The Polish Embassy sponsored Stockwell Partnership to look into reasons why the Polish community so rarely come forward as community representatives or to make their views known in consultations. The ‘Poles Connect’ project found:
- Polish people tended to keep their heads low because migration is always in the news, and hate crimes and media about gypsies affect all Eastern European communities.
- There’s a very high percentage of families with both parents working, and a strong culture of family providing childcare instead of sending children to nurseries. So we have quite a big community of people 50+ invited over later to help with care.
- There was also a sense of wanting to do things ‘the British Way’, of feeling that Britain thinks of Poland as a country of gloomy people, with no famous artists like Paris or Rome or novelists like Moscow.
So ‘Poles Connect’ has been bringing together people who only socialised with their own family. Now, they’re starting their own groups. There’s a Young Poles Academy and a book and poetry group. People are talking about starting a Polish choir. The 50+ group wanted their grandchildren to have a sense of Polish heritage and identity. They’ve learned English and IT, they’ve published a book about their lives for their grandchildren.
Family and nation
There are so many events In Streatham Tate library that the community now calls it “the Polish Centre.” For example, in June, 22 young people had a read-in and sleepover. It’s not always folksy and traditional – it’s important to break down that stereotype of “lagging behind” the West. ‘Local Heroes’, a new film about the Polish community, will screen later this year at the Streatham Film Festival, with a magazine and an exhibition at the Gasworks Gallery in September.
Next step for the Stockwell Partnership is encouraging more people from the Polish community to get involved in local politics, to get training in community leadership, get heard in tenant forums and take more action on the pride they feel in themselves.