Have passport, will travel

A Europe without borders is creating job opportunities for those outside the UK looking for work, and for UK employers looking for a willing pair of hands

Travelling 1,500 miles to look for work was a measure of the keenness of 16-year-old Giovanni Mascia, who travelled to England from his mountain village of Montefalcone, in Molise, south-east Italy.

His parents were not paticularly keen for him to go and only agreed knowing that his older brother Antonio, appropriately named after the village patron saint St Antonio of Padova, had already made the trip and had married and settled in St Albans.

With jobs scarce in Molise, many had left to seek better opportunities elsewhere and Giovanni was not disappointed with job prospects he found in the UK - he soon found himself working in the food industry. Despite not speaking a word of English when he arrived, he has not been out of work for all the 23 years he has been here. Now, he is putting all that experience into Cranston's Butchers in Carlisle, Cumbria. Although he was amazed at the relatively affluent lifestyle of people compared to his home back in Italy (the cars, the shops, public transport) when he arrived in England in 1983, Giovanni was fortunate to have the guidance of Antonio who helped him find work.

He initially found work in a spaghetti factory in St Albans, worked as a waiter in the Edgewarebury Hotel at Elstree (to improve his English) and worked in a Italian restaurant in Frien Barnet. When the owner sold up and returned to Italy, Giovanni moved back to St Albans, found more work in a restaurant, got a job in a high class Spanish restaurant (he stayed on for six years, gaining valuable experience in preparing and serving top quality Spanish dishes) before moving to a new restaurant in St Albans, the La Cosa Nostra.

The restaurant scene proved to be Giovanni's "thing" for eight years and was also behind his decision to settle in the UK permanently. One customer became his wife-to-be. Katherine was working as a PA at a medical instrument company in St Albans. When he met her, Giovanni had not long been back from home, where he had taken two years to consider in which country his future lay. While the stunning beauty of the village and the Monte La Rochetta and Monte Mauro mountains was a strong pull, not much had changed in terms of employment. So after working various casual jobs, he returned to St Albans.

By then he had developed a relationship with Katherine and, to spend more time with her, gave up the work in the restaurant and joined Costco. After they were married, he moved to Cumbria where Katherine grew up and Giovanni took a temporary job in a café while looking for work. It was around this time he spotted an ad for Cranstons butchers. He was interviewed by shop manager Barry Pearson and days later found he had got the job of sales assistant at Cranston's in Carlisle.

That was two years ago. Since then, Giovanni has graduated to meat cutting but says he has some way to go before he would call himself a butcher. His restaurant background is also beginning to pay off.

He was part of the winning team at the Guild of Q barbeque competition in Chepstow, where teams were asked to prepare various meat products. Cranston's entry - lamb noisettes with boneless loin rolled and stuffed with sausage meat, smoked bacon and blue cheese - proved to be a winner.

Carlisle has a strong core of knowledgeable customers who know how to cook and what ingredients to use. "Many of our customers know what they want and they buy what they are used to," says Giovanni. However, like everywhere else, the popularity of ready prepared meats and meals are gaining ground, which suits Giovanni just fine as he has plenty of ideas to spice up sauces and create new dishes.

Working at Cranston's, which has the feel of traditional family company, reminiscent of Italian culture, has convinced Giovanni that his future is in the food business. He says moving country has been, on the whole, a happy experience. "English people made me feel at home and gave me a new life, a new home and a job."

Now fully settled in Cumbria, he travels to Italy up to three times a year to see his mother (now a grandmother with the arrival of his daughter Sophia) and his younger brother and says he has no regrets about settling in the UK.

"Almost everyone here is working and the system is better, with more work and fairness when applying for jobs," he says. But he admits the food "culture" is not as good as back home.

"Often in the evening there will be 10-15 people around a table in the kitchen enjoying my mother's cooking," says Giovanni. "She would have done everything including baking fresh bread and pizza in the wood oven and making fresh pasta."

Giovanni is a successful and typical example of what is happening throughout the UK as replacement staff for retail butchers is filled by workers from the Continent. Unwittingly, Giovanni has become one of the first of a new wave of European staff filling vacancies at the butchers' shops and taking jobs in other service industries.

Like many other workers from the Mediterranean boasting a strong tradition of food production and preparation, Giovanni has brought with him enthusiasm and a commitment to food preparation and presenting which can only bode well for UK foodservice as a whole.

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