Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Andrew Liddle
Guest Writer
12:00 AM 29th June 2024

The Swedish Teacher WHO Came To Stay

Andrew Liddle talks to Gustav Edner, the retiring owner and Principal of Anglolang in Scarborough.

Anglolang’s splendid building with a Delius connection
Anglolang’s splendid building with a Delius connection
It’s about this sunny time of the year that the streets of Scarborough suddenly come alive with young people over here to study at Anglolang, the local English language school. You hear Italian and Spanish being spoken animatedly, French tripping off the tongue in excited tones, rapid-fire Russian and lots of clamorous Asiatic tongues less easy to identify.

“It’s a happy time for everyone, we find, students, teachers, host families,” Gustav Edner reflects, as he prepares to leave behind the Scarborough institution that he created and which will always be synonymous with him. “It’s like a community, one big family.”

Gustav Edner - the founder
Gustav Edner - the founder
For just over thirty-five years, he and his wife Debbie have made it all happen, starting from scratch, building up a business, growing and developing it year after year, and in doing so enriching the lives of countless numbers of people.

“It’s impossible to say how many students we’ve had,” he says, having given it some thought. “Before Brexit, we normally had between 250 and 300 here at any one time during the summer months.” It was the loss of the Erasmus grants that European students could use in Britain that depressed the market, followed by two fallow years during Covid.

Taught in classes of no more than 16, that number of students of mixed ages and abilities obviously provided holiday jobs for lots of local teachers in addition to the permanent staff – and a nice source of income for seaside landladies and host families! But in a wider sense the Anglolang community extends far beyond, largely because modern electronic communication allows current and former students to keep in touch with the college and the people they meet during their stay.

Some of the many stories he has to relate are immensely touching, a few very romantic. “Lots of people formed permanent friendships while they were here. We had a Swiss girl who later married a French lad and a Japanese couple who invited the host family to their wedding.”

They tell me we made Scarborough famous in a lot of places around the world which would never have heard of it but for our courses!
The story of how Gustav made his way from Högsäter, a small Swedish town, with fewer than a thousand inhabitants - in the Färgelanda area of Västra Götaland - where his father was the vicar, is the most fascinating of all. He trained in Göteborg as a teacher and worked for ten years in a local school. "I was very happy working as a school teacher," he reflects. "Some said I was quite strict but I didn't think so - and I never had any problems with discipline."

Frequently he returned in the summers to Scarborough where he had spent some time in his student days improving his English. “I originally came to study in York but couldn’t find decent accommodation there within my budget. Somebody suggested Scarborough would be better.” He pauses to look down the vista of years. “I came, saw and fell in love with the place. It was the best day of my life, when I got off the train.”

The first sign of his entrepreneurial skills came when the founder of the Scarborough International School offered him a fee for every student he could persuade to come over. “I went home and economised a little with my grant in order to pay for adverts in national newspapers to appeal to Swedish students and teachers,” he says, with a twinkle, “and reaped the reward. I immediately signed up 30!” He brought his own students over later when established as a teacher and began to wonder if he could run his own school here.

In 1983 he heard of a suitable property, a large villa in a quiet part of the Falsgrave area, that had stood empty for 5 years having been abandoned by the Yorkshire Water Board and was in need of a great deal of repair and refurbishment. “The garden was a wilderness, the marble fireplaces and skirting boards had been painted over.” He shrugs his broad shoulders. “It was a mess.”

One of the restored ceilings
One of the restored ceilings
It is difficult to know how this had been allowed to happen to an elegant house, once the home of Eric Fenby, the amanuensis of the Bradford-born composer Frederick Delius, and later his biographer. “He’d had the lawn shaped like a grand piano and getting it back to that took some doing,” Gustav recalls, while gazing across it from the ornate conservatory he added later. “The ceilings are magnificent and we restored them all.”

Even in a run-down condition the asking price was totally beyond his means but somehow he managed to scrape the sum together, taking out a large bank loan and borrowing most of the rest from friends. Was it a gamble? “Other people might have thought so,” he says, forthrightly. “I knew there was a market and I knew we could do it.” He breaks off to laugh, heartily. “But it didn’t come without a lot of hard work from a lot of people. I couldn’t have done it without Debbie at my side.”

They began by offering two-week English courses for teachers, coming on the forerunner of the Erasmus scheme established by the European Union in 1987. Later they expanded, took on permanent staff and admitted international students of all kinds, offering them intensive courses, taught in a friendly, relaxed way. “They tell me we made Scarborough famous in a lot of places around the world which would never have heard of it but for our courses!”

Sometimes I wonder if I’m retiring too soon.
Gustav sold the school recently to the French-based Thomas Bui. He’s stayed on to help out and, not least, explain the working of the much-admired database that he himself built up. He and Debbie are moving to Dorset to be nearer her relatives. They hope to spend half the year there and perhaps the rest in Sweden, at the family summer house he owns jointly with his six surviving siblings.

“Everything has been wonderful here and I am very proud of what we have achieved but it is time to leave and look to the future.” Any regrets? He shakes his head slowly but the smile forming on his lips suggests he is ending on a humorous note. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m retiring too soon.”

All his former students and staff must wish this remarkable man who has brought so much to a community that he has been at the centre of for four decades the very best for a long, healthy and happy retirement. He’s certainly earned it!