'Covid nearly destroyed our Norrland dream'
'Covid nearly destroyed our Norrland dream'

‘Covid nearly destroyed our Norrland dream’

Cassandra Hebbourn and her husband, Ben, left the UK for Norrland intent on starting a new life and new business in Skellefteå - then came a pandemic that nearly ruined everything. But they didn’t give up. Photography by Donna Richmond.

Sweden first came onto our radars thanks to a Swedish friend.

We’d been looking to change our lives due to the constant erosion of our salaries and the ridiculous house prices in the UK. 

The almost total lack of affordable housing in the south of England also meant that we wouldn’t have the spare cash to pay for our children to go to university, or to help them buy their own houses. When Brexit was added to that toxic mix we decided to leave.

We’d long liked the idea of the Nordic way of life but hadn’t got much farther than that vague idea. 

Then one day an old racing driver friend and colleague suggested northern Sweden and it snowballed from there.

The friend was Dennis Strandberg, the current Swedish V8 supercars champion. We’ve known him for several years from his time racing in British GTs.

Ben, my husband, had previously worked with the Formula One team, McLaren, travelling all over the world with them for 11 years. But he left that job because he really missed our kids.

Dennis knew that Ben would love to go back to working in motorsport full time but without the travelling and the time away from home. 

Dennis told us about a new race circuit in Norrland, the Drivecenter Arena (drivecenter.se/), an idea which immediately grabbed us. So that became the goal: live in Skellefteå and work with racing cars forever. But then the pandemic changed things. 

However, I’m jumping ahead of myself… 

I expected Sweden to be cold and expensive, as per the stereotype in the UK. You can imagine how it blew our minds when on our first trip to scout out the area in August 2018 we stayed in a beach house set on stunning Gullsand beach (visitskelleftea.se/sv/296046/Badplats-Gullsand/) and ate out at relatively inexpensive restaurants. 

Northern Sweden was nothing like the super-expensive, barren, icy wasteland that we had expected!

And moving here has ensured that any residual fears have just melted away.


We are financially better off even though we’re paying a little more tax. You get so much back for that money it’s ridiculous. For instance, if any of our children want to go to university they can go for free! 

My primary school-age daughter gets transport to and from school and all her meals included which we would have had to pay for in the UK.

Even things like car insurance being cheap enough to pay off in one lump sum, something we could never have done in the UK, make a difference. 

Also the annual tax for our house is the Swedish equivalent of £40 for the year (500kr or €48), not the vast £150 a month we had to pay for council tax in the UK.

But it hasn’t been all plain sailing. Ben had worked long and hard to get his business started at the Drivecenter Arena  race circuit but then Covid-19 ruined that little dream. We’d based all our plans on Ben’s work with the race circuit. It had taken us a long nine months to get the business approved by the Swedish authorities. What were we going to do now?

Ben tried his hand at lots of things including glass-making, cheese-making and even forestry. 

Then the Northvolt battery factory rolled into town and Ben snaffled a permanent job there. 

Yet that wasn’t the end of the testing times for us. Ben had to leave us for a nine-month training course in southern Sweden. I was facing a long winter in a small village with three kids and several chickens and without my husband. And it was every bit as hard as I feared, especially as the winter of 20/21 provided us with a monstrous amount of snow. 

I often found myself waist-deep in snow as I tried to get to our chicken coop to pick some eggs for food. And moving our car in that snow was miserable work. I often called Ben in desperation – when was he going to be able to come home? But we made it. We now have financial and job security and the kids have much brighter futures than they ever would have done in the UK. 

My oldest girl Kiri (above, with her hen Cole) hated school in the UK – she struggled to make friends and couldn’t even go to the local park without being hassled.

It’s totally different here, as she is blossoming and becoming far more academic and is now even working on becoming a social butterfly. And she can walk through the village after dark alone and not suffer any bother.

We love life here. We love going out to grill with other locals on snowmobiles in winter and meeting up with our British friends on a beach in the summer. 


We have also had such great support from other newcomers and locals. It’s the people of Skellefteå who make this city a shining example, the perfect place for anyone who wants to change their life for the better.


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