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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin

HERITAGE: KS3 Commended

Valentina in Year 8 explores her Liverpudlian roots and past, leading her on an enthralling journey all over the globe! Valentina said: My heritage story is deeply rooted in Liverpool, a city which is synonymous with comedy, resilience, northern humour, music, football, the shipping industry and some very tough times. Both my parents were born and bred in Liverpool and although I have always lived in London, I believe these characteristics have strongly moulded the person I am today. My parents have never let me forget my Northern roots and the importance of their influence over what makes me unique and define the girl I am becoming each day.

This is Me

My story begins at the start of WW2....

1939 was a daunting time. World War Two was breaking out across Europe. As for my grandmother, who I knew as Mimi, she was only 4 years old when she was evacuated from her home in Belgium to Liverpool. Everything she knew was taken away from her and her family. They left their home with just the clothes they stood up in and had to start a completely new life in a new country and learn a new language. I believe the resilience I have today stems from the strength and courage my Mimi showed all those years ago. She was one of the strongest people I knew in the face of adversity. I also believe my love of languages comes from the fact that she had to learn a new language at such a young age and eventually became a language teacher who spoke six languages.

My Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandfather, known as Oma and Opa, along with Mimi and her sister, Francine, fled Belgium in the dead of night to escape the invasion of Belgium by Germany. The got put on a small boat. Mimi remembered that the only belonging she saved was her teddy bear. They ended up in Liverpool and had to start all over again. They lost everything and all that was familiar to them was gone. I've often heard stories of the time that their home in Oostende was ransacked and taken over by German soldiers and a portrait of my Great-Great Grandfather, Josef, who had a remarkable resemblance to Winston Churchill, was used as darts practice by the soldiers. After the war, they returned to their home in Oostende and the portrait was still there. It now hangs above the mantelpiece, with pride of place, as a reminder of the home of Mimi and Grandpa.

My great grandmother, Mariette, my great grandfather, Robert, my grandma, Mimi, and her sister, Francine, in 1941 outside their new home in Liverpool.

When they arrived in Liverpool, my great grandfather got a new job and found a new house for his family to live in. Even though they were completely new to this country and language, it didn't stop my Opa from enjoying a drink or two at his local pub, the Nag's head. It was at this pub, in 1940, that my Belgium great grandfather, Robert, met a man called Eric Barbour, who was my English great grandfather. They became good friends and once my Belgium family returned back to Belgium after the war, they kept in contact and often exchanged letters which we still have in our family today.

15 years after the war ended, in 1960, my grandpa, David, was now a sailor in the merchant navy. His ship ended up docking in Zeebrugge, Belgium, for a few days and he decided to look up my Belgian family as his father spoke so fondly of them from the war. It was then that he met my Grandma, Mimi. Their paths had crossed briefly in the war when they were children and both living in Liverpool but they hadn’t seen each other since 1945. They were married two weeks later in Brugge and stayed married for 55 years until my Grandma took her last breath whilst still holding his hand. Theirs was a true love story which spanned many years and survived good and bad times. Their love and devotion to each other is something that has always been instilled in me. My parents have taught me to never give up and keep going because tough times teach us to appreciate the good times. One of my Mimi's favourite sayings was, "When it rains, look for the Rainbows."

After Mimi and Grandpa were married, they settled back into life in Liverpool and had two children, my mum, Claudine, and her sister, Danielle. Mimi taught languages at a Secondary school in the city.

Coming from Liverpool, going to Sea for a living was inevitable for my Grandpa and he followed in the footsteps of his father and his father before him. My Great-great-great Grandfather, James Barbour, was first officer on the SS Californian during the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

My Grandpa continued to travel the world as a Sailor before eventually leaving the navy and working in the offshore and oil industry. This job also took him all over the world and, as a result, my mum grew up in Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, living in Dubai until she was 10 years old. Her childhood influenced her love of travel which has in turn made me love learning about different cultures and experiencing different ways of life. My dad, William, also grew up in Liverpool but he and my mum until many years later when their paths crossed in London. Just like 60 years earlier with my grandma and grandpa, serendipity and fate also played a huge part in their coming together, but we will get to that later…

My Mum as a child in Nigeria in 1972.

My grandmother, Mimi, and my mum, Claudine, in Dubai in 1979.

My love of food comes from my dad, who is a Michelin-starred chef and has had me cooking in the kitchen since I could walk and talk. As a family, much of our time is spent around the kitchen table putting the world to rights and eating!

He was one of the youngest ever British chefs to get a Michelin Star at the tender age of 26. He trained in Paris and has worked alongside some of the industry’s best. His love of food came from my Great-great Grandmother, Carrie, who worked as a cook for Earl Fitzwilliam at Wentworth Woodhouse in the 1930s and 1940’s.

She later moved from Yorkshire to Liverpool where she met my Great-great granddad, Billy, and they had my Grandfather, William. He married my nanny, Gladys, and they had 2 children, my dad and his brother. It was here in Liverpool, in the 1980s, that, by chance, Carrie took a job working for a local family as a housekeeper who just happened to be best friends with my Mimi and Grandpa, so, unbeknownst to my mum and dad, their lives were intertwined for many years before actually meeting in London in 1993.

Wentworth Woodhouse where my Great-Great Grandmother was a cook

It has often been said that I get my work ethic from my dad. Hospitality is a tough industry and he is one of the hardest working people I know. I am so proud of everything he has achieved in his life which gives me the drive to succeed. My dad has always said to me that if you want something enough in life and you work hard, it will pay off. My mum also spent years working in the hospitality industry and was restaurant manager to some of the best chefs in the industry including the late Gary Rhodes and Marco Pierre White. Working in such a male dominated industry wasn’t always easy, but like her mother before her, it made her the strong woman she is today, a trait that I am proud to have inherited.

My mum and dad met in London in 1993 in a busy hotel kitchen. It was a job my mum wasn’t going to take but something made her take it. Fate, maybe? And the rest, as they say, is history…

They got married in 2006 and I came along in 2008.

My Mum and Dad.

Another huge part of my identity is my love of performing arts and, in particular, acting and dance. I have been attending classes since I was 2 years old and attend The Italia Conti School of Performing Arts at weekends. Dance is my happy place, my escape, my true passion, and something that I hope will always play a major role in my life. When I’m on stage, I become someone else.

I am a worrier and an over thinker but I’m also loyal and will always fight for what I believe in. When I was 7 years old, I was diagnosed with an auto immune illness which means that sometimes I feel different, which can be tough as a child, but my mum and dad have always told me to embrace it and own the fact that it is our differences as people that make us unique. It is what makes us special and defines us. As human beings, showing compassion and tolerance to people’s individuality is what will make the world a better place.

We are who we are and this is me…

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