'They are also human': Founder of Polish community group says support is still needed after 18 years

For Marek Wesolowski, life hasn't always been kind. From near Warsaw in Poland, he came to England to work after his wife passed away. 

He found a job as a welder and was with one of his two sons, but then tragedy struck. He lost his job in the financial crisis and his son also sadly passed away.

Drink became his only comfort and he soon found himself on the streets. Marek is not alone in finding times hard after coming to the UK to work and contribute to society. It's a situation facing some Poles who relocated and settled here in the Midlands and then eventually, fell on hard times. 

That's where Signpost to Polish Success comes in. Originally set up by Dr. Beata Polanowksa in 2005, as thousands of Poles looked for work in Nottingham and surrounding areas, it now finds itself just as busy.  

Marek Wesolowski came to England to work after his wife passed away.  Credit: ITV News Central

Beata is finding that Poles and other Eastern Europeans, who built a life here, worked and paid taxes, are struggling and need assistance. For some, the language barrier is still an issue and others aren't aware how to navigate British institutions that can help, whilst some are wanting to get 'settled status' after living here for years, prior to Brexit.

When I visited SPS, to see Marek and Beata, there's a few service users coming through their doors looking for information and help. 

The question many will of course ask is, why not just go back to Poland? 

Beata put it best when she said that over the years people have put down roots, have adapted to British culture and often have nothing left in Poland. As such, they want to stay, but also feel lost. 

She tells me: "Maybe they are Eastern European, maybe they are Polish, but they are also human."

This isn't a case of simply turning their back on Poland and their homeland completely. In October, record numbers of people visited the Polish Centre in Nottingham to vote in Poland's General Election - a vote considered the most important in a generation.

Polish people are patriotic, but also realistic and hardworking. Many came to the UK in 2004/5 to earn better wages and send money back home. Poland's economy was only 13 years into a free democratic republic post-Communism, and money was better for skilled workers elsewhere. 

Dr. Beata Polanowksa said that over the years people have put down roots and often have nothing left in Poland. Credit: ITV News Central

Many did return but some set up home here.

As a child, my grandfather was Treasurer of the Polish Catholic Centre in Leeds. When we used to attend Church, it was largely empty. Present were mainly the older generation who came over after the war after fighting for the allies. You wondered what future a Polish diaspora would have in England in time. 

Poland's entry into the EU in 2004 changed all of that, suddenly Polish centres were filled again, as they had been in the 1950s and 1960s.

SPS then became a vital service for those who came over, worked hard for many years and then ultimately found themselves struggling.

I was told by Beata that there is comfort in seeking help from those who understand your culture and language - and that is another reason why SPS continues to be important.

Lottery-funded, for Marek and others, SPS has been a lifeline and the organisation also hosts community events so Eastern Europeans can mix, experience different cultures and not feel isolated.  Marek occasionally works in the garden, giving him an additional sense of purpose. 

His life has been difficult at times, but it's likely to have been even more tough had SPS not been there for him.

Eighteen years after it was set up, it's needed just as much as ever.

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