Poles upping sticks to settle in Suffolk

SINCE joining the European Union in 2004, many young Polish people have left their country to work in other EU countries, particularly Ireland and the UK because of high unemployment.

SINCE joining the European Union in 2004, many young Polish people have left their country to work in other EU countries, particularly Ireland and the UK because of high unemployment. KAREN HINDLE meets a few who have settled in Suffolk.

ON Norwich Road in Ipswich, there is a shop called Rasputin which sells an array of east European products.

It also has a notice board where people can put messages up in their native language and find out about clubs, bars, shops and organisations for people of the same nationality.

Co-owner Galina Perry, originally from the Ukraine, said the shop has helps provide a little home-from-home for the town's growing number of Polish residents. She added: “When they come here they do not feel deprived. They feel like they have come home.”

Over on Woodbridge Road, a Polish church under the leadership of Catholic priest, 35-year-old Krzysztof Kita, is growing in popularity among our Polish residents. As well as usual church services, a school has been set up which runs on Saturday mornings for Polish children.

He came over to the UK to experience his church in another country and after two years in London he was given a parish in Ipswich.

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“In the beginning it was difficult for me as you need so many documents for things and I did not have the necessary papers. It is like that for many people coming over here to find work.”

He added: “The church is very important to Polish people and that is just the same here in Ipswich. It helps to create a community.”

And in the world of work, recruitment agencies are realising there is a need for dedicated staff to help bring people over from Poland as well as help them and support them when they get here.

Often Polish immigrants come over and are looking for jobs in a particular field. Sometimes the jobs are not available or their English is not good enough to understand what is required of them. They choose to take any job they can until their situation improves. As far as they are concerned any job is better than no job at all.

Take 24-year-old Kamila Davies (nee Szczepanska). She came from Bielawa , a town in south-west Poland, half the size of Ipswich with some 50,000 inhabitants. With a degree in journalism she was a television presenter and newsreader and a radio broadcaster as well as dipping her toe into public relations and some work in the catering sector.

A two-month holiday to the UK with a friend led to a second vacation over here and she was smitten - more with a certain army officer Sgt Derek Davies than with the rolling countryside.

Nearly three years on she has married the Derek, who is shortly to be a sergeant serving with 7 Battalion in Wattisham, and they have settled down to life on the edge of Ipswich on the Pinewood estate.

During her first trip to the UK she worked in a bar in London and when she finally settled in Ipswich she took a position as a waitress at the Great White Horse Hotel, she then became the manager of the Cheesecake Shop, in the town.

Since then she has been involved in recruitment specialising in helping Polish catering staff find jobs in the UK with Flare Recruitment and latterly with Ipswich company Select Recruitment doing much the same but with a general brief to help and support Polish workers in the county. It is a job she loves, although this energetic go getting woman has plans to revisit her journalism expertise and do some more writing.

She said: “I was living a crazy life in Poland I thought I could move mountains and thought it would be the same in the UK.

“I thought I could speak English, I thought I could do anything, but I soon realised it was really not very good. This is where it is difficult for Polish people. They have to learn the language before they can get the jobs they really want. I was the same, I had to pay my bills.”

As well as the worry of bills, Kamila was alone.

“I was away from my family and my friends. In Poland we are very close to our friends and family. We will visit each other's houses and cook a great deal. It is not like here with the ready meals and take away food. We don't do that as much. Here everyone goes to the pub or the wine bar. At home we have a very strong sense of community with the people around us. It was quite difficult.”

Kamila is fortunate because she now has her younger sister Paulina Szczepanska, 22, also living in Ipswich and working on Ransomes Europark.

She said: “It is great to have my sister here. I am very lucky we have each other to talk to, but of course I also have my husband and life is very good for me.

“I have made my life here and it is easy to go back to Poland to see everyone. I believe I have a close relationship with my family and friends still, even though I am not involved in their every day lives.”

Through her work, one of the people Kamila has helped is 28-year-old Edyta Dera, who came over with her five-year-old daughter Martyna .

Edyta has wealthy parents back home but she wanted to experience life on her own to prove she could cope. But things have not been plain sailing for her. She works 6am-3.30pm in a factory making electric meters. She would prefer to be using her degree in tourism and recreation and if she stays she hopes her next job will be out of a factory,

Even if it is, there is her daughter to think about.

“At the moment I am living in a shared house with five bedrooms. There is a Polish family in each one, but I am going to have to move out because the person who gave me his room is coming back with his family and wants it back. I have to find a new place to live and a job which is good for my daughter.

“If I have to work at weekends then I have no time for her.”

Despite all the downs, Edyta is enjoying her life in Suffolk and wants to stay.

“It is time to sort out my private life. If I can sort that out then perhaps I can sort out my working life with a little help.

“I am still positive. I hope I can find a solution. Just the other day I was in the JobCentre and there are a few things I could do perhaps. My English is getting better

“I want Martyna to have better English as well. At the moment she speaks it better than me, but if we go back home she will lose it because there won't be anyone there to speak it with.

“Martyna attends the Polish school at St Mary's Catholic Church, and we talk to people there. I don't know what we are going to do, but we are happy.”

For 27-year-old cabinet maker Grzegorz Ludziak things have turned out altogether better. He plans to stay in the UK for two years and then review his situation.

He is doing what he trained to do, working with Taylor Made Joinery, based in Bildeston, near Stowmarket, having been brought over to the UK by recruitment agency Select Recruitment, which supports him in his day to day living as well as professionally, to help meet the shortfall of qualified joiners. He lives on Gippeswyk Road, Ipswich, although he has found it hard to leave his family and friends.

He said: “I come from Dzikowiec, near Podkarpackie, in Poland, but I came over here for the employment, better job and better money.

“I missed my family, my mum Anna, and my friends, but I have experience of working away from home as I have worked in France and because we have the internet it is easier to keep in touch.

He added: “I am making friends with Polish people - more than 15 people and I go to the Polish church.”

OF all the European Union countries, Poland has the highest rate of unemployment - 12.8per cent when last calculated in December last year.

While there are signs this is changing, its highly educated and well-qualified population is struggling to find work.

Poland is relatively new to the capitalist market economy, having seen “Solidarity” trade union members bring down the Communist Party in 1989, but it is not new to the experience of seeing its nationals emigrating to other countries to find work. Up until May 1, 2004, when Poland joined the EU, most Poles were heading for America, namely Chicago - the largest Polish community outside Warsaw.

Back in 1989 former car factory worker Lech Walesa led the country through a shock therapy programme, when there was the collective pulling up of the bootstraps to transform Poland into a nation with a robust market economy.

Since then there have been many ups and downs in social and economic standards, but Poland, having heralded the collapse of communism, was the first post-communism state to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels.

Despite that Poles have still been leaving home for better pay, and Suffolk - or the “Anglia” region as named in Home Office figures - is reaping the benefits more than any other region in the UK.

Between May 2004 and December 2006 Anglia has had the greatest number of EU workers registering with employers in the area, with 15per cent of the total. This is followed by the Midlands and London both with 13pc of the workers registered.

Obviously there are some who come who do not register, but these foreign nationals are moving here for all sorts of reasons: the pay is better, there is a wider variety of jobs available here than in Poland - although that is changing. Some come for a year or two while others want to start a new life with their families in Suffolk and others, well they just like it here.

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