rich and everybody else is shit poor. It’s just unpleasant. It’s, kind of like, bandit capitalism, a particular obnoxious form of capitalism, that they adopted, which I don’t like. It’s not me. I was coming back and a lot of people, more recent arrivals coming here, we became very friendly and I found myself going back some that distance towards, kind of becoming more of a Russian in my tender old age, becoming a little bit more of a Russian and yes, we use to, we haven’t done it for a while, but we sort of used to get together for Russian Revolution Day or sort of May Day or the Russian Christmas, which is in January. And it’s nice, it’s nice, I enjoy it and I’m glad I’ve sort of made peace with one-third of my life expectancy. Which is how it should be.

Well, I’ve covered most of my questions to you and unless there’s anything in particular. Oh, there’s one other thing, that I know that you’ve brought with you, is that you still follow Dynamo Kiev. Is that right?

Yeah, well, very limited opportunities to, whenever they play an English team. In fact, there’s a game tonight.

There is indeed, against Arsenal.

Yeah. What is it on, Sky Sports?

I don’t know, actually. I should imagine it would be, but I don’t really know.

I need to get on the phone and try to organise something.

We’ll leave it at that, if that’s OK and thanks very much for that.

Sure. Thank you for the opportunity for me to kind of shoot off my mouth.

About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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