Meet the man whose job is to make newcomers welcome

Soon after Welcome House Skellefteå was launched by the municipality late last spring, I was asked why Norran English hadn't yet written about it. The answer was quite simple - I didn't really know what its purpose was or how the municipality planned to use it. There didn't seem to be much to say about it, other than it was, theoretically, a good idea.

Mats Bergqvist loves his new job at Welcome House Skellefteå.

Mats Bergqvist loves his new job at Welcome House Skellefteå.

Foto: Donna Richmond

Engelska2024-03-15 15:50

Since the start of winter, however, and especially with the wild success of the Christmas Café event at Exploratoriet (where they were expecting 400 people to turn up but 800 turned up instead), the purpose of Welcome House Skellefteå has become much clearer.

Their role is to facilitate inclusion and help newcomers settle in to Skellefteå life, through a variety of activities, something underlined by the recent appointment of Mats Bergqvist, a former events organiser, as a coordinator for Welcome House.

I meet Mats at Sara, and I'm immediately impressed with his enthusiasm and ideas. He has exactly the right outlook for Welcome House.

He's also Skellefteå through and through. 

– Our town has always held a special place in my heart, but I won't deny it was a bit grey 10-15 years ago, he says.

– But that's changing! We're seeing an influx of new people bringing fresh energy, diverse perspectives, and a whole new atmosphere. It's like a wave of color washing over us, creating something truly beautiful and more exciting than ever before.

For Mats, his job is more than just attracting people to move to Skellefteå - it's about persuading them to stay. 

– My superpower is bringing people together and fostering collaboration. It's about creating a sense of belonging, making them feel welcome, not just at the events we organize, but in the town itself. I want everyone to feel like they have a social network here, a place to connect.

"Our town has always held a special place in my heart, but I won't deny it was a bit grey 10-15 years ago," Mats Bergqvist says.

The events are pivotal to this bringing together of people. Mats whizzes through a dizzying list of events, including accommodation matchmaking and spouse programs.

– We have matching Mondays, where we try to match up landlords with those looking for accommodation. 

At the last matching event, a man with a house in a Skellefteå village attended. He met a group of five guys from Pakistan. 

– When they saw picture of his house, they were excited and asked, 'Wow, this place is great! Could we rent it and take care of it for you?' They explained that they were friends who had moved to Skellefteå together. The homeowner was happy to hear this as he got paid and had his house looked after and agreed to rent the house to them. It was the perfect match!

The spouse program is a year-round initiative that Welcome House Skellefteå is currently expanding because it plays a crucial role in retaining newcomers. It's a two-day event focused on helping spouses integrate into the community.

Day one is dedicated to social life and leisure. The activities are aimed at growing and nurturing social connections and networking opportunities. Day two is career day, and focuses on careers and education. 

Micael Silenstam, left, and Mats Bergvist at work at Welcome House Skellefteå.

– We're working to bring in companies and relevant organizations – not just employers, but also those involved in community building, higher education, and other career-related resources. It's important to move away from viewing spouses as simply dependents or refugees. Most of them are highly educated and can be valuable resources for our community.

As the municipality's aim is to ensure people feel included in Skellefteå society and stay, Welcome House Skellefteå also collaborates with Northvolt on housing events geared towards those planning a longer stay in Sweden.

– In some countries, renting accommodation is much more common than buying property. Here in Sweden, however, the monthly cost of buying a house or an apartment can sometimes be less than renting.

But for Mats the key to his work is bringing people together.

– Building a network is a top priority for me. Welcome House Skellefteå isn't just about saying 'welcome'; it's a platform for growth and a unifying force. Anyone can be a part of it – businesses, newcomers, artists, government agencies, immigration services – everyone has a role to play.

Mats, whose excitement for his new role is infectious, finally takes a breath, and smiles.

– Honestly, my entire life I've thrived on having a strong social circle. Now, I get to use that passion and skill to help newcomers grow to love my home town. How cool is that?

Mats Bergqvist of Welcome House Skellefteå.