Tucked away, just off the bustling streets of Camden, lives Hanna Benjamin a young lady who casts a refreshing shadow over her little corner of London. When I arrive at her place, down a quiet road off a bustling high street, I’m offered a cuppa and a kit kat, lovely. We take to the sofa for a chat.
Let’s begin at the beginning, it’s a wonder she’s here at all, her mothers’ family hailing from Poland suffered the death of twenty one relatives in concentration camps during WWII and her great aunt even escaped from Auschwitz. Talking about her grandparent’s experiences, Hanna says “At the time they weren’t allowed to be Jewish, they had to hide it, I’m so proud to be Jewish”. The remaining family fled to Canada where her mother grew up. As a young adult wishing to spread her wings her mother came traveling to the UK where she met Mr Benjamin and decided to move to the UK to make a life for themselves here. Sadly divorcing when Hanna was only six years old she has a large extended family and is the eldest of five. Both of her parents although separated have been a huge influence on her life, her father being a photographer and graphic designer, mother being a talented artist and psychologist, Hanna certainly has creativity in her blood.
Living in North London much of her early life Hanna has always stayed true to her Jewish routes attending Haida classes, (Jewish school) where she learnt Hebrew from a young age. This is where she met Martina one of her best friends still to this day, after mistakenly taking each other’s coats home one evening the girls became firm friends and with her mother teaching art she has always been proud and connected to her Jewishness. Like many modern Jewish families they stick to following the culture and learning about the history rather than being deeply religious, I asked about her family following kosher laws, she doesn’t but her grandparents often say they do however “when they decide they want a ham and pineapple pizza, they will get one!” Hanna jokes. Attending a secondary school in Wood Green, famously the area that the London riots begun was an eye opening experience, mixing with children of many different cultures and backgrounds. Being the only Jewish kid in her class she sang Christian hymns, played the steel drums, was taught cane row hair and even learnt a bit of Urdu. “I feel really passionately about anti-racism” having a friend who had to flee Turkey after his father was killed, when people complain about immigration she just thinks “if we’re saving lives then I’d rather they come over, I’m paying tax and if that tax is going towards people who need it then I’m pretty happy for them to have it”.
After studying at Chelsea college of Art & Design, Hanna now finds herself following in her father’s footsteps, working as a Graphic Designer for a PR company. She creates promotional artwork for very high profile clients within the fashion, lifestyle, and home ware industries. Being the only creative in a small company can sometimes be challenging, especially for someone with strong morals, “People don’t realise how rich and how consumerist we are”. Even though she is grateful for the experience of working with great clients and products sometimes it can becomes tiresome, “Since I’ve been working here I sometimes think to myself what’s the point unless you’re helping someone, I don’t want to be selling products to people when they don’t really need them”. At the moment work is a training ground, somewhere for Hanna to develop her skills and enable her to make enough money to save a little and live.
When she was a child she had her sights on a different sort of career, “I used to wake up before everyone else and try to make cakes with anything I could find, like baked beans and just shove it all in the oven”, much to her mother’s dismay. Grandpa Benjamin used to tell her she would be a chef and own a restaurant one day. It’s evident from the moment you meet Hannah that she is a host, now in a relationship with a chef she still likes the idea of owning that restaurant. Or certainly owning her own property and creating a business with the skills she has. She muses about soup kitchens, charity work, farms or a centre of art based psychology, driven by the concept “What’s the point if you’re not helping anybody?” Both parents are heavily involved with charity work and it’s certainly rubbed off. The idea of re-training and taking financial risks later on down the line doesn’t faze her at all, “if I can have a space I can be creative and help people”. Centring her attention round owning a space rather than a business model leaves the future up to her creativity, it can be made into one or many of her ideas. Her giving nature began when she was a child after her Grandpa died, when she was 9, she was given to hundred pounds in the will. Upon hearing a family friend confiding in her mother about her financial hardship Hanna kindly gave all her money to help them out.
Looking to the future Hanna’s sights are set on adventure with long-term boyfriend Matt, not having the luxury of a “gap year” after studying they’ve decided to do traveling their own way, a bit later on than the token backpackers our country so readily produces. Buckling down and saving whilst renting in an expensive city is no mean feat but like many young people in London, Hanna is relaxed about putting off some of the bigger commitments of adulthood. Kids and marriage, whilst being things she’d like in the future, aren’t at the forefront of her mind. Enjoying time with her boyfriend and planning for their trip is excitement enough, “I feel more settled than ever right now because I’ve got Matt with me, we could live anywhere together”. The future together doesn’t feel daunting as they both share the same sense of adventure, they certainly won’t be living a conventional life, “I would hate to buy a house in a suburb and go to work every day, its definitely got to be our own business”. Their partnership is set to take on the world together; next year’s trip which involves seeing as much of the world together as they can, then who knows? But at the moment it doesn’t seem to matter as the world is their oyster and they are determined to have fun along the way as well “I know it seems corny but I’ve never laughed as much as I have since we’ve been together”.
Our meeting ends with a warm hug, something Hanna is particularly good at. On my train home I find myself musing over her space and what possibilities it might hold for her. True creativity is a rare gift, space is exactly what this needs. I find it encouraging that her ambition doesn’t even sniff at financial gain or personal celebrity, a rare thing in this day and age. Helping people is much more important to her than any of those things. My overwhelming feeling about Hanna is that she is a nurturer, someone who thrives on being able to help people and this is what makes her such refreshing company.
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