A lot of people who live in busy, built-up areas, crammed with cars and people, dream of remoteness and solitude. They dream of owning property overlooking a river and many kilometers from the nearest supermarket.
But few people actually act on that desire. Neil and Rhea Parker did.
–The company where I’d worked for 17 years as a bricklayer had got a new boss and the bad days at work started to outnumber the good, says Neil.
– I’d always said that if I am not happy with my job, then that's the time to do something about it. Because you get to a certain age, and you get so comfortable it becomes too late to do anything. And I’d heard a lot of guys I worked with saying that they had plans to move somewhere completely different, and they never acted on it. They just retired and then died. I didn’t want to be like that.
Rhea says that Neil had told her when they first met in 2010 that he wanted to live somewhere other than the UK.
– I was OK with that. I originally came from the Philippines where I'd studied to become a nurse.
So, on a day in 2014, when Neil had endured six or seven bad work days in a row, he ended up in bed browsing eBay looking for businesses to buy abroad.
– And within 10 minutes or so I saw these rental apartments for sale in Storuman. I thought the price must’ve been missing a nought! We had a nice house in the UK. But it had very little outside space. For the price of that house, you could buy a whole village in parts of northern Sweden.
Neil was excited by the opportunity.
– I was talking about it for a couple of days and Rhea just told me to book a flight go and look at the place. So, I did. And it was so beautiful, just a lovely area, we decided to go for it, and we moved in 2015.
Rhea did her homework. They already had two children and went on to have four.
– I’d googled countries that are best for children, and Sweden generally came in the top five, so that was another advantage for us to move here.
The Parker's first culture shock came when they invited some locals around for some drinks.
– When we came here first we were quite reserved and a bit English. When we had our first party here in our new house in Storuman we obviously offered people beers. When one guy finished his bottle, I asked him if he wanted another. He said, “Yes”, and I went to get him one. But he got to the kitchen first, opened the fridge and pulled out a beer. I was a little shocked. If you did that in the UK people would think it was so rude. But it was normal here.
They initially enjoyed life in Storuman.
– During our first summer, we had three months of blue skies every day. It was idyllic, says Neil.
And although the first winter was tough they gradually learned to have fun in the snow.
But, little by little, the conservatism of life in the back of beyond got to them.
– I had trouble with the way some of the more conservative Swedes thought, says Neil.
– We came across very rigid thinking in Storuman. I worked with some builders there, and I usually like to keep abreast of new developments in building. I like to be up-to-date. But when I suggested new ways of doing things the local builders wouldn’t have it. ‘Oh, no, this is how my father did it, and his father before him, and his father before him.’
And the Parkers didn't think their children were best served by the schools in the area.
– We found the school system baffling, says Neil. Rhea elaborates:
– If your kids were bright, they weren’t allowed to do any better than the other kids. They weren’t allowed to do extra work, to stretch themselves. The mentality was, ‘they’re only going to end up working in the forest, or the supermarket, so there’s no need to push them intellectually.’ That’s a big part of why we moved closer to Skellefteå in 2022.
Three of their children now go to IES in Skellefteå, while the fourth is at a preschool nearby. Neil works at Northvolt, while Rhea is soon to start as a nurse in Skellefteå hospital.
They're happier living within striking distance of Skellefteå and Umeå, glad that they live in a more diverse area, with cities and supermarkets closer by.
Especially Rhea, who says with some astonishment:
– I really don’t know how we survived for seven years out in the forest away from Lidl and Willy’s.