Ipswich: Reaching out to help town’s Polish arrivals

The Polish community of Ipswich is now estimated to be 5,000 strong and growing fast. But moving to a new country can be complicated. JAMES MARSTON meets Ipswich’s unofficial Polish ambassador.

Ipswich’s Polish community is growing fast. It is estimated that the number of Polish nationals moving to the town is increasing by seven to eight per cent a year.

There are now 5,000 Poles in Ipswich and a further 12,000 in Suffolk.

Andrew Soltysik is not surprised.

He said: “They like it here. It is an agricultural area and it reminds them of home. Ipswich and Suffolk is well connected to the continent with good connections to Harwich and Dover are good and Stansted airport is easy to get to. They have been welcomed here as well.”

Andrew, as his surname suggests, is of Polish stock. He is proud of his heritage and his family story.

During the Second World War his father served in the Polish army. His mother was captured by the Russians and sent to southern Siberia.

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He said: “They knew war was coming in Poland. My parents married in September 1939 because they thought they wouldn’t see each other again.

“My father fought the Russians in eastern Poland. When the Russians invaded, the women of the town where my mother was living were told by the Russians to get to the train station in 15 minutes or they would be shot. They were put on a train and two weeks later they were in Southern Siberia.”

The war displaced his family, with one sister being born in Siberia and another being born in Tehran.

He said: “My father joined the allies and fought in North Africa and then in Italy at Monte Cassino. My parents managed to keep in touch through occasional postcards sent through the Red Cross postal system.”

It wasn’t until 1947 that Andrew’s parents came to England.

He said: “They met on the dockside at Southampton.”

The family moved to Nottinghamshire, where Andrew’s father worked as an open cast miner.

Andrew, 61, said: “My father was involved with the Polish Air Force club in Nottingham, where there was a big Polish population.

In the 1960s he set up a Polish advice and travel bureau to help Poles go back to Poland during the Cold War. It became successful and he carried on with that right up until his retirement in the 1970s.”

A decorated soldier, when Andrew’s father died in 2004 he was afforded a funeral with full military honours in a Warsaw cemetery.

It is with this heritage in mind that Andrew has become a sort of unofficial Polish ambassador in the town.

He said: “My wife and I moved to Ipswich about five years ago. We realised there wasn’t a Polish club or community centre, despite a big Polish community.”

In 2008 Andrew and some other members of the community got together to begin fundraising to build a community centre for the Polish community.

He said: “The idea is to have a place where the community can come and meet and to be proud of. It is important to integrate and we will offer language learning services and advice as well as providing a place for Poles to come and meet each other.”

So far the group have raised �180,000 and are hoping to move into premises in St Margaret’s Street, in September 2013.

The Ipswich Polish Club will have many facilities to help the large group of migrant workers, existing residents and visitors to the town. The club will open to the whole community and welcome all ethnic groups to share facilities.

Meanwhile, Andrew, who was brought up to speak Polish as well as English, volunteers as an interpreter and general advisor to the Polish community. He said: “It can be difficult moving to another country and it is very rewarding when you see families coming here and developing their lives.

“I have helped people avoid being exploited and helped people find temporary accommodation and housing, not because I know anything really but because I can speak the language and act as a signpost to other agencies and organisations.

“It is important that Poles who come here learn English and that is something we are hoping the club will be able to help with.”

Andrew said the club has recently moved into temporary accommodation at Bar Sport in Ipswich’s Great Colman Street.

Enthusiastic about the Polish community and its traditions, Andrew said the club will be able to show off Polish culture to other parts of the community.

He said: “We are holding a traditional Polish New Year’s Eve party at Bar Sport on New Year’s Eve, we’ve almost sold out.”

If you need Andrew’s help or advice or would like tickets for the New Year’s Eve Party, call 01473 251000.