The High North Tour 2021: «It was Urgent for Months»

It felt like Easter when I met Mathilde Winther in Valnesfjord. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Valnesfjord, Fauske, Nordland: Han Sylte is not just a start-up entrepreneur. It is a universe of its own. When the pandemic hit, Mathilde Winther had invested heavily in new buildings. “All of a sudden we had no money to pay the mortgage. It was a matter of urgency for months.”

“The money we were meant to pay the mortgage with was the money we were to make when the buildings were ready.”

I meet Mathilde Winther, entrepreneur and co-owner of Han Sylte, outside a re-built co-op shop in the little Valnesfjord hamlet, Fauske municipality, not far from Bodø in Northern Norway. Inside the walls of the renovated co-op building are meeting room facilities, function facilities and accommodation opportunities.

A heavy and courageous initiative for a company moving from seasonal work to year-round jobs.

“We had just received the Certificate of Completion when the outbreak came. We knew we did not have the money to pay the mortgage. That was the money we were just about to start making. It was demanding”, Mathilde Winther says.

Han Sylte, with its recent building renovation, was not covered by any of the state’s compensation schemes.

“We operate sustainably in its purest form. But when the lockdown came and our expenses were quadrupled, and since we previously had been a seasonal based company, we were defined as ‘non-viable’. It was incredibly provoking” she adds.

Valnesfjord is often referred to, and justly so, as “the entrepreneurial hamlet”. Mathilde Winther often heads what goes on here. Tirelessly engaged, a veritable well of ideas. The beginning of Han Sylte was based on carrot marmalade produced from locally grown carrots.

“We had a feeling something may be coming up. But not that it would be so close. On 12 March, we sat at home by the kitchen table receiving emails and phones with cancellations. It was non-stop, and it was completely absurd”, she says.

But Mathilde Winther refused to give in.

“We thought that this is the time when we can show the world what we are made of. We just had to”, she says.

Watch the whole interview with Mathilde Winther, Han Sylte’s meeting with the pandemic, and a compensation scheme judging them non-viable.

English subtitles are available via your YouTube settings.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.