For our World In London: Norway post, I spoke to the woman who helped bring that tree to London.
Oslo-born Irene Garland moved to the UK in January 1969. Garland worked for 18 years at the Norwegian Department for Press, Information and Culture (part of the Norwegian Embassy), which organises the annual Christmas tree gift in recognition of Norway’s gratitude for Britain’s support during WWII.
Since 2004 Garland has been secretary of the Anglo-Norse Society, a registered charity with 700 members. Irene tells me it’s made up of “Norwegians in the UK, British people who’ve lived or are living in Norway or have ties to the country, Norwegian students and those who are studying Norwegian language, politics, culture and geography (such as polar expeditions and the Sami people).
“The Society was established in 1918 but had a break for the war. It was re-established and re-financed in the 1950s. The 1950s were the “good old days” of the Society and it was far more high-profile back then – we used to get Vanessa Redgrave and all the big-name actors who were appearing in Ibsen plays in London to speak at our events!
“In the good old days before the internet, the Society was a way for Norwegians in London (and the rest of the UK) to read Norwegian newspapers and keep in touch with their fellow countrypeople.”
Nowadays, Garland says, the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe is a hub for Norwegians in London.
“The Church hosts family activities, classes, play days and a weekend bazaar that’s very well attended, where you can buy Norwegian food and other products. A lot of Norwegians would go to church for the bazaar, if not necessarily for the services.”
Garland names Holland Park YWCA as a popular budget option for Norwegian students and families visiting or studying here. And, for the children of diplomats on one to two-year placements, there’s the Norwegian school, which closely follows Norway’s curriculum and is attended by 50-80 students from nursery to age 16.
“Most Norwegian people come to London on holiday at some point. When you think that Oslo, Norway’s biggest city, has only half a million people… there’s so much going on in London, you can find anything here. All my friends from university onwards, none have managed to avoid London! And back when things were really expensive in Norway, you used to come with an empty suitcase to fill!”
One thing Garland loves most about London is getting up high for a panoramic view.
“I’ve been on the London Eye and I would love to visit Millbank Tower now it’s opened. I’ve heard you might be able to go up BT Tower too. When you come from a mountainous country, you always want to find places you can look out from.”
Have you experienced Norwegian culture in London? Tell us about it in the comments below.