The Polish Forum and the Fire Station
CVS for Broxbourne and East Herts
An immigrant community promotes civic engagement and community partnerships with local government and agencies
Hertfordshire, a county located just north of London has experienced a significant wave of Eastern European economic migrants (especially Polish) after the 2004 expansion of the EU. The Polish community now comprises 8% of the population in the district of Welwyn Hatfield which had very little experience of migration prior to 2004. In fact, Poles are now the largest community of foreign nationals in the UK.
Members of the nascent Polish community organized to create the Welwyn-Hatfield Polish Forum as a way to network with each other. In turn, they decided to organize a “Polish Day” in 2009 at the Hatfield Town Centre and in partnership with Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and Welwyn Hatfield Ethnic Minority Group. Attended by almost 1500 people, the day’s objective was to deliver an event for families and members of the local community and celebrate Polish culture with traditional food, music and dancing as well as promote local intercultural dialogue and improve links with the new members of the community.
The event was a good way to make the Polish community more visible and brought people from different social, ethnic or religious background together. It offered space and a platform to address issues around migration and provided important information related to the living and working experiences of many migrant workers in the borough. The “Polish day” has also helped identify people in need of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes and has led to a partnership with Hertfordshire College. Overall, the organization of this event strengthened the ties between the Polish community, the borough council and local NGOs.
In the meantime, the Forum developed a relationship with the local fire station commander, who provided a meeting space at the station. It wasn’t long before the Hatfield Fire Station was also offering ESOL classes for adults and drop-in information sessions on housing, health services and childcare.
Getting Out The Vote
Thanks to continued close ties with the Hertfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, the Polish Forum used the facilities of the Hatfield Fire Station in 2011 to organize a voting day for parliamentary elections in Poland, with the active support of the council, the Polish embassy and Broxbourne and East Herts CVS. This was the first time a fire station had been used for another country’s national elections. The voting was monitored by five local council officials, all members of the Polish community from Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Hoddesdon and St. Albans, with a representative from the Polish embassy present to ensure that proper procedures were followed.The event received large media attention and the involvement of the council made the Election Day a success with a turnout of 93% among registered voters.
Hatfield’s Polish elections day accomplished more than simply giving the county’s Polish population a chance to exercise their civic rights. The event increased the visibility of the Polish community, improved its connections with the council and the voluntary sector and offered an exemplary model of civic action to all city residents.
The case of Hertfordshire County shows how migrants can participate and enrich the life of the local community. The Polish day and the Polish election have created stronger links between Polish organizations, the local authority and the voluntary sector but also better cohesion for the whole community. The Welwyn-Hatfield Forum has inspired neighbouring areas and pushed for the creation of a county-wide Polish Forum which would give more visibility to Eastern European migrant workers. Last June, the Polish community of Stevenage organized a “Euro 2012 Respect Community Football Cup” aimed to bring together diverse communities from across Hertfordshire.
The whole project demonstrated new ways of engagement and proved the importance of effective partnership between organizations. The Forum has helped increase civic participation by highlighting the rights of EU citizens in the UK, such as the right to vote in local and European elections, and by providing a successful model of sustainable community partnerships.
Michal Siewniak from CVS Broxbourne and East Herts says of the experience: “I passionately believe that societies who are recognizing existence and contribution of migrants benefit enormously from their regular input – socially, culturally and economically.”
In 2009, the Hatfield station commander received the East of England Regional Council’s Equality Award for the work with the Polish community, proof that furthering social cohesion can take place anywhere.
“The Fire Service is about so much more than putting out fires,” says Keith Emsall, county councillor. “It’s about making people safe and giving people a better quality of life.”
Making it Work for You:
- Be proactive about recognizing and acknowledging the emergence of new immmigrant communities, especially in areas without a history of migration
- Build new and creative partnerships with a broad spectrum of local service providers and public actors
- Encourage cultural events thatcan bring together people from different cultural, religious and social backgrounds
- In times of economic austerity, it's even more important to work in partnership with community representatives and encourage small scale initiatives
For this Good Idea contact:
Michal Siewniak, CVS for Broxbourne & East Herts
20 Tudor Square
Ware, United Kingdom,