Author Archives: Michal Siewniak

Queen Elizabeth II – a truly remarkable individual

I almost remember like it was yesterday. In June 2012, literally after leaving hospital, I had an opportunity to meet the Queen in Hatfield House. I am certain, whether someone is a royalist or not, meeting the Queen is quite a special moment. I was invited as a result of my work with the Polish community in Welwyn Hatfield. My short encounter with the British Monarch lasted maybe 2 minutes. She asked me about my nationality, what I did for a living and whether I was happy to move to the UK from Poland. At that time, she was already 86. Apart from me, she met another 20-30 people. She looked “intellectually sharp” and genuinely interested in what I was saying. Her gentle smile, “down to earth” personality and a simple “being in the moment” with some strangers; I was impressed. 

Moreover, only less than a week ago, on Saturday 3rd September, I was visiting Aberdeen and my Polish cousin, who has just completed his Degree in dentistry. We actually visited Balmoral Castle, which feels now, at least for me, like a historical moment…

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What next for our GCSE Students

I was actually quite surprised with myself. I thought that I would be nervous and stressed when I went with my eldest daughter to collect her GCSE results. Is it because, as a family of European migrants, we have never experienced before the actual exam period in the UK? Often, not knowing what to expect can actually be quite helpful! Having said that, 5-6 weeks of exams and revision were a true rollercoaster of emotions; tiredness, happiness when the exam went well, encouragement and motivation to continue learning even when the energy levels were low. 

I decided to accompany my daughter to her school to collect her important envelope. After a moment of hesitation, she decided to open it in her library. I was worried a bit that she might be unhappy with her grades, however she wasn’t. In actual fact, she did very well, in particular in the key subjects; Maths and English.

As a History teacher by profession, I found the English educational system interesting and at times, confusing. It has, like any other, advantages and disadvantages. Students are asked, as early as in Y.8 or Y.9, to drop some of the subjects and encouraged to select their GCSE options. Too early? In my view, most definitely. The same scenario applies to young adults, who decide to continue A-Level Education. After completing a few Sixth Form documents, my daughter was asked whether she is planning to go to University. She said yes, however she is still unsure what exactly she wants to do next. For her, making this decision is actually becoming a problem. She enjoys learning at least 5-6 subjects, however she needs to choose 3 topics/ courses. She still hasn’t made up her mind. 

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The National Flag day in Ukraine

I have recently listened to a very inspiring talk by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, about “Faith in Conflicted World”. It is interesting and challenging in a lot of ways. Bishop Welby talks about reconciliation, managed and unmanaged conflict, divisions and polarization in today’s world. Although in his talk, Justin Welby defines the conflict in a number of different ways, for me his talk was a sad reminder that it has been 178 days since the war in Ukraine started. As of Sunday, 21st August, it is exactly 5 months and 28 days since the war in Ukraine broke out. Has initial shock, disbelief, huge sadness and anger faded away and we are now in the stage of simply “accepting” the war? Has the war become a “norm”?

Only yesterday (Saturday, 20th August), after a busy day, I was invited to meet with a wonderful Syrian family, who was invited to our friend’s house in Welwyn Garden City. The subject of the war came up a lot when I spoke with Samer, the father of 4, who fled Syria with his wife and his 3 children. The fourth baby was born in the UK. Most of us probably would not have noticed that it has been 11.5 long years since the war started in Syria. Samer can’t go back to Damascus, an iconic, historic city, which was destroyed during the conflict. I wonder and worry whether the same might happen in Eastern Europe.

Some readers might remember that one of the cities on my bucket list, Sarajevo, was under siege for 1,425 days during the war in ex-Yugoslavia, the longest military siege in modern history. For me, it is simply incomprehensible. The list, unfortunately, never ends…

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The stark reality of ending freedom of movement

The summer holidays are always a time of intensive traveling for me and my family. It is usually a logistical challenge to try and visit both families in Poland and Croatia. For most of us, the “pandemic years” meant moving around was even more challenging. However due to a different set of unforeseen circumstances, we might have forgotten that visiting a family in Europe could easily become a real nightmare.

I landed in Warsaw on Friday, 29th July. As expected, there were long queues at the airport. A lot of people travel to Poland to either visit their family or spend some time exploring the spectacular nature, national parks and tasting delicious cuisine that Poland has to offer.

While waiting for my passport to be checked, I noticed a small group of people, British passport holders, with an elderly gentleman, who were told: “You are in the wrong queue”. This, as well as the recent debacle at the ferry crossing in Dover, clearly demonstrates what ending the freedom of movement looks like in practice. What a stark reality of what Brexit does to people. I must admit that I was quite surprised. 

Later on, after “digesting” the whole situation, I remembered a “historic speech” made by Priti Patel, who said: “After many years of campaigning, I am delighted that the Immigration Bill, which will end free movement on 31st December, has today passed through Parliament. We are delivering on the will of the British people”. In my view, Ms Patel forgot to add that this policy will work both ways.

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Wimbledon, strawberries and immigration

I really love sports! I remember that as a child, I could easily spend hours playing football, basketball, or badminton. Winning or losing a game, belonging to a team, communication & learning; sport gives us so many important lessons which can shape our adult life. When I moved to Croatia and then Italy, football was such a powerful way to meet new people. At the beginning, I didn’t speak Croatian or Italian so sport was a fantastic way to build new friendships and learn basic words in both languages. All of these experiences helped me a lot to feel less isolated and more valued. They helped me to break down barriers & feel more confident. Sport also creates ‘Community Champions’ and enables people to integrate better in their communities.

I like tennis and Wimbledon is one of my favourite tournaments in the annual calendar. There is drama, a bit of shouting and some fantastic matches. Strangely, strawberries and Pimms are often associated with this most famous grass competition in the world. Most people would argue that there is very little correlation between strawberries and tennis. However this year, while watching Wimbledon, I wondered what the impact of Brexit in the agriculture sector is.  

Although the Government increased the number of seasonal workers visas from 30,000 to 40,000, according to the Home Office, this offer was taken up by only 28,000 people. Am I surprised? Not at the slightest. If I had a chance to choose, why would I want to come to Britain? Paying for the visa, which as far as I understand is not transferable, demonstrating that I am self-sufficient, by providing my online banking balance, or not being able to extend my stay proves that the policy won’t work. There are far too many obstacles to even vaguely contemplate coming over. It is so much simpler to travel to any other member state or country countries such as Norway, which belong to the Schengen area.

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Time to re-connect with politics!

On the day of the Prime Minister’s announcement, I was working from home. As some of us did, I received endless messages from friends and colleagues, who were commenting on a sequence of unfolding political events, which have never (?) been seen in British politics. When it was clear that Mr Johnson would eventually resign, I was actually looking forward to his speech. It has been the most extraordinary few years for the nation, democracy and the political process in Britain.

In recent weeks, we were all reflecting on the quality of politics, here at home, but also across the globe. Most of us would question the lack of integrity, decently and honesty of some of our politicians who, with decisions they make, have such a huge impact on our lives. I was so disappointed that the Prime Minister didn’t say sorry and that he didn’t apologise. Tons of articles and press releases have been issued to cover some of the horror stories of his government. The more I thought about it, the angrier I was with the rest of his Cabinet. In my view, there was absolutely no decency in what they did. They did know, all along, the character of the Leader of the Conservative Party and our Prime Minister. They knew that he was not trustworthy, they knew that he is a charlatan, someone who is not at the service of others but someone, who is self-centred, indefensible with, apparently, great character and charisma.

On Thursday evening, as I was getting ready for my last work meeting, I received a text message from a friend of mine. I said to him that the government, lack of leadership, incompetence across all governmental departments meant that I started to doubt whether there is any point in enhancing my passion and interest in the civic process.

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Ways To Successful Residents’ Engagement

I remember when I was first elected as a Councillor in 2014, I used to attend our monthly Councillor Surgeries. Although most of the time, they were not well attended, I often found it useful as it gave me an opportunity to talk to my fellow Councillors and discuss many issues, which needed to be addressed.

So much has changed since 2014. It almost feels like we are living in a very different world. We had (and still have!) Brexit, the health pandemic with often no social interaction, and more recently the war in Ukraine. More importantly in this context, the whole digital world has progressed at an incredibly fast pace.

Although many Councillors decided to “ditch” their Surgeries, when I was elected in May 2022, I was really keen to ensure that the dialogue with residents continuously grows. It was clear to me that we can’t only rely on virtual reality. My role as a Councillor, first and foremost, is to be accessible and visible to my community. Equally, I wondered what would be the best and most effective way to ensure effective communication with residents. The “old days” of waiting for people to turn up to a Surgery are long gone. We all have busy lives and therefore elected representatives need to be a lot wiser regarding residents’ engagement. Yes, it is so easy today to pick up a phone, email, or even get in touch via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, however nothing, in my view, will ever replace real human interaction.

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What is the future of our Town Centres?

I remember that when I first arrived in Welwyn Garden City, I was truly amazed with its beauty. The Town Centre looked quite special; everything felt right, “organised” and unique. A few years later, I discovered the idea of the Garden City Movement, which for more than 100 years now, formed and shaped the town and its social, economic and architectural development.

First of all, what is the Garden City Movement? The Garden City Movement is a town-planning idea that sought to marry the best of town and country in new urban development. It proved highly influential in suburban design and …

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British Monarchy in 2022 – a Polish perspective

It was June 2012. It seems like yesterday, however it has been 10 years since I had the opportunity to meet the Queen. I just left the hospital where I was treated for kidney stones. Although I felt weak and under the weather, I wanted to be ready for the big occasion.

June 2012 was also a busy month at work. In actual fact, it was a busy year for the UK as we were hosting the Olympic Games whereas Poland and Ukraine were organising the European Championship in football.

The Queen came to Hatfield House to visit her cousin. I was selected to be one of only 30 people from Hertfordshire, who had the opportunity to meet her. Our conversation lasted maybe 60-90 seconds. The Queen asked about my origins and whether I liked living in the UK. I must admit that I was surprised that despite her age, she looked “sharp”, focused and in good health.

The dust has settled after the Bank Holiday Weekend and the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. It might be a good moment to think about the role and relevance of the monarchy in the UK in 2022.

I will never forget a “corridor conversation” with a good friend of mine, who comes originally from Trinidad and Tobago. She said that as a child, instead of learning about the history of her beautiful country, she was taught the history of Great Britain. Quite a recent visit to the Caribbean islands by Prince William and Duchess Kate demonstrates how strongly, in some cases, the resentment towards monarchy is embedded in the mind-set of some of the former British colonies. Painful history of British dominance, which often resulted in the suffering of indigenous population, is amplified by the huge drive of many countries across the globe for independence and self-government.

This is not only a “British problem”. France, Belgium or Portugal, particularly in Africa, also shows how hard it is to maintain the importance of any monarchy in the XXI century. The most recent royal scandals in the UK and Spain also show how difficult it might be to change that perception in the future. I must admit that as a Pole, who has been living in the UK for the last 17 years, the “public hierarchy” is still deeply enrooted in our society. Is it right to inherit your status or position only because you were born into a particular social fabric?

Poland lost its last King in 1795. This is when Poland disappeared from the map of Europe. We only re-gained our independence in 1918. Until the XVIII century, Poland also had a long history of monarchy, however due to our recent history, it is almost a forgotten subject.

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100 days

There is a lot to celebrate this weekend. I hope that most of us will have an opportunity to rest and relax a bit!

However, it is incredibly sad that today marks 100 days since Russia started its invasion on Ukraine.

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 4,169 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of June 1, 2022. Of them, 268 were children. Furthermore, 4,982 people were reported to have been injured. However, the real numbers could be higher.
  • There were approximately 13,000 non-fatal injuries.
  • At least 15 million people were displaced (more than the total population of Los Angeles).
  • There are 2,300 destroyed buildings.

So many Ukrainians were forced to flee. So many had to leave behind members of their families, husbands, fathers or livelihoods.

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Faith, spirituality and the role of a Councillor

Only a week or so ago, I sat down at our Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council Annual Meeting. I sat thinking whether I did the right thing. I sat wondering whether, after a 6 year gap, it was the right decision to stand again. One of the Labour Councillors, a really decent guy, said to me: “Michal, you’ve done it before. You really wanted to do it again? You are crazy”. There were a few moments before the meeting, when I was reflecting on sacrifices that many of the Cllrs have to make. Most of us have to work, full or part-time. There are plenty of evening meetings and our presence at home, or lack of it, will be felt. In my case, with 3 school-aged daughters, my conscience was searching for an answer for this question. The beginning of the meeting was really powerful. The Full Council meeting is the only meeting of the Annual Calendar which begins with the prayer. A short prayer, read out at the beginning of the meeting, had such a huge impact on me. I felt once again a “calling” to public life and that I am not alone in fulfilling my duties as a Councillor. Moreover, our prayer reminded me about my most important part of my role as a Councillor; being at the service of others.

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Challenging cultural and ethnic stereotypes

A week or so ago, I was asked to give a talk about how faith relates to politics and vice versa. I remember when I first came to the UK, I was told to avoid talking about both subjects and therefore I knew that running a workshop in relation to both topics might be a bit tricky!

For some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station.

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A story of a Polish migrant winning an election – how did it happen?

It really has been a long campaign! It has been a well-planned and executed campaign. It has been a campaign during which I met hundreds, if not thousands of residents. It has been a campaign, which started in October 2021. The outcome? A commanding victory for a number of candidates in Welwyn Hatfield, including Handside ward in Welwyn Garden City!

Although I’ve already once had an opportunity to be as a Cllr, I feel a lot better prepared this time to serve my constituents. I still feel a bit tired, however overall I am happy and I feel privileged and proud that as a Polish migrant, local residents voted for me as their newly elected Cllr.

What was the success of our campaign? It would be a surprise if I say that starting canvassing early was very important. Just before the polling day, I counted and since October 2021, I’ve personally completed 59 door-knocking sessions. Quite a few of my friends, work colleagues think that I am probably insane, however as someone who simply enjoys social interaction, I must admit that each conversation, each opportunity to introduce myself, talk to residents about local issues (and often national and international), helped to recharge my batteries and gave me a huge amount of joy.

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Faith and politics: “toxic mix” or a perfect combination?

Dalai Lama once said: “If you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”.

As a practising Christian, I was delighted (and a bit worried!) when I was invited by the Focolare community in London to give a talk on how faith relates to politics. A lot of people would say today: “I don’t do both”! However for some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station. Having said that, there is a growing number of people who think that although faith and politics have arguably a lot in common, they are too “closely aligned”.

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How to persuade a Brexit voter to support you in the Local Elections?

As I am writing this article, there are thirty-two days until the next local elections. As someone who is standing, we are entering the last stages of the campaign. The finish line is quite close!

This year, in order to know how much time, effort and energy I invested in campaigning, I decided to create a simple timesheet. It is nice to see that since October 2021, I have spent twenty-five hours door knocking, more than twenty-five hours delivering our leaflets and another ten meeting our delivery network. I hope that the outcome will be positive for me and our local Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrat team.

I’ve said it a few times but I really enjoy door knocking. I like meeting people, discussing current local and at times, national and global matters. I am learning to become a better listener. Without being judgmental, it is good to find out why people vote in a certain way or why they support a particular policy.

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The Homes for Ukrainians Scheme does not meet the needs of refugees

Scenes of chaos, disinformation, unhelpfulness, layers of bureaucracy; these are some of my comments after seeing what some of the Ukrainian refuges had to go through while trying to make an appointment with the British Consulate in Warsaw. Some people, who fled the war, travelled in freezing conditions for days, had to make a 12 hour round trip to meet a Home Office official. Unacceptable? Most definitely.

I agree that Britain has a long standing tradition of welcoming refugees. However before we start congratulating the Home Office on their efforts to welcome our Ukrainian friends, it is worth remembering that Poland has already provided home and shelter for 1,916,000 refugees from Ukraine (figures from 17th March) whilst other neighbouring countries have taken 283,000 (Hungary), 229,000 (Slovakia), 491,000. Interestingly, Ireland has taken 6,600 whereas UK so far only 3,000, as of 14th March.

So what awaits Ukrainian refugees, who might want to move to a safe country or, to be more precise, are desperate to settle secure? On Monday, 14th March, the government launched the Home for Ukrainians Scheme. The scheme itself went live on Friday, 18th March.

The setup is quite “interesting”. Although around 44,000 have already signed up to the scheme, the government, in my view, made a wrong decision in terms of how the process works. Essentially, Ukrainian applicants must have named people in the UK willing to sponsor them. Only in the last few days, I had a number of phone calls from residents of Welwyn Garden City, who are really keen to support our Ukrainian friends, however without having any information about the country, culture or any connections with Ukraine, each individual will have to heavily rely on some of the Ukrainians already living in the UK. We are quite lucky in Welwyn Hatfield as we have worked a lot in recent weeks with members of the Ukrainian community, who might be able to “match” individuals in Ukraine, with people in the UK, who are happy to move to Britain.

I might be cynical, however the British government is urging the public to come forward to help as we are in the middle of a global humanitarian crisis. In my view, this clearly demonstrates that the government doesn’t want to provide the adequate infrastructure to support the scheme and it relies on the good will of British people. I wonder whether this is also because of Home Office recent stance and reputation on immigration. I’ve seen first-hand, in my day job, how hard it was for Afghan families to navigate the complexity of the Home Offices internal procedures. An inhumane and impossible task, to say the least.

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Campaigning during a global conflict

As I am writing this article, there are two months until the next local elections. Time has flown by. I started campaigning quite early, in October 2021 and so far, I really enjoyed the experience. Feedback? Quite positive!

It is not always easy to predict the final results of any elections, however I often wonder what the key ingredients of winning a campaign are? I do believe that making your face known to local residents is crucial. The human connection and authenticity are one of the elements to win a seat. During months of campaigning, I already have countless examples of people who said to me; “I can see your passion and commitment to the political process”. “Your dedication comes clearly across” or “I’ve read your introduction letter and you have my vote”. The second comment was made only a week ago. In my letter to residents, I simply tried to be myself. I told voters about my background, my journey, and involvement in a number of other projects and activities as well as reasons for standing. As I said before, being open, honest and simple resonate with people. I don’t like negative campaigning and therefore I ensured that my letter states my plans and ambitions for the area.

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In solidarity with Ukraine in Welwyn Garden City

Gathered together in support of the people of UkraineIs there anything tangible that I can do to help those in need, I often ask myself? Being well informed, being on top of the news agenda is not nearly enough.

Sometimes, the most spontaneous ideas can make a real a difference. A simple gathering, organised “overnight” can simply bring together a few people to show that even if we live far away, we care, we are sad, angry, devastated and that we want to show our solidarity with our Ukrainian friends. This is how …

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In solidarity with Ukraine

Sometimes, particularly if you live far away from the country of your origins, it might seem that there is very little that we can practically do to support those in need.

However, sometimes it is equally important to:

* Simply be

* Show solidarity with our fellow human beings

* Demonstrate that local and global unity might bring some hope

* Support members of our community; often our friends, neighbours or work colleagues, who feel angry, confused or devastated

Join me in solidarity with Ukraine on Saturday (26th February) at 4pm. We are meeting around the fountain in Welwyn Garden City town centre.

Do come along, if you can.

I am not Ukrainian but I stand with Ukraine today.

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The power of words

I was probably 12 or 13 when my whole class was asked by our teacher to choose and then present a topic on our “future occupation”. At such an early age, it was a pretty hard task, however I already knew that I would be happy if my job had something to do with football. I decided to become a sports commentator. During my lesson, I passionately tried to cover a match between my beloved Motor Lublin and possibly the most famous club in Poland, Legia Warsaw. I loved the whole experience!

5 to 6 years later, as a History student, I had to read and write a lot. Interestingly, I didn’t always enjoy it. Looking back, I think that one of the reasons why I found it occasionally boring was the fact that reading and writing was “imposed” on us. I couldn’t choose what I wanted to read and therefore my options were quite limited.

Since coming to Britain, and in particular since I started working in the Community and Voluntary Sector in Hertfordshire, I had to quickly learn how to write reports, evaluate projects and often present a wide range of initiatives, which I was leading or supporting.

I wonder how many of us, during the last 20-24 months, took a bit of time to explore our new talents or re-evaluate our life priorities. For me, the greatest discovery in the last 2 years was that I enjoy writing and that writing or reading can make a positive impact on us, our lives and our communities. I would actually argue that both can also help to transform lives.

In the last year or so, I came across a lot of people, who, by writing, inspire others to stop, reflect on our lives, our daily routines and who very often, in spite of their own struggles, never gave up trying to create “bridges of dialogue and understanding”. I was truly inspired by a story of a still relatively young boy from Northern Ireland, Dara McAnulty. He has autism, he had a difficult school experience. However he found that writing helps him to express himself. His book, Diary of a Young Naturalist, is already a bestseller. In one of his interviews, Dara talks about “layers of activism”. Each type of activism can play a part in improving the way in which we perceive and understand the world.

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Why did I decide to stand?

A lot of people think that I am mad. A lot of people think that politics, even at the local level, has never been more toxic.

Those who decide to stand, often do it for a number of different reasons. I strongly feel that being a Councillor is not like a vocation; it is a vocation. You do it, because you believe in it, you feel a sense of civic duty. Most of the time, you want to make a difference and improve your local community.

Standing is never easy. There are a lot of barriers and obstacles to overcome. If you want to do it, unless you stand in a super safe seat (do they still exist?), you have to put a lot of hard work into it; casework, leaflet delivery and canvassing, which I personally absolutely love! Door-knocking gives me a great joy, even when I don’t get a warm reception on the doorstep. Standing, whilst being a “foreigner” is probably even harder. As soon as I open my mouth, people know that I am not necessarily very “local”. This, in all honesty, doesn’t bother me too much; I will never judge someone based on their accent or the colour of their passport.

It is a wonderful feeling and more importantly a huge privilege to REPRESENT a particular area and a particular community. Moreover, being elected, at the local or national level, means being at the SERVICE for other people.

As I said before in many of my previous articles, I absolutely love the civic process; I enjoy listening, talking and working with people. This will never change, even if my circumstances do. Speaking to residents on regular basis gives me a fantastic opportunity to find out how people feel about politics at the local and national level. It worries me hugely that so many individuals that I’ve encountered feel deflated and disheartened. Some are not planning to vote. The sense of political desperation and political apathy is felt throughout the country.

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How do we create a passion for civic activism?

Engaging, informative and instrumental in building “democratic foundation” for future generations. It is wonderful that the “civic tradition” of children from the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City continues! Always in January, when some might have preferred to stay at home, a group of 12 children and a few members of staff visited the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Children had another opportunity to visit the Council Chamber, meet the Leader, Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. 

 Throughout the meeting, children listened attentively and with a great desire to learn. They had a chance to learn to ask a number of questions, many surprising and thought-provoking. This time some of them included:

  • What is the best part of being a Councillor? 
  • How are our taxes spent?
  • Is the town planning to build additional sports facilities?
  • What specifically is the district doing about climate change?

 The trip also had another important dimension. It gave participants an opportunity to continue building a positive image of the Polish diaspora in the UK, having a real impact on our integration and inspire our students to become actively involved in the life of the local community. 

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What the week of Christian unity can offer

I don’t know why, but I always had a “soft spot” for diversity. When I was growing up in Poland in the 1990’s, due to years of communism and oppression, Poland and Lublin weren’t the most diverse places on earth, however even then, I noticed signs and opportunities to build dialogue with minority groups and organisations.

As a member of the Focolare Movement, one of my earliest recollections of taking an active part in an event, which was celebrating diversity, was the Week of Christian Unity. I found it absolutely fascinating when, every January, I had a real privilege to visit different places of workshops and “utilise” religion as a platform for a common good. Very often, a simple cup of tea, “corridor conversation” with no “strings attached” helped me to enrich my own “faith journey” and “cemented” my beliefs.

Since coming to the UK, this experience has in many ways intensified. Although I live in a relatively small town in Hertfordshire, I am surrounded by Christian Churches of different traditions; there are Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics, all doing their part to build a more tolerant and cohesive community.

Why is it important? This week marks The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, during which Christians around the world participate in various initiatives to build on and enhance the Christian unity. Moreover, this week encourages all Christians to move toward the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper “that they all may be one.” 

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Being a REAL “Community Champion” and the Order of the British Empire

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  • To award or not to award?
  • Is the Queen’s New Year’s honours list “fit for purpose”?
  • Is it too archaic?
  • Does it reflect well on the real achievements of our “Community Champions”?

I must admit that I don’t usually pay too much attention to the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. This year was a bit different mainly because a former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was chosen by the Queen for the knighthood. Not surprisingly, in a couple of days, more than 500,000 people have signed the petition to revoke his knighthood. Some of these calls were driven by families, whose members lost their loved ones during the war in Iraq.

In political terms, Mr Blair has been a very successful politician. He was a Prime Minister, undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs in the land, for 10 years (1997-2007). In a way, I should be grateful to Tony Blair as it was he who allowed Poles and other Eastern European nationals to come to Britain since the largest enlargement of the EU in 2004.

However, in my view he lost political integrity and credibility when he decided to support the invasion of Iraq. Since leaving the office, he has travelled globally to give talks on a wide range of issues. I found it staggering that he was supposed to be giving a speech on how to feed the poor in Sweden in 2015. This was dropped for a simple reason; Mr Blair’s fees were too high (£330,000!).

In my opinion, I am not sure whether people who are paid to do a particular job, even if they do it very well, should be receiving a knighthood. For me an example of someone who deserves recognition is Marcus Rashford, who didn’t get an MBE for his fantastic football skills but for  additional (and exceptional!) work that he has been doing to support vulnerable children.

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Desmond Tutu: 90 years of life – life to the full, despite many struggles and challenges

Desmond Tutu, a tiny giant as many people used to call him, passed away today. I always found him quite an interesting church and public figure. I’ve listened to a number of his interviews. He went through a lot, however he never lost a genuine desire to build “common good”. He was funny, intelligent, always with a big smile on his face. In 1984, he received a Nobel Prize. He was a fighter with a big and open heart. However, above all Desmond Tutu was a Man of Peace and a Man of God.

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International Migrants Day

In no particular order, I am proud to call myself:

  • Immigrant
  • Migrant
  • Polish
  • European national
  • Global citizen
  • Citizen of the world
  • Resident of Welwyn Garden City

Each year, on the 18th December, we celebrate the International Migrants Day. A day like many others. However, it is a day which gives us an opportunity to recognise our contribution, reflect on our achievements and celebrate our uniqueness.

The International Migrants Day is a day when we can be truly proud of our own heritage, culture, upbringing, religious or ethnic background. Our faith affiliation, colour of our skin or country of our origin are only part of our story. It is our personal experiences and journey through life, which can help us to become better human beings, and which make us who we are.

We all “move around” for a number of different reasons; to better our lives, seek opportunities to work or study, or flee war of prosecution. We enhance our communities. We enrich our neighbourhoods. Life is at times challenging, hard and demanding. However, it has also plenty of happy and fulfilling moments. I believe that migration is strongly embedded in our DNA. Let’s not forget that we all have layers of identify and being a migrant is only one of them.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 3 Comments

Channel crossings and the Borders and Nationality Bill

In recent weeks, the UK government has been quite “busy” dealing with a number of national scandals. It is possible that many of us might have forgotten that at the moment, MPs are debating the Borders and Nationality Bill, which has previously received a lot of media and political attention.

In the last few days, I found a very interesting report produced by the Refugee Council. The latest official statistics show that in the year ending June 2021, 37,235 people applied for asylum in the UK, 4% decrease on the previous year. What has changed significantly is the method of traveling; from freight transit to Channel boat crossing.

So, what are the key findings of the report?

  • 70% of the total people number of people arriving to the UK via small boats, from January 2020 to May 2020, 12,195 people in total, came only from 5 countries of origin: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam
  • Iranian nationals accounted for 26% of all arrivals
  • On average, 98% of people who arrive after crossing the channel in a small boat make a claim for asylum
  • Over 91% of the total small boat arrivals (11,123 people) came from just ten countries of origin including Afghanistan, the 7th highest nationality of all small boat arrivals.
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments

A Polish perspective – “positive patriotism” abroad

There are times when the Polish community particularly proud of its background and heritage. There are days when our nationality and origin are our great assets. Saturday, 27 November, was just such a day. It was ugly, rainy and windy. Many of us probably would not have left the house. However, despite the typical winter weather, the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City once again showed that it is the “force for good”, which brings a positive social change in Welwyn Hatfield.

Thanks to a grant from the Hertfordshire Community Foundation, the school, its teachers and volunteers organised an event promoting public health. In all fairness, it was one of many projects organised by the school. Moreover, the school organised possibly bigger initiatives, however the one in November was also quite special.

It was the Polish Saturday School that secured funding for a health and wellbeing project; a total of £2,500. The obtained grant helped the Polish School to become the driving force behind the whole event. Our guests and attendees, including the Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield and the Leader of the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, had an opportunity to learn, listen and network with 15 organisations from many areas across Hertfordshire as well as many Polish residents.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Climate change and the real cost of travelling

Our planet needs our immediate attention. It is clear, at least to me, that there aren’t easy answers to some of the global environmental challenges.

Will actions of one individual make any difference? How can I change or improve the way I live my life to protect the planet? We have “mountains to climb” so why bother? I can decide to eat less meat, to recycle more or use other means of traveling.

The latter is an actual problem, especially when you live abroad. It would be great to travel to continental Europe by train, however it is almost impossible if you have a full or even part-time job with limited annual leave.

What about the cost? I find it quite staggering that it is still so much cheaper to fly than to travel by train. The return trip by train from London to Brussels was approximately £100 more expensive than a return trip by plane. This surely can’t be right, can it?

I am certain that many of us realise the severity of the current situation. Although the most recent climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow reached much needed compromise in a number of key areas, there is still some way to go. I just hope that one day, sooner rather than later, the cost of traveling by train will be made much more affordable.

P.S: I must admit that I lost a lot of faith in our leading politicians, who decided to fly to Scotland in private jets rather than travel like “ordinary’ members of the public. President Biden brought with him 22 cars. Why? What for? Mr Johnson returned to London by private plane. He was rushing to attend a dinner, which was apparently organised by a leading climate change sceptic. Are they leading by example? I don’t think so.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 19 Comments

UK Parliament Week and the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City

  • I did wonder whether I should bother
  • I did wonder, whether inspiring young people to learn and find out more about the role of the Parliament, makes sense
  • I did wonder whether I should simply “drop” my passion for the civic agenda and look for another “hobby”

The most recent events in the Houses of Parliament “wobbled” my desire to do my little part and absolute commitment to enhancing the democratic process. Another scandal, another U-turn, another opportunistic attempt from the government to change the rules. “One rule for us, one for them”, we heard a lot this week.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment
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