Video: Focus on Welwyn Hatfield Polish Forum

PUBLISHED: 12:15 09 January 2009 | UPDATED: 21:55 26 October 2009

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BACK in 2004, the people of Poland voted emphatically in favour of joining the European Union. Within months, hundreds of thousands of polish people had moved to England in search of work.

Michal

BACK in 2004, the people of Poland voted emphatically in favour of joining the European Union.

Within months, hundreds of thousands of polish people had moved to England in search of work.

Polish Forum

Today, the country has become an adopted homeland for many eastern European immigrants, but the vast majority are Polish.

It is estimated a staggering 4,000 Poles live in Welwyn Hatfield alone.

And this is why Michal Siewniak set up the Welwyn Hatfield Polish Forum.

A community group promoting the integration of Poles into the borough, the forum meets every other Thursday at Hatfield fire station, providing help and advice to those learning to adapt to a new way of life.

Previous visitors and guest speakers have included Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps.

“The Polish forum has an important role to play because it shows that the Polish want to be part of the Welwyn Hatfield community,” said Michal, 29, from Bedwell Close, WGC.

“I have lived in four different countries and know what it means to be a foreigner.

“Because of that, I truly believe you have got to make an effort to become a member of the local community.”

Michel says one of the biggest barriers is language, and the forum offers free English lessons to foreigners to help, as Michal puts it, “close the gap”.

“I learned that phrase recently: ‘close the gap’. Exactly. Let’s try and live together.

“Don’t build artificial environments. If you decided to live here, you have to integrate.”

It could be harder than it sounds. Many people in the UK resented the mass immigration, and felt the new foreign workforce would undermine the British one by working longer hours for significantly less pay, particularly in the building trade.

It’s a perception that Michal believes is misleading.

“Many Polish people came to England for financial reasons,” he said. “The stereotype is Polish people work in the labour market.

“Actually, lots of people who came here from Poland are very well educated, and came here to improve their professional development.

“I have Polish friends here who are architects or bankers; this country offers so much and you can go in so many different directions.”

Michal has just started a new job himself, as strategic development officer for MENTER, a regional network of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community groups.

“I really do love community work. I really believe that I will be able to bring differences to people’s lives. It sounds idealistic but it is already happening here and there!”

But with the current recession, it has been reported that many Polish workers are returning home now jobs are harder to come by. Will there be any Poles left to integrate with in a few years?

“It is a big issue but I think that in many ways it is still easier to find a job here. Hold on a little bit and wait until the recession is over and the economy recovers,” said Michal.

“This is the most beautiful place in the whole of the UK. I love it and I am not going anywhere else!”

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