Increasing demand for Polish language classes at Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre shows that South Lakeland people are seeking to strengthen their links with the migrant community. KATIE DICKINSON examines how much this is a response to the greater integration of Poles into local society.
THE popularity of Polish language courses in Kendal could be seen as a testament to how the Polish community has been made welcome in South Lakeland.
The classes, which began at the Brewery Arts Centre in January, have attracted a variety of students, most of whom have chosen to learn Polish because they have established a connection to the former Eastern Block state through family or relationships.
At the last official count, in 2011, there were 776 Polish people living in South Lakeland, working in a wide variety of occupations, from hospitality and office work to construction and farming.
When Kinga Cichowska moved to England from Poland in 2007, she did so as a qualified librarian.
She now lives in Kendal as a community development worker at Kendal Library.
Now she also runs the popular Brewery’s workshops for beginners in learning Polish.
Kinga decided to move to Britain after studying English for several years and ‘deciding it would be the best place to brush up on speaking it’.
She lived first in Lytham St Annes and then Blackpool, where she met her husband, who is also Polish.
Kinga said: “The strange thing is it would have been impossible to meet if we had stayed in Poland because he is from a completely different part of the country.”
On the decision to make Kendal their home, Kinga said: “We wanted to find a nice, quiet place and we both like being close to nature.
“In my experience it has been a friendly place – I was expecting something different when I came but haven’t had any nasty situations and felt accepted, particularly at work.”
Kinga said the demand for her adult education classes in Polish had ‘been a nice surprise’.
One of her students is 18-year-old Lucy Kelly, who is studying Early Years Education at the University of Cumbria.
Lucy said: “I was on my first teaching placement and there were some Polish children in the school.
“Their levels of English varied, depending on how much their parents could speak, so I thought if I could learn some Polish it would benefit the children and make them feel more comfortable.”
Lucy is one of the few students on the course without a family connection to Poland.
Kinga said: “Some people have Polish partners so there are some young couples, some have Polish members of their families and there are some who have Polish sons and daughters-in-law.”
The relatively small size of both the Polish community in Kendal and the town itself means, Kinga believes, they are less isolated than they would be in a city.
“There are no Polish clubs or societies here that I know of and there is no special school where the children can gather.
“We are a very strong community but we don’t organise any events – people have their own lives.
“It’s part of Polish culture to meet friends and family very often, and it’s more common to meet at each other’s homes than in pubs or restaurants. So the community is close but there isn’t any strong feeling that ‘we are Polish – we have to stick together’.”
Kinga also believes that the Polish community in Kendal is a long-established one, and that not many new people are coming to settle here.
Jonathan Denby, hotel owner and president of the Lakes Hospitality Association, employs several Polish staff.
He said: “I have found them to be model employees because they have a good work ethic and enjoy their work.
“Some have returned to Poland but many have stayed and as far as I can tell have integrated well into the community.
“They tell me the friendliness of the people is one of the great things about working in South Lakeland.”
Anna Byrska has lived in Ambleside since 2005 and is on the senior restaurant team at Zeffirellis.
“We chose to come here because my husband has some friends here – I took one year away from university and eight years on I’m still here. I’ve found people in Ambleside very friendly and very helpful – it’s a nice community and a lovely place to live.”