Tynedale’s Europeans join forces to face Brexit fallout
THEY include among their ranks a chef relished by a generation of Tynedale fine diners, the next president of Tynedale Rotary Club, an NHS anaesthetist and a devoted environmentalist known for his work with a plethora of community organisations.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Heinrich Herrmann, Edith Curry, Wenanty Jazdzyk and Peter Samson, respectively, are a generous measure of translators, academics, artists, business people, husbands, wives and children who have been born and/or brought up here.
And most, if not all, of the 300-plus EU citizens who call Tynedale home have one fear as the maneuverings over Brexit begin – that they will become bargaining chips in the Herculean battle that lies ahead.
One Polish man, Janusz Pasak, said: “We came here when my daughter was two-and-a-half and she’s now 13, but she’s coming home from school asking questions.
“She’s worried, ‘Do we have to leave? Do I have to leave my friends?’”
Being forced to leave is now the very real concern shared by the members of the Tynedale EU Group formed in the wake of the House of Lords’ failure to have the Brexit bill, giving Theresa May the mandate to trigger Article 50, amended.
The Peers’ attempt to secure guarantees for the rights of the three million EU citizens living in Britain as a whole was extinguished as quickly as a candle.
The response from the national 3Million group, which was founded by a group of French people lobbying for a new law to grant every EU citizen already settled in Britain a blanket right to permanent residency, was voiced by their leader, Nicolas Hatton.
“I struggle to find words to express my utter desperation that EU citizens will now be used by the Government as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations,” he said.
Locally, Edith Curry, who hails from Hexham’s twin town of Metzingen in Germany, said: “We formed our group because it suddenly sunk in, because we realised theresomething to worry about!”
She met her late husband, architect David, when he visited her home town with the Hexham Town Twinning brigade in 1989.
“The Hexham Abbey Choir came over and gave a concert in Metzingen – I met him and that was it!” she said. “Three years later, I came over here.
“Until now, I thought Brexit was nothing to do with me really, but I am shocked at the way things are going.
“We want people to know what sort of situation we are in.”
The 30 or so people who have attended the group’s first gatherings, in the cafe within Hexham’s Forum Cinema, originate from the length and breadth of the European Union –Holland, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Poland and Denmark for starters.
Many of them have lived in Tynedale for decades. Heinrich Herrmann, for one, has been here for 45 years.
The Ramblers restaurant he and his wife, Jennifer, set up in Corbridge in the 1970s sharp became a byword for fine food.
As with the majority of the Tynedale EU Group, love is the reason he ended up here.
He met his English wife-to-be in Bermuda and basically followed her home.
“Well, she comes from Sunderland, but I’d like to stress I’ve never lived there,” he smiled. “But don’t tell her I said that ...
“The thing is, my wife is British and our three children are British, so what’s going to happen? Would I have to leave by myself?”
Carolin Blaske, from Germany, has lived in Britain for more than half her life and for 13 years in Hexham.
“I came to London as a 19-year-old student,” she said.
“I met (partner) Mark just after I graduated and he had a PhD place at Northumbria University, so we came up here.”
Her overriding concern is that because the couple weren’t married when they had their three children, all Northumbrians by birth, they have German passports.
“It never mattered before, because we were all EU citizens – it didn’t matter where you came from,” she said.
“But now, where would we go? We have no other home to go to. This is our home!”
Peter Samson, who has on his CV his career with the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, his role as co-ordinator of Hexham Farmers’ Market and membership of environmental action groups such as Transition Tynedale, settled here 31 years ago with his wife, Fransje.
They left their native Holland in search of work, he said.
“It’s hard to believe now, but it was much easier to find work in Maggie Thatcher’s 1980s Britain than it was in Holland.
“Then, you could almost decide where to live and you’d find the work to go with it.
“My wife was job hunting as an occupational therapist at the time and she found something straight away.”
They have been settled here ever since, on their smallholding on the outskirts of Wark, a small village of 200 residents that yet counts Dutch, Danish and German people among its number.
He is just grateful that in Tynedale EU Group he will be able to share the journey ahead with people who understand. They are all in the same boat.
He said: “It hasn’t been said to me directly, but when people say ‘just go back’, go back where?
“I have not lived in Holland for more than half my life, I have never had a proper job or paid taxes there.
“You might as well send me to Morocco or anywhere else in the world as Holland.”
Much as talk of Brexit and Trump being elected to the White House had once been in the vein of ‘it’ll never happen’, he felt the era of complacency over EU citizens’ rights was over.
“It sounds a bit dramatic, but for me it shook my world,” he said.
“The idea that we become part of the negotiations, not just between 27 countries but also within the EU Parliament and Commission, is deeply uncomfortable, to say the least.
“And the prospect of there not being an agreement at all just doesn’t bear thinking about.”
The group can be contacted via the email: email@example.com