In 2003 Matt and Magda Wilczynski had good jobs in their home town of Cracow, Matt working as a paint sprayer in a garage, Magda as a biochemist in a lab. But they read that the minimum wage in England was due to rise to £4.20 a hour and that was enough incentive for them to throw up their jobs and make the move to England. They applied to work for me at the Damson Dene hotel, Matt as a handyman/gardener and Magda as a waitress. This was before Poles had an automatic right of entry under the EU and they had to use every penny of the money they had received as wedding gifts, about £3,000, to secure a visa and a job. When they arrived Matt didn’t speak a word of English; Magda only what she had picked up at school. Their aim wasn’t to settle permanently in England but to work hard, earn as much overtime as possible, and save enough so that they could build their own house in the village where all their family lived, something that would have been impossible on the wages they received in Poland.
Ten years on and they have achieved their dream, and more. Matt took a sabbatical year to build his house, with the help of family and friends, and they have raised two children – Lillyanna and Max. Matt also discovered that he has the greenest of fingers and for the past few years he has been in sole charge of my garden at Yewbarrow House, living in the cottage at the bottom of the garden. All his seeds germinate; all his cuttings strike. He received his training from the dahlia specialist Jack Gott, who has named one of his petite series of dahlias after the lovely Lillyanna.
Now Matt and Magda have returned to Poland for good. Magda is looking forward to returning to the work which she loves, as a biochemist. They have secured their future and are returning to a prosperous Poland, whose wages have begun to catch up with England’s. Matt and Magda have been an integral part of our lives. They were loved by everyone, not least us. We will miss them terribly, and so will the dahlias.