Based in the Vendée, this English family has been telling their story since their arrival

A close-knit family that feels good in the Vendée © Kirkwood

After Spain, France is the European country where they are the most numerous. In Vouvant, a village in the south of the Vendée classified among the most beautiful villages in France, there are almost one hundred inhabitants out of 900! most are retirees who come to taste the French way of life.

In Bois-de-Céné, even if we’re not in the same vein, the city can be proud to welcome an English family of five, two adults and three children.

Escape the Midlands

Jamie and Sarah Kirkwood were born in the 1970s in the industrial heart of England. “I spent my childhood and adolescence in the Manchester area. You have to imagine an uninterrupted series of similar houses for tens of miles. It was the era of Margaret Thatcher. Strikes, factory closures, under mild skies, ”explains Jamie Kirkwood.

Sarah was born on a farm in the Birmingham area. “I was born into a traditional English family, a close family. I have always been in contact with nature, animals. It wasn’t about me working in an office or a factory ”!

Why France?

Jamie learned French in school. “I wanted to leave it at 14, but a teacher convinced me to continue my studies, and that’s how I learned French. I had already been on holiday in France with my parents and at 21 I wanted to leave England. I felt tight there. “In 1995 he arrived in Saint-Malo.” I worked for three months in a campsite, I did maintenance, small maintenance work … “.

Sarah arrived in France in 2000. “Unlike Jamie, I didn’t speak French! I found a job in the same campsite where he worked, there we met. We stayed in Saint-Malo until 2007 ”.

When asked why the two chose to stay in France, Jamie points out the presence of important natural areas. “There are big cities like Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes (…). But these cities leave a lot of space between them. In England there is a lot of urbanization, the countryside is never very far from the city. Sarah and I don’t really like cities.

Video: currently on Actu

In the Vendée

The work on a campsite is seasonal and has given our two Brits enough time to travel and discover France. In 2008, still working in campsites, we find them in the Vendée in Saint-Jean-de-Monts. “It was the first time I got a permanent contract,” says Jamie. “With Sarah, we always did maintenance, DIY, there is always something to fix on a campsite. We also did some entertainment.

Jamie and Sarah Kirkwood
Jamie and Sarah Kirkwood © Kirkwood

2008 is also the year of the birth of their first child. A little girl, Mathilda, born in Challans. Unfortunately, doctors soon discover that she has autism. A test for this couple, who, despite having lived in France for many years, had not yet confronted themselves with the French administrative peculiarities! Today Mathilda is assisted a few days a week by the IME (Institut Médico Educatif) of Aizenay. Her parents are full of praise for the quality of the work and the attention this facility dedicates to the child and parents. “The rest of the week, Mathilda lives with us in Bois-de-Céné. Sometimes it is a bit difficult, because Mathilda can be unpredictable, but the house is big and our three children each have their own room to be able to isolate themselves whenever they want ”. Sarah Kirkwood says.

Buying a house in Bois-de-Céné

Meanwhile, two more children were born. In 2010 Thom, and in 2013 Jem. Two boys. “We lived in Sallertaine then. The family grew up and we loved the Vendée. Despite the summer crowds on the coast, life here seemed slower, calmer than in England ”. Jamie explains. “Now I had a permanent contract, I worked in Saint-Jean-de-Monts for a large group, on a campsite with 560 pitches and 254 mobile homes. Sarah worked with me, but not full time because of our little Mathilda. We therefore decided to buy a house in the Vendée. I was 45 and my banker told me I had to make up my mind, because after that age bank loans were more difficult to obtain ”.

In 2018 the couple fell in love with an atypical house in Bois-de-Céné. “When we first saw her, we knew she and we were going to be a love story,” smiles Sarah. “It’s a house with enough rooms for everyone to have their own space.”

And then Brexit came!

Without being a revolution, the arrival of an English couple with children must have piqued the curiosity of the nearby dinners! “People have been very nice to us. We are surrounded by elderly people. They brought us vegetables, tomatoes … They were ashamed not to speak English. Luckily Jamie has a good command of French and I… I can, ”says Sarah.

While Thom is now studying at Milcendeau College in Challans, Jem still attends the Marronier school in Bois-de-Céné. Then comes the thunder of Brexit, on 1 February 2020 England decided to leave from the rest of the continent.

Changes, but no drama

Like most of their expatriate co-religionists, Sarah and Jamie were disappointed with the outcome of the referendum. “Many of those who answered yes did not measure the consequences of their vote,” says Jamie. “It doesn’t change much for us, we have a job, so we still have French social security. I have a work permit valid for ten years, ”continues Sarah. “The most annoying thing is the little annoyances, like the fact that I have to pay a high tax to the post office when I go to pick up a book ordered in England.”

Making the most of a bad situation, making good heart against bad luck, this may now be the motto of the Kirkwood family. Sarah then explains that “our situation in Bois-de-Céné, having a house there, gives us roots, an identity. We really feel at home here. Although for my part, I sometimes miss my family. And then I miss the pubs too, ”she smiles. Perhaps more attached to tradition than her husband regrets English Christmases. And also celebrations specific to England, such as Guy Fawkes Night, which on November 5th sees the country lit up by thousands of fireworks. “Fortunately, we are lucky enough to live 45 minutes from Nantes airport. We go back to England several times, especially for Christmas. And even better is that the train stops in Bois-de-Céné ”.

Was this article helpful to you? Note that you can follow Le Courrier Vendéen in the My News space. In one click, after registration, you will find all the news of your favorite cities and brands.

Leave a Comment