“Wonderful, magnificent, fantastic!” The charming epithets repeat in the Wales-born Claire Lacey’s speech as she describes Joensuu – the nature, services, cycle tracks, international atmosphere of the city, the ease of travelling by train and Finnish identity built on trust.

The time was the mid-1980s. Pertti Vattulainen, who played the French horn in the Joensuu City Orchestra, was studying in London. Every week, he went to listen to Claire Lacey play in a London amateur orchestra.

– There are two vacant positions for cellists in Joensuu, you should come there! So did Vattulainen urge her, at least to try. Initially I came here for a year, and one and a half years later I came to stay, recalls Claire Lacey, the cellist of the Joensuu City Orchestra.

A career in Joensuu has been a rewarding vantage point for the musician – even more so than in London.

– In Joensuu I have been able to play with many foreign musicians, which would not have been possible in Great Britain. The musicians’ union and their circles there were very closed; it was difficult for a foreign musician to get a job. Whereas in Joensuu, about a third of the players in the orchestra are now foreigners. It is a big plus for Joensuu.

A person of many cultures

Claire Lacey gained her musician’s degree in five years in England and Scotland. She worked in Italy for one and a half years before coming to Joensuu. Her home in England is in Ditchling, close to Brighton where her husband, the world-famous bassist Herbie Flowers, also lives.

– I do not consider myself either Finnish or Welsh; and actually, I am still very fond of Italy as well. I am me, currently a migrant moving between two very different kinds of countries.

Living in different addresses suits us well – we have our own professions, jobs and spaces. We take turns spending holidays in Finland and England.

From love to cycling

– I even have winter tyres, yells Lacey when the topic turns to cycling.

Lacey is a passionate cyclist who speeds down the streets on her bicycle to work, hobbies and shopping in summer and winter alike. She is downright proud of how much Joensuu has invested in safe and extensive cycle paths and trails. For Lacey, the opening of Finland’s first bicycle street in Joensuu in 2017 was an “event” that she never forgets to mention when talking about Joensuu.

The infrastructure and accessibility is in a league of its own in Joensuu

– I had a bike in England as well, but Herbie gave it away and for a good reason – cycling there is downright dangerous! There are no streetlights and the streets are narrow – there is barely enough space for two cars to pass each other on a street. Jumping in the mix means risking your life. And just in general, the infrastructure and accessibility is in a league of its own in Joensuu.

Abundance of culture

Lacey, who has lived in Finland for nearly 30 years, reminds us that culture is the basis of society.

– You need culture in its various forms to enrich your life. In Joensuu, that richness is available in unbelievably many forms.
Music, galleries, the international atmosphere of the university city and the Joensuu Adult Education Centre, which is related to Lacey’s hobbies, are everyday examples of the culture she appreciates.

– Joensuu has a fantastic Adult Education Centre where you can study almost anything – the number of courses is enormous. I have studied Japanese, Italian and calligraphy myself, for example. It is a magnificent and affordable service, and I doubt if anything similar exists anywhere else in the world.

The friend of culture gives a special mention to Koli.

– Everybody knows Koli, the music of Sibelius and the paintings of Järnefelt. It is absolutely amazing how the iconic place that epitomises the Finnish landscape is only an hour’s drive away from Joensuu! I go to Koli with my friends, we rent a cottage there and enjoy our time!

An atmosphere of trust

For a moving musician, the train service from Joensuu is a big source of joy. Rail traffic in Finland works like a dream compared to England, according to Lacey.

– The train is an absolutely brilliant way to travel! When I tell my English friends about the services of VR, they can hardly believe it. It is true – here you can choose a compartment for allergic passengers, a quiet cabinet or a space for meetings. You can also buy the train tickets on the train. The trains are not too full and the schedules are accurate. Indeed, it is something completely different from England!

Lacey is not shy about comparing Finnish and English society. She becomes serious as she states that in England, everything is based on money and social class.

– The children of the rich and ordinary families do not meet on the same playgrounds or go to the same schools. People live in their own bubbles. Finland is completely different, and this city of education and students can be proud of it.

Lacey thinks that Britain is in many ways a country of prohibitions and boundaries.

– The attitude of the atmosphere in Finland is totally different – people trust each other here.

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä-Ässä