Our Story

The Finnish-British Society was founded in 1926.

Finnbrit is an independent non-profit organisation. We aim to make the Helsinki area a better place by offering opportunities in English for educational and professional development and by promoting diverse cultural relations.

With English fast becoming the lingua franca in the capital area, proficiency becomes ever more important. Understanding the grammatical rules is one thing, but today the ability to converse appropriately with cultural sensitivity is the key to success. This goes for business and politics but no less in the way we communicate with each other, whether face to face or online.

The foundation for friendship 1926-1945+

The Society held its inaugural meeting on 15th April 1926, thanks to the initiative of Mr Jaakko Kahma, a businessman occupying an important position in Finnish trade with Britain. The aim had been to strengthen friendship and cultural relations between Finland and Britain by making British culture better known in Finland. Our constitution has more information about the founding of Society.

In the early years of our history, when contacts between Finland and the rest of the world were rather different from today, the Society had a role in arranging both formal and informal meetings, lectures, social gatherings and language courses. Exceptional in the Finnish context at this time was the society’s use of English in all its meetings, social events, and correspondence.

The Second World War marked a break in the Society’s activities. Whilst formally declaring war on Finland, under Winston Churchill Britain never took action against Finland, largely thanks to the friendship with Marshal Mannerheim.

Teaching English and strengthening friendship 1945-1965+

Immediately after the war, in 1945, a decision was made to organise regular English-teaching activity. Teachers were recruited through the British Council as full-time teachers, supported by local part-time Finnish and British teachers. Our teacher secretaries and members set up the first English discussion groups, nurseries, schools and clubs in Finland, and helped the country to become more internationally oriented and recognised.

The 1952 Helsinki Olympics continued to bring hope and development. The sporting ideal went hand in hand with the country’s sense of itself as an international player. And it was not for nothing that the late Prince Philip spent a whole month in Finland during the games!

In 1953, the Society acquired its own central premises on Puistokatu, with impressive views over the Kaivopuisto park. The facilities lent themselves to activities such as Scottish dancing, tea afternoons, photography exhibitions, a fair bit of Sixties fun, fancy dress parties and even a wedding reception or two.

Finland develops and opens up 1965-1995+

The society celebrated its anniversaries over the decades: the fiftieth in 1976, with a gathering in the University’s Festival Hall and theatre performances, and a visit by Queen Elizabeth II in the same year. And the habit was not lost: the ninetieth anniversary in 2016 was celebrated with a band night and stand-up comedy in the Kaurismäki’s Dubrovnik nightclub, and a Roaring Twenties evening in the ballroom on Yrjönkatu. 

The Society proved quite a social hub, in Evelyn Waugh’s words, for “bright young things and wise old birds” alike as the century neared its end, with classes ranging from preparation for the demanding Cambridge Proficiency exams to literary appreciation and business communication.  And lively discussion groups didn’t shrink from tackling many of the difficult topics in the international realm.

During this period, Finland was developing and opening up, culminating in membership of the European Union (EU) in 1995. Air travel became less expensive and more accessible and enabled Finns to travel further afield. Greater mobility and easier access to British and American youth cultures contributed to the huge popularity of English in schools. In joining the EU, Finland also got to take part in the student exchange programmes, such as Erasmus. All of these developments increased the need for language skills – and helped in acquiring them.

The British Council, the Embassy and Finnbrit 1995-2006+

In 1996 the Society founded a limited company, Finnbrit Language Centre Oy to better serve company customers. Ten years later, a decision was made to move to our new, more central location on the corner of Fredrikinkatu and Iso-Roobertinkatu.

Meanwhile the British Council sharpened its focus in Finland towards the arts and promoting study in the UK. It granted the Society the right to administer IELTS (International English Language Testing System) tests. As part of the changes, the Finnish-British Society and the Finn-Brit Language Centre adopted the name Finnbrit, with a continued emphasis on language courses and cultural activities, and newly set-up operations in the English language testing area.

To support the use of English language and to offer cultural activities in English, we cooperate actively with our associated groups to arrange events and performances. Our long-term affiliated groups are the Finn-Brit Players, The Really Small Theatre Company, Helsinki Morrisers, Nordic Editors and Translators, and the International Folk Club. We also continue to serve as a member of the Federation of the Finnish-British Societies in Finland.

The present and near future 2006-2026+

Moving into the twenty-first century, the Society has held its own in the field of English Language training in Helsinki. The growing importance of student exchanges between the UK and Finland, together with recognised professional qualifications in English, has put language proficiency assessment at the core of the Society’s operations.

Our values of inclusivity, diversity and lifelong learning are reflected in the opportunities we offer for English language learning and assessments, and cultural activities. The assessments, particularly IELTS, open doors to studies in English and successful immigration and integration. We also live up to our values by employing a number of non-Finnish speakers, who each bring their own perspectives and experience to the benefit of the Finnish society. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has been a shared challenge that closes borders. Thankfully, people and organisations around the globe continue to share ideas and communicate using video calls, online media and written communication – be it personal messages, social media or website information. Often, this is done in English and the need for Finnbrit expertise in English and culturally-sensitive use of language has never been more obvious. And Finnbrit too has taken a quantum leap in the arrangement of its learning services and social events. Now you’ll find us online too! 

Finnbrit’s value in a challenging environment +

Political developments around the world, such as the Brexit process, call for even closer, trusting collaboration, where first-hand contacts are much needed. The Covid-19 pandemic with the current country border closures, travel bans and restrictions on trade and exchange, all spell an even greater need for friendship and understanding from a distance! 

Proficiency in English, both in personal and professional life, continues to be very important and culturally-aware use of English is essential. Finnbrit acknowledges Finns’ general competence in English, thanks largely to the hard work done in language teaching. So our current focus is on guiding students from basic competence to confident performance. And this we can do with our qualified, experienced and culturally-sensitive teachers. 

Studies have shown that language learning increases mental agility. For example, multilingual individuals were able to better ‘read’ social situations, which improved their performance in social settings. The difference in thinking is perhaps best illustrated by the difference in certain expressions: in Finnish, you ‘gain’ friends (saa ystäviä), as if by magic, whereas in English, to ‘make’ friends means you need to make the effort.

Let’s continue to make the effort together!