Culture Champion Gets New Year Award!
It was a fantastic surprise, and a great honour to read the email the other day, which expressed delight at offering me an Award in special recognition of my support for the Polish Community.
For many years, I have with the assistance of colleagues, founded an organisation in support of the Polish Community and with much help, developed its journey to the level it has reached today.
From a massive post war community with its own base at the White Eagle House 35 Catherine Street Liverpool 8 (and I still have my membership card No 273), the Community has now risen from the ashes.
In those early days, I was rubbing shoulders with the heroes of Monte Cassino, bomber command, resistance fighters and like my dad, fighter command.
Polish and Russian military; men and women, mixed together with music and laughter. Accordians played and dancers danced the night away with free-flow vodka till the early hours.
I was usually placed in the Zolloff School of Fencing nearby, which was in a ground floor flat in Catherine Street.
Many years later I found out that, my fencing instructor, this wiry, agile little man Zolloff, was a Russian emigre, and at one time the Tsar of Russia’s fencing instructor. I had hours and hours of gruelling training. This was probably were I picked up Russian, but now I know that, what I was learning was nothing more than Russian swearing.
It all paid off later when I was involved in fencing competitions to National level. Strangely, my daughter took up the sport recently at school without me ever coaching her or her ever knowing about my love of the sport.
With mum an international concert pianist in the 50’s and 60’s, life was one long tour of Europe with frequent visits to Poland across the “Iron Curtain” on 24hr passes with the reciprocal Polish musicians visits to Liverpool. This all added to the vibrant culture of the society in Liverpool then.
Time flew and the robust, charismatic East European heroes bit the dust and like my dad were no more.
The Club went, the original Polish shop in Granby Street was taken over by Asians and intergration was the name of the game for the first generation, and the culture was at its lowest.
The Polish Sunday sevice I remember was down to about 6 ex-servicemen.
With the East European barriers falling, I ventured more and more to family in the East and the Sunday services here in Liverpool, began to grow and grow with Polish students and academics at the universities seeking a better quality of life.
I spent numerous summers working on the family farm in Poland and there is nothing I don’t know about animal husbandry, dairying and crop cultivation. You just got thrown into it. If something broke you just became a plumber or electrician….there was nobody to phone..you were the vet …..you were on a farm in the middle of…..
I came back married one summer, with the memories of the wedding lasting three days, I think.
Back in Liverpool, the Polish population grew and grew, so with the help of my wife we organised Polaris, a voluntary help organisation to signpost the new arrivals to work, the bus station and Liverpool Football Club.
The builders, Arriva drivers and factory workers were happy with language lessons and translations but the organisation became too much when we had a full time job. We won a NIACE Award and various funding opportunities came our way to support the drive to help in the education of the new arrivals. We became involved in various BBC TV programmes, notably the “Heaven and Earth Show” and a variety of Radio commentaries which surprisingly are still on google.
Polish families here soon wanted their children educated in the Polish tradition and schooling system because they were transient workers …going back to Poland, after they had achieved their goals of amassing some pennies for a new build back home.
Some stayed, and so the Liverpool Polish Saturday School was born in the Metropolitan Cathedral Crypt.
20 children became 40, became 70….and so we needed a new site. Luckily Kensington Regeneration gave us a helping hand along with a local school I knew that was upgrading its furniture.
Numbers grew so we vacated the Crypt and rented a local primary school with Council grant support till we reached 150 children. City of Culture gave us the opportunity to fly the flag of our culture getting involved in …parades, festivals, dances….art exhibitions……. culture galore through those years.
Then it all came to an end…grants seized, organisations disappeared, help eluded……money and support was just not there anymore, we were totally on our own with the home school wanting us to vacate.
The Polish Government appeared on the scene with a Consul in Manchester. Here they offered educational support in the form of school books and grants.
Networking over the years helped us out with a new school site now, and we have grown and grown.
The school has provided a base for the Polish people to get advice, be involved in church activities, festivals, cultural events, work placements, and a constant signpost for visitors wishing to know a little bit more about the life and culture of Poland.
We have run teachers workshops, translated government documents for parents, brought Polish Trade Unions in to collaborate with the TUC and talk to the families, we have invited international musicians for workshops, Polish theatre groups, authors, had meetings with MEP’s, taken Polish governmental Culture Ministers on “walk abouts” and signposted Polish families to entertainment in Merseyside and the list goes on.
On Friday 18th January, The Consul General of Poland will meet me at the Liverpool Town Hall and I will be presented with the recognition award for my support of the Polish Community over the years.
What a surprise for 2013.