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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Andrea Jessen

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

    Andrea Jessen, I’m German born in Hamburg, 1955. I now live near Heptonstall.

    How did you come to move here?

    My partner and I lived here about 20 years ago, also in West Yorkshire, near Mirfield. For personal reasons, we moved to Germany for 14 years. Then we found the urge to come back. We always wanted to live in and liked West Yorkshire and were looking around for suitable places to live, to live with a family, and found it by accident.

    Why did you think it was a good place for a family?

    First of all, it’s a really nice environment, a lot to offer for children of all ages. A busy town with everything you need. You don’t have to go far unless you want bigger entertainment, then you’ve got Leeds, Bradford or Halifax. Also, I found the place to be very picturesque, with interesting shops, with reasonable prices. The people up here in our neighbourhood are very, very nice, very friendly. We get on great. We felt at home and also, the quality of the schools in the area. We visited several places in West Yorkshire, but for our circumstances we felt this was the best one.

    Have your children enjoyed it? How long have you been in Hebden Bridge?

    In England, for 5 years now. First, we were renting in Todmorden for a year. The children were already going to Riverside Junior School in Hebden. We always wanted to move to this area somewhere, then this place came along for sale and we liked the opportunity and started renovating. The children had a problem at first, settling in, even though they are bilingual, but at first using English as a foreign language is difficult in school life. The long school day was difficult at first. They finished a lot earlier in Germany. And my oldest only had one year before he had to cope with the new challenges at high school. But that only applies to the first year and they have settled in great, found friends and they really enjoyed it.

    Can you tell me about your background in Germany? You’re from Hamburg which is a big city, it must be different from around here?

    Well, yes, it’s a very big city, the second largest in Germany after Berlin. It’s a different kind of life, though it doesn’t have a lot of big buildings. It has a lot of green parks and it’s quite spread out. We lived on the outskirts, so when I grew up there, I literally lived in the countryside, even though I lived in a big city. After a while there was a lot of stress and people lost patience with each other. I’ve always been raised where people had time for each other. We were always very close and I still have some very good friends and family in Germany, but I found it wasn’t the life for me anymore, the way I use to live.

    What about your early life?

    When I left grammar school, I decided I wanted to study languages. Some of the things I wanted you could only do privately and it wasn’t within our budget, so I then decided to study to become a vocational teacher. I did my diploma and when I left university I thought I needed a bit of space because after 13 years of school and 5 years at university, it was enough. So, I took the opportunity to work in a travel career in former Yugoslavia, and that’s where I met my partner, as well. Then when we got back to Germany, after living in England for one and a half years, I started working for some companies, mainly in house training, and in personnel departments. And the last job was with an insurance broker, who was a friend of mine from university. I was his P.A.

    What do you do now?

    As a teacher, I teach German as a foreign language in Adult Education and in private language schools, but mainly I do translation work. I started doing that when I returned to Germany, so I’ve been doing that for 19 years now for several accounting and market research companies. I’ve got my old clientele from Germany.

    You’ve spoken about your partner Rick, who is a musician. Is one of the reasons you came here because of his work?

    Well, yes and no. He was working there as a musician in Yugoslavia, and was in the resident band for Yugo tours, the travel organiser, but British based. One reason was I didn’t have a job to go back to in Germany. I would have had to look around anyway. Rick didn’t speak a word of German and he had an offer to go back to the resident band here in Britain. He had only done one season, 6 months, there. I thought I might as well take the opportunity to come here and see if it worked out between us, and it has. That’s why we decided to come here rather than him go to a country, learn a new language, where he didn’t have work at first. Later, he worked in Germany very successfully.

    You were brought up in a very family oriented atmosphere. Have you tried to continue that and have you brought any of your customs here?

    I think I have. The first time we lived here and even now its customary to have people come to your house, while in this country people tend to go out and not do so much at home. We used to have our own little parties and dinners and barbecues and things like that. One thing that is Typically German, in the afternoon, we’d meet in that café. And of course I’ve brought German cooking with me. We share the cooking. Rick does his Indian and English cooking. And the children speak German with me all the time in the house. That’s it really. ( it’s a slightly different way of life). I still like to have the friends of my children in our house. They’re always welcome. I think it’s better than them being somewhere where you don’t know where they are.

    I would agree there.

    You mentioned you had a friend from Germany who knew Hebden Bridge. Could you tell me what he expressed about Hebden Bridge?

    He used to come here 15 years ago when he did cycling tours. I think he found the same then. The town has developed into a more bubbly and atmospheric place. although the structure is still the same. They haven’t caused any what I would call damage, like changing a lot of things, trying to use the existing houses and facilities. To do something with it. He likes it. He finds that people are particularly friendly, well that hasn’t changed. It’s more colourful now, more varieties of people. A lot more people have moved to Hebden Bridge from other countries. There are a lot from Germany/ Austrian based people of origin. Many people have chosen this place to live.

    Do you think you will stay in Hebden Bridge?

    We have no plans to move. The only thing we have said is we could live somewhere even more in the sticks, if we don’t have the children. But for the children’s sake we have found a good intermediary solution.

    What even they wish to do is up to them. Everything is accessible to them, friends down the road. As long as we have the children with us we’ve not made other plans. Also its taken us along time to do it up. So there’s no plans, but you don’t really know what will happen in the future.

    Do you have any friends who come over from Germany or Yugoslavia?

    Yeah, mainly from Germany. The good friends from there have all been over at least once to visit, and we go there as well, and my mother is still living there and she’s getting on. So you like to keep in touch. My two older brothers visit, both have been over and my mum visits regularly in the summer. So we have a frequent interchange and Ricky works over there sometimes, with his old bands, so we have an automatic and constant contact there, and they all love it here especially the pubs.

    Do they not get that in Germany then?

    We have a very nice local down the road, but it’s a different quality. By quality I don’t just mean it’s better or worse, but it’s a different type.

    Well what’s it like then?

    In Hamburg I won’t go to a pub I don’t knowon my own, because sometimes you don’t get offended, but you’re not able to talk to the people you’re standing next to.

    Here, I’ve never had a problem talking to people in England. Even, just standing in the road people talk to you, people smile at you, and it’s so open, uncomplicated about things.Always having time for a chat or a cup of tea, a smile and a chat- that’s great. That’s slightly different in Germany, you don’t get a lot of folks like these, even in the country. They’re more stand-offish, it’s contrary to here.

    Is that part of the German Character then, to be slightly more concerned with yourself, I suppose?

    Yeah. I’m probably a bit of an open person, I’ve been brought up that way, but even with my friends it takes a long time until they let you in their lives. German people can also be quite stroppy at times. Generally that’s something I found since moving abroad and looking back. From the outside back onto the environment where you used to come from. You see what you like and don’t like about it a lot better.

    So one of the things you like about Hebden Bridge and England, but Hebden Bridge in particular, is the openness and friendliness of the people?

    Yeah

    Do you find any difference then- you say Hebden Bridge is much more cosmopolitan- so you have people who were born and bred here and others from other parts of England or other countries. Do you find a difference between locals and off-comers?

    Yeah. The people who have moved about a bit are probably the ones who talk to you straight away. To get in touch with locals can sometimes be a bit tedious because they take their time until they open in a different way. It doesn’t seem to be standoffish- you don’t get the feeling that they don’t want you, but that they just want to see first to sort you out- to wait and see, like “who is that?”

    We had that with the chap we bought the house from, he’s great, but he was very cautious. They seem to be in their own little environment a lot. They don’t want to let go of a lot of things. But once they realise you are a genuine person, you can have really good friendships over here. That’s what I like.

    So you haven’t had any bad feelings from anyone?

    No. Just a waiting to see. No, for instance it’s a big difference when you go to Halifax. There’s some areas there where you have people shoving and so forth. I would not generalise it as that , but it’s a feeling I have about this place, and other smaller places in Yorkshire where I’ve not actually had a bad experience.

    You say Hebden Bridge has really changed in the last 15 years. It has changed by being more cosmopolitan. Have there been any changes you don’t like or are there changes you would like to see happen, or go a different direction to make it a nicer place to live?

    Over the past 15 years, I can only tell by what others have told me, because I’ve only lived here for 5 years, but even in that time I’ve seen a lot of changes, like a lot of new jobs coming. I think what I’d like to see is people doing a bit more for the local community, like local clubs, like the bowling club in Heptonstall and other clubs. And like to keep their traditions going because I think they are very valuable places for socialising with people. They are places people like to go. I know through Risk’s work, at the clubs when we go we meet people who actually live in the area. They come because it’s part of their social life. Also, some of the pubs we have sadly seen closures. But thankfully, there’s change. We had it at the New Delight in Blackshawhead. Somebody decided to take it and have a go and revise the thing. I think the community should be more supportive and they should be more supportive of local shops. We have seen a lot of changes like small shops just opening up and closing because they weren’t doing any business. And let’s be fair, if you pay a couple of pounds more than you do somewhere else, but you’re saving your travel and shopping in a nicer environment. So why not stay local, that’s something I’d like to see more.

    I’d like to ask you about your work. You say you’ve been teaching German as a foreign language and also, translation. Is it an even balance, or more of one at a particular time of year? How does it work?

    The teaching bit is interrupted for Adult Education in the summer months because no courses are offered. Let’s say the private teaching runs fairly regularly, that’s if the courses are booked. The translation work you cannot really predict. It tends to be a little bit quieter in summer, but it could be that a customer in Germany decides to have a big project and it could be in the summer. So, there might be some major work coming up. So, that’s really it. It can be very quiet or very busy. Unfortunately, in translation work it always seems to be I have loads of time, then everything comes together rather than nice and easy. Sometimes, I have two or three weeks quiet time.

    Is it mostly German companies asking you to translate a German text into English?

    It’s the other way round actually, usually English into German, but I also, translate German into English.

    Is it mostly German companies who know about you or do you have English companies?

    I’ve got a local company in Todmorden who I’ve done a lot of translation for. They’re doing big industrial books, so I’ve done lots of things like that, but also, in cooperation with their German office. They are not originally British, but they’re British based. Then there’s another one I do translation for, I’ve got a contact in Switzerland. Another is a market research company. They’re based in Frankfurt, but they’re part of an international group. Their mother company is American. Then, I’ve got some accountants in the Rhineland area. They are a purely German company. It’s various things. The language school who I work for, the private school, they have a translation service. So, some of the work comes through agencies. It’s not all my own clients. So that’s the way it works. In addition, at lunchtime I’m working in the local junior school in the autistic unit.

    What do you do there?

    I’m practically a dinner lady. I look after them over lunch. I take them to lunch, then we have a little bit of play afterwards, until they go back to their normal routine. And that’s a very nice job to do.

    How old are the children?

    Between four and six, just before they go into either mainstream or a special school.

    And which school is this?

    Central Street School. They have an excellent autistic unit. That’s quite a nice interruption of my normal work where I really have to concentrate a lot. It’s a very rewarding job.

    Though you’ve only lived here for about five years, do you feel a part of the community?

    Oh yes, very much so. I know a lot of people. Although, at my age it sounds funny, but as an adult you do not tend to make friends like you use to when you were a teenager. Like the boys say they make friendships. You have a lot of people who you know well and are friendly with. There’s no day in Hebden Bridge when at least three or four times you say hello, how are you. So, that’s great. You’re very much integrated.

    This farmhouse where you live now, is about, what three miles from Hebden Bridge. Do you see Hebden Bridge as the centre of this area, because Heptonstall is closer to you? How do you see it?

    I think so. It’s probably the nearest place where people can go for work. And shoppingwise. I mean, we’ve got some excellent shops and facilities, just round the corner is Mays’ farmshop, or if you’ve forgotten something there’s Tonys’ at the Post Office in Heptonstall, if you need little bits and pieces. That’s one thing I’d like to see, more available shops in Heptonstall, cos you can just get on the bike and ride down. They need to be supported, because there use to be shops in Heptonstall, but they’ve closed down. That would be something nice, but yes, I do really think Hebden Bridge is the centre. Todmorden tries to compete a little bit, but it’s out of the way, a bit towards Lancashire.

    You said you lived in Tod before moving here. How do you compare the two?

    You can’t really compare. There are lots of nice little shops there if you look into it. But, it’s the people. There’s a different kind of people there. They just don’t seem to have this openness that you have here. It’s quite extraordinary. I think Hebden Bridge is known for that. Foe example, I subscribe to the Yorkshire Life magazine and Hebden Bridge has been featured in it three or four times already, as long as I’ve been reading it. And they’ve pointed out this, that’s what it shows.

    You’ve talked about it being very picturesque around here, beautiful landscape. How important is that to you?

    Very important, you can’t beat the opportunity of literally on your doorstep having such a beautiful area like Hardcastle Crags or you go up over the moors. You don’t have to go to a really great effort, even if you don’t have the time to go walking. Which we usually like to do, you know for hours, at the weekend if we can fit it in. But, if you don’t have the time, if you’ve just got a half hour in between, or if you want a break, just go for a little walk. Sometimes I just go outside for a cup of coffee or tea. The recreational value is really great, and that’s in any weather, not just when the sun is shining. It’s lovely anytime.

    Don’t you find the landscape a little bit harsh? Some people say it’s a rugged landscape. It’s not one of those soft gentle landscapes that you find in other parts of England.

    That’s exactly what I like and Ricky likes it as well. That really attracted us. We’ve just been on holiday to the Outer Hebrides. If you’re talking about rough landscape it’s even worse there, but it’s absolutely beautiful. I find it very relaxing and very attractive. To be quite honest, I like to look over lush green valleys and that. There’s a lot of that in Germany, but I find it boring. I find it more interesting when you see a little ditch here and rocks coming out or a gorge there or when you go walking all of a sudden you go along a beautiful stream. Then you’ve got the barren moors and you just look for miles. That’s what I really find attractive.

    You were just saying about the housing market and what’s happened here. What’s your experience of that?

    Well, I’ve just noticed that over the past two years house prices have just shot up. They’re just about stabilising. Loads of people are coming up here, a lot actually from the south buying property because up here they can probably buy a whole farm for what it costs, what do I know, probably for half of the price of a flat that they’ve sold in London or the London area. Obviously, people tend to come to the countryside because they like it, because of the advantages and benefits they really have in living here. I don’t know whether it’s correct, but I feel that development has led to a drastic increase in the council tax rates. And the parish of Heptonstall, where we live, is a very sought after area. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve noticed all the for sale signs, but not for long. People keep snapping properties up. Obviously, when you’ve got more people coming there’s a need for more and better facilities. So, all that costs money and for the four years we’ve lived in this house we’ve had a drastic increase.

    If that continued would it be a reason why you might want to leave the area?

    Well, I don’t think that alone would be a reason, but I would like to try to stop that or influence that because a lot of the things that we pay council tax for are a lot more difficult for us to use than the people in Heptonstall or Hebden Bridge. For instance, we have to carry our bin bags up to the road, no matter what the weather is like. We have no gas mains. We have spring water, which is great. I wouldn’t like to miss it, but then there’s no water mains, no water supply. Several other things, we have no regular bus service, except this one little thing twice a day, at times of the day which is useless for people to use to get to work or commute at normal traffic times. All these things really I think should be a reason of stopping the drastic increase, because we are paying for other people. It wouldn’t be a reason, but it would certainly be considered if it went up higher and higher and then affect our quality of life by having to pay too much and you can’t afford it any more.

    Andrea Jessen

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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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