Expat files

Making a bang with bangers

John Warren has lived in Russia for 18 years, longer than he lived in the UK. Known as the "sausage man", his company makes and sells sausages in Moscow. Before the 1998 financial crisis, he was the biggest exporter of sunflower seeds in Russia.

"Russia is entrepreneurial heaven. You've got an intelligent workforce and it brings to the table a different mentality. There are so many opportunities here. I feel entirely free here to think outside the box, to come up with ridiculous ideas that in the UK would be dismissed for not being establishment, not the way we do things. Here, the more zany and off-the-wall you can make it the better and the Russians have a young attitude.

"Russians have embraced the contemporary British banger, the more exotic the better. Right now we're looking at making a wild boar and chocolate sausage but if I were in the UK I probably wouldn't even be thinking about new recipes. I would have a bank manager who would be telling me `if you do it this way then we will give you some money'.

"I've never had a business plan. Only in my head. But here as soon as you've written a business plan it's out of date.

"Having lost all my money in the first crisis I realised that it had to be done in a different way. I now lead a very frugal life - I have a lot of oligarch-lite friends but I have a very different attitude to many of them. I completely changed my lifestyle and no longer try to keep up with the Ivanovs, which I think would be difficult to do if I still lived in the UK.

"So much of life in Europe is about what you're going to do when you stop working, putting money away for your kids, getting a second house.

You're missing the trick! It's about the journey not the destination. I love my journey - I don't know quite where I'm going but that's part of it as well."

Photographer with an eye for detail

Henrietta Challinor swapped a leafy Oxfordshire village for Moscow two years ago when her husband's job brought them to the Russian capital. Finding herself in shock, she turned to her camera to help her make sense of her new life in Russia.

An exhibition of her photography is opening in Moscow this autumn.

"When we first moved here I had no Russian and, quite frankly, I was overwhelmed and terrified by my new circumstances. I was out of my depth.

As I stared out of the car window everything seemed depressing and ugly but then I started to take my camera out with me. Looking through the lens enables one to see things differently and often in a more positive light.

"I started to block out the big picture and began looking at the details: literally on every single street something started to catch my eye, from the golden domes that peak out from behind the menacing Soviet facades of the Novy Arbat to the faces you see on the street, which are so different to those you see in England. I don't always go out specifically to take photographs, but I often regret it if I've left my camera at home.

"Many people achieve things here in Moscow, both expats and Russians, but the city makes you work hard for it. And because you have to be tougher, it means you have to really get the bit between your teeth.

"The city has awakened a new thread of creativity in me and I feel quite privileged to have a Russian gallery owner having enough faith in me to take my work and put it in her gallery. NB Gallery doesn't usually show photographs and rarely non-Russian work. It is an interesting challenge learning how Russians think and work and I feel the exhibition is a genuine collaboration between Britain and Russia."

Charity that began at home

Shona McGrahan has been a Muscovite for six years. As a volunteer and then director of the Action for Russia's Children (actionarc.com), she works to provide funding and support to pioneering home-grown charities that offer help to children and young people in need. Her experiences have enabled her to start a postgraduate degree in charity resource management.

"I had just completed my training with the Citizen's Advice Bureau in the UK when my husband raised the possibility of a move to Russia. So, once I had got my family settled here, it wasn't too difficult a step for me to think in terms of finding something to do along the same lines. "When I started volunteering for ARC I was just one of the team but it's the nature of expat life that people leave and you gradually take on more and more. Before long I found myself the director.

"We're quite simple in what we do. ARC fundraises and gives grants to a range of different projects - for children, young adults, the disabled - that have been set up by Russians and are run by Russians. "The ARC Ball is the main fundraising event of the year. That's the main source of our money. We also act increasingly as facilitators between our supported projects and corporations, as well as individuals, looking to place donations from their charity budget.

"I enjoy Moscow, although I don't know what the experience would have been like without ARC. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it's been an absolute privilege. Through the projects I've met some amazing people working extraordinarily hard in often very trying circumstances. We are trying to get as many Russians involved as possible and it is very satisfying to find that, increasingly, Russians are contacting us to ask what we're doing and wanting to get involved."

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