How ‘the Gothenburg spirit’ can help you find success

David Griffith-Jones is the first one to admit that it sounds like a tired cliche, but he says he just can’t help it. His first encounter with Gothenburg “was love at first sight”.

How 'the Gothenburg spirit' can help you find success
Photo: David Griffiths-Jones (left) and his brother Rob

The 36-year-old British service designer had come to Sweden’s second city to visit his brother. Having worked for years in both London and Melbourne, Griffith-Jones was looking for a change of pace. He knew he didn’t want to return to the UK but figured his next destination might be Berlin or Copenhagen.

But that trip to visit his brother, who had moved to Gothenburg a few years prior for a relationship, made his decision for him.

“I fell in love with Gothenburg straight away. The city is just so charming, with beautiful buildings and a lot of great cafes, bars and restaurants. But yet, there’s this different pace of life here. You can have a job that is as challenging and fulfilling as what you can find in London, but it’s so much less stressful,” Griffith-Jones said.

It helped that his background in digital strategy and the emerging field of service design was a perfect fit for a city that has poised itself to shape the global future of transportation, mobility and connectivity.

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“Gothenburg is a very special place because of what is going on in my professional space. When you think of automation, smart cities and Industry 4.0, everything is connected and fits into an ecosystem. Ecosystems need collaboration, and there is a spirit of collaboration here totally unlike what I’ve experienced elsewhere,” he said.

He said that when he moved to the city three and a half years ago, he immediately started hearing about ‘the Gothenburg spirit’ of people willing to help each other out and work together, even when they are professional competitors.

“I’ve really felt it. The service design community here is great at sharing knowledge and as a whole companies here collaborate much more than they do in the UK and Australia,” Griffith-Jones said.

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Griffith-Jones’s first job in Gothenburg was as a service designer at Cybercom Group, where he designed service and digital products focusing on the Internet of Things, AI and automation. After a few years, he decided to take the plunge and set up operations as an independent freelance consultant and now works with big-name clients including Ikea and Volvo. True to ‘the Gothenburg spirit’, he remains on great terms with his former employer and continues to work with them as a contractor.

Photo: Per Pixel Petterrson

And true to Gothenburg’s position as a destination for connectivity, AI and transportation startups from around the world, Griffith-Jones said he’s able to conduct all of his business in English. He stressed, however, that he’s in the process of learning Swedish because “I don’t want to be one of those people”.

“All of the international companies’ working language is English so you can absolutely get away with only speaking English, but I feel obliged to have a certain level of understanding in Swedish,” he said. “Gothenburg, and in fact all of Scandinavia, is really part of the Anglo-sphere, so I have found everyone here to be extremely welcoming.”

The service designer said that because there is such a huge demand for talent within fields like IT and automation, Gothenburg is attracting “some really high-quality people.” Many come to study at Chalmers University of Technology and then remain in the city to work. He said that those who come to Gothenburg for careers in those fields are truly appreciated by the local business community whereas they might be a little more taken for granted in a place like London.

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With so many professionals gravitating to Gothenburg, Griffith-Jones and his brother created the website as a way to introduce newcomers to the city and to show off some of their favourite haunts. The site got so popular so quickly that they’ve expanded it into a business that focuses on unique events.

“We asked our audience what they wanted more of and they told us they were hungry to meet people in real life, so we starting putting on events and meet ups. The concept that has really caught on is our Secret Dinner Party, where we curate matches that we think would be good fits personally or professionally and then arrange a dinner party at a secret destination,” he said.

For him, the website is a way to give back to a city that he says has given him so much. That it focuses more on the city’s leisure offerings than professional opportunities is a reflection of Griffith-Jones’s appreciation of Gothenburg. He said the thing he loves most about living in Sweden’s second-largest city is the easy access to nature.

“The west coast of Sweden has the most beautiful nature. Every weekend, my girlfriend and I will head out in our car and within 20 to 40 minutes we’ll be somewhere stunning, whether it’s the lakes, the forests or the coasts,” he said. “It’s just gorgeous and best of all you sort of have it to yourself. We often don’t see anyone else.”

Photo: Jäveskär

Even when he’s returned to the city from the wilderness, there is still a sense of calm that has made him “so much less stressed and healthier” than he was before arriving. Still viewing himself as a relative newcomer, Griffith-Jones said he often wonders if Gothenburg natives “appreciate just how good they have it here”.

“Here, you’re almost forced into having a healthy work/life balance. There is an ingrained understanding that you perform better if you have that balance, and I just find that there is more freedom here and more respect for your personal life,” he said.

It’s a feeling he’s eager to share with others, especially friends who have gravitated toward larger cities only to find that the costs of living force them to live far from the city centre and then suffer a dreadful daily commute.

“I truly appreciate how good the lifestyle here is, it’s what really makes Gothenburg a special place. I’m always encouraging my stressed-out friends in London to come over,” he said.

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This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Business Region Göteborg.

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Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer