Thursday, September 14

Interview, Joe French, Fort William

Highland Move will be featuring a series of interviews with people of different walks of life who have moved into the Highlands and Islands. I'll be asking them about what made them move here, what they do, what they like about the area and what challenges are there for peopke who want to move. I hope the interviews help inspire others. The first is Joe French who lives with his partner who moved from Sheffield to Fort William.

Joe French

HM: Where did you live before moving to Fort William and what made you move?

Joe: I lived in Sheffield before moving to Lochaber, I was lucky enough to be asked to work on quite a famous arts project called room 13.

HM: Why did you choose Fort William what do you think the Fort and the Lochaber area has got going for it?

Joe: Originally when we decided to move I picture getting a croft in the middle of nowhere, finding the mcfrench tartan and embracing a rural life! I’m really pleased that instead of isolating ourselves straight away we chose to move to Fort William. This enabled us to find a social network and make some good friends. For me this is really important. When you move to a small community it’s important to feel as though your part of something and not an outsider. Fort William is full of little cliques; it took a while to establish who were the right kind of folk for us to establish friendships with.

My partner and I have lived in 10 different places in 8 years. For the first time in my life I have felt as if I want to put roots down somewhere. We have a good little house in town that over looks the loch, some good friends, amazing landscapes surround us and I feel Fort William is a town on the up. Sometimes it does feel ambit like a wild west town, as geographically its the last junction before some of Europe greatest wildernesses. It does have its problems, but doesn't everywhere? It seems like there’s a pretty even split between folk who have grown up here and are desperate to get away for the taste of the city and people who have chosen to move here because of its awesome surroundings and to get out of the city! (the pace of life here is markedly different from down
south).

Fort William is one of the only major tourist destinations not to have had major investment and I think its only time before someone steps in with a lot of cash and drives this place forward.

HM: Tell me about your work - What's your main job and what other projects are you involved in?

Joe: I work for a very established arts project called room 13. We encourage children to empress themselves through creativity and try to balance out the monotony of the usual one size fits all curriculum. I’ve started my own version of this in Lochaber high school called studio 13. It’s a music and film studio run by the students for the students. I work as musician/film maker in residence and encourage and help them with their ideas. Have a look at room13scotland.com if you’re interested.

HM: You talked to me a little about how opportunities for work and business projects have been quite forthcoming in the area. Would you say the area is progressing quite fast?

Joe: I am self employed so I have the freedom to work on other projects as well. We recently set up an artists co-op called Heather Hat , this is a group of creative young people who have a wide range of skills and can be called upon to work for people i.e. a local business needs a logo designing or the Council need a film made or work on our own projects such as the climbing film we're making about the glen. Fort William is the kind of place that if you want to you can make something happen. There is also lots of money sat in pots for people to apply for that wouldn't be there in a city. The area is progressing at a steady speed but could do with a lot more young determined folk here to drive it forward...

HM: What are your favourite aspects of living where you do from a leisure point of view?

Joe: I’m a climber and mountaineer so this area is perfect for me. I can get to the CIC hut from my house in an hour and a half on my bike or access some remote and wild places just as easily by a short drive. Sometimes the choice can be overwhelming...so I just stare at the loch from my window wondering what to do!! Since I’ve been up here I have also got into mountain biking. When your surrounded by such world class tracks its rude not to!

HM: Do you know a lot of people who have moved into the area like yourself, and especially of similar age?

Joe: Most of my friends up here have grown up here, gone away to uni and moved back. Lots of my friends would love the chance to live up here but are put off by the limited job opportunities... like I say though if your willing to get involved and maybe take a less than idea job, its the kind of place that something could happen if you have good ideas and are determined.

HM: If you had a second choice for where to live in Scotland, where would it be and why?

Joe: If not Fort William maybe I'd like to live on Skye, Its one of the most incredible places on the planet! But at least I can get there in a couple of hours if I want to!

Living in Lochaber is a magic experience if you have the right head for it, yes it can be dreich and challenging but seeing a sunbeam slice through a storm cloud and the light and landscape thats ever changing gives me a perspective on the world that few other places could give.

Thanks Joe and good luck with all your projects.

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