A decade of Poland Street

Poland Street, the oldest organisation founded by the new wave of Polish immigrants to the UK, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. Telimena Silver has caught up with Anna Galandzij, spokesperson for the association.

Telimena Silver: What is your main reflection on the last decade?

Anna Gałandzij: We have matured as an organisation. Poland Street was founded in 2005, so shortly after Poland’s accession to the EU. It was a time when we were trying to “find our own place” in London, as were most Poles who arrived in the UK. As the years went by, our image strengthened and our priorities became clearer. Meanwhile, the new wave of immigrants became confident and economically active. Over the last ten years, Poles have opened more than 21,000 businesses in the UK. With the development of the Polish diaspora and the growing appetite for starting a business, Poland Street has smoothly filled the gap in promoting volunteer work and cultivating our cultural heritage.

TS: You are said to have helped bridge the gap between the older and younger generations of Poles.

AG: There is something universal about celebrating cultural heritage – it can help bring different generations closer together. Very early on, we developed close links with the Veterans of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK) Society, who arrived in the UK during or after WWII. Last January, at the Society’s annual post-Christmas party, their chairman, Marzanna Schejbal, officially asked Poland Street to carry on our work and honour the memory of the soldiers who fought for AK.  The values that shaped the AK generation, and then were cultivated by them, have become one of our country’s cultural treasures. Mrs. Schejbal’s message was a great honour for us.

TS: Why is it so important that we remember our past?

AG: Let me refer to the following saying: A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” When living abroad, especially, our roots can provide a sense of belonging, allow us to better understand our past and the history of where we come from. That is why London – a huge melting pot – embraces and celebrates ethnic minority communities through a wide array of events and festivals. An ethnic minority group that knows and honours their history develops their inner strength and thrives, but also integrates well with others. So, in a sense, by cultivating our history, we keep it alive.

TS: What projects are you most proud of?

AG: Oh, that’s a difficult question!  I suppose our most popular project has been the “Znicz” (eng. Candle), which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It calls for people to clean Polish graves and light a candle in memory of those who have passed away, ahead of All Saints’ Day. The March Collection helps us remember the people who fought for our freedom, whilst raising vital funds for the poor WWII veterans living in Poland.  Our events for The Grand Orchestra of Christmas Charity also raised significant funds – the last one we held, in 2012, raised a record-breaking £19K, out of all overseas teams. Last but not least, the Festival of Seven Cultures – a series of concerts by the “St. Norbert’s Cellar”, a collective of 14 musicians from Krakow – which we held across London, in churches and in the Central Synagogue, in 2013. It generated great media coverage and attracted a total audience of over 1,000 in the process.  It seems that our regular projects have become an integral part of a Polish cultural diary in London. And this is very motivating.

TS: And finally, how can people get involved?

AG: If you’d like to volunteer for Poland Street, please send an email to wolontariat@polandstreet.org.uk or fill in our short application form. It’s worth it to mention that the Association consists of over ten core members and a Board, headed by Agnieszka Adamska, but anyone who is willing to support our projects is welcome to join in. The time commitment is up to the individual and depends on when they wish to help out. We run few regular projects a year; we believe it is the quality, not quantity, that counts.  

By Telimena Silver
Photos: Paweł Fesyk