Author Archives: Michal Siewniak

What if the Home Secretary is right?

As someone who was brought up under communism in Poland, I never dreamt that Eastern Europe could change so much in such a relatively short period of time. I never thought that I would be able to travel or work freely in another European state. I never knew what diversity is. I rarely had an opportunity to talk to people from other countries or nationalities. But I remember that I always had a strong desire to meet people of other ethnic or faith origins. I remember that as a teenager back home, I participated in various events which marked the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This was a very special experience which allowed me to learn more about other churches and see that ‘unity in diversity’ is possible. Visiting the Lutheran Church made me realise that despite some dogmatic & theological differences, we all pray to the same God. This, as well as many other experiences has shaped me as a person which I only realised when I moved to Britain.

Living in Croatia for almost 4 years was also an ‘eye-opener’. It was in Croatia where I had a chance to see a mosque. It is Croatia where I had a real opportunity not only to read about individuals from other nationalities but to live side by side with people from other cultures and religions. I really felt so ‘normal’ and beautiful. 

All these experiences prepared me for Britain which in many ways can be called the ‘laboratory of diversity’. My job in the charity sector and my role as a Councillor give me plenty of opportunities to meet many wonderful people and enable me to build bridges rather than walls. It has also helped me to break down various barriers and recognise the importance of diversity. Settling in the UK, trying to be part of the local community, encouraged me to get to know other cultures and people of other faith groups. The whole experience has broadened my horizons and it made me a more tolerant and rounded person.

Why is it so important now? I do think that the polarisation of the political systems, inability to listen or talk to each other, seeing everything in ‘black & white’ colours means that diversity as well as many other things are seen in a deformed way. This means that our communities are divided and our friends and neighbours are often ‘presented’ to us a threat, invaders or burdens. This hurts many and the healing process to rebuild trust between groups and communities may take a long time. I often wonder whether media and access to social media platforms have changed our attitude towards diversity. Do we, too often, put too much emphasis on what divides rather than unites us? 

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Britain, what’s wrong?

Most parents might find (I know that we often do!) morning routine tricky at times; getting ready for work, waking up children, making sure that there is enough food in the fridge for breakfast and lunch. If anyone has kids in two or three different schools, “morning madness” becomes even more challenging or “interesting”.

We are the first full week in with our two eldest daughters and unfortunately, their school bus, which picks up children from different parts of Welwyn Hatfield, broke down twice in literally a couple of days. Yep, it does happen, I understand. However, after paying £825 (!) for one annual bus pass and almost £300 for an autumn term ticket (with a small discount), I would expect much better, much better service provision.

Both of these school-bus incidents made me think. First of all, in most European countries, children’s school journeys are subsidised by Local Authorities. I find it staggering that we talk so much about the impact of climate change and the environment in the UK and yet, a number of families simply have no choice but to drive as all the other ways to commute are far too expensive.

Moreover, after coming back from my summer holidays, it felt at times like returning not to a G7 or G20 economy but to a country that is literally falling apart. Yes, I know; the grass is always greener on the other side and all global or European economies are also struggling in one way or another. However, many families in the UK are not “living but surviving” as one of my friends told me recently. The inflation, cost of living crisis, filling up petrol or mortgages are still affecting millions of families. It must be extremely difficult for many people, not only on lower incomes but also those, who until recently, lived relatively comfortable lives.

Furthermore; where is the accountability, integrity and honesty that were promised by Mr Sunak? What happened with 40 new hospitals? Has the stop the boat slogan been implemented? I don’t think that any of us would last a week in any job after performing so badly and/or after a complete lack of competence to address some of these key pledges.

There are almost 8 million (!) people on the NHS waiting list. Yes, the NHS, “national treasure”, often described as the white elephant in the room, needs deep reforms and it can’t and won’t continue as it stands. However, it is just NOT good enough that people need to wait in ambulances to get any treatment. Even today, the Prime Minister admitted that he will not be able to meet the target of reducing waiting times, which he set out in his speech when he took office. Did he apologise? Of course not. He blamed the industrial actions.

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The impact of the inflation and cost of living crisis on individuals and families

It would be a huge understatement if I was to say that the inflation, the current energy and the cost of living crisis is negatively affecting people’s lives. There is no doubt in my mind that we are not even close out of the woods and as predicted by many economists, the aftermath of the ongoing hardship will continue for many months, if not years.

The consequences of government policies, since COVID but also in recent years, has dominated many of my conversations with my friends and colleagues. There are thousands of stories of people, who are having to make a …

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What does it mean to be a good Chair?

A week or so ago, I had an opportunity to Chair my first Grants Committee meeting. Not a big deal some people would say and I agree; it is not. Having said that, I felt the importance of “doing my part”, which meant being well prepared and ensuring that the meeting is run smoothly (Council Officers were very helpful!)

The role of the Chairperson is actual vital, in any environment or any capacity. In my opinion, this role has a lot of critical components and it requires (some examples):

  • Good listening skills (a lot of improvement needed here in my case!)
  • Ability to set out clear instructions
  • Drive and commitment to empower participants by bringing them into a conversation during various parts of the meeting
  • “Emotional capacity”/ “behavioural adaptation” to “read the room” in order to help and engage all members of the group/ workshop/ Committee. Often, some meetings that we might attend, can be dominated by one or a small group of individuals
  • A sense of humour, a bit of energy and passion and knowledge for the subject
  • Ability to summarise key points and agreeing next steps
  • Time management

Let’s hope that my reflection will help me (and maybe others?) to get better at creating opportunities for dialogue in all circumstances and that constructive criticism will not put us off from bringing people together. In my view, this approach will help us more effectively to serve our towns, cities and neighbourhood in our various roles and capacities. In order to achieve this, we must always put people first. I know; easier said than done!

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Titan submarine, Channel crossing and the Borders and Nationality Bill

I am an early bird. I usually wake up around 6am each day and without a need for caffeine, I am able to switch on my laptop and work almost immediately. My morning routine includes a cup of tea and … BBC Breakfast. Laptop on, TV on and I am ready to crack on!

In recent weeks, many of us were following closely a story of the missing submarine, Titan. It has dominated our screen for quite some time. I often wondered why are we so “obsessed” with it? Is it because it relates directly to the tragic story of the Titanic? Is it because we, as humans, like to push and challenge ourselves, explore areas of the planet, oceans, which seem to be unreachable? Or was it because of the social and financial status of individuals who tragically died?

One morning, as I was sitting in my living room, my wife made an interesting observation. The story of the Titan has captured the attention of the global audience. However, the story of a migrant boat that sank in Greek waters, almost the same week, has barely made the news, in comparison. Both stories have very different beginnings and yet, they both have the same end. The boat in Greece was overloaded, full of people, who were fleeing war, poverty and prosecution. The Titan looks small and tiny, however its passengers were billionaires with apparent “passion for exploration”. They each had to spend thousands of pounds to be part of that adventure. This was all happening during the Refugee Week, an initiative, which helps to address the challenges, promote and celebrate the achievements of refugees.

In recent weeks, months and years, the UK government has been quite “busy” dealing (or not) with the channel crossing. Only a year or so ago, MPs were debating the Borders and Nationality Bill, which has previously received a lot of media and political attention.

Quite recently, I came across a very interesting report produced by the Refugee Council. In the year ending June 2021, 37,235 people applied for asylum in the UK, a 4% decrease on the previous year. What has changed significantly is the method of traveling –  from freight transit to Channel boat crossing.

Most people would be aware that there are limited alternative ‘safe routes’ available for many of the top nationalities crossing the Channel. What is quite interesting, the UK did not resettle a single person from Kuwait, Yemen or Vietnam in the period January 2020 to May 2021 and only one person from Iran was resettled and Iranians are the top nationality for people crossing the Channel.

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Happy Volunteers’ Week!

One word; volunteering. It has amazing powers to transform and change lives. It enables us to grow, boost our confidence, connect with each other and our community. Volunteering enhances our opportunities to learn and develop new skills. It helps us to listen better, work well in a team as well as individually. 

The world today needs many more selfless acts, which shift away our attention from materialism, “what I am entitled to have” and focus our efforts to empower people around us. Volunteering means being able to put ourselves at the service of other people, who are often less fortunate than us. 

I know that volunteering gave me so much. If anything, it gave me countless opportunities to meet some inspirational individuals who, by sacrificing a few hours (or more!) a week, helped to become better, more compassionate human beings. Churches, sport clubs, schools, there are so many places where we can volunteer! The key is to find a cause, which is close to our heart and which we feel passionate about. 

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Discovering Belfast

There are sometimes moments in life, which are not easy to describe or define. Although some of these moments leave a permanent trace in our lives, it is hard to express our views, feelings and “internal transformation”. We might have read several books in relation to a particular topic, however seeing something in reality often changes our perspective or perceptions of places and/ or people.

I am convinced that visiting Belfast and Northern Ireland (13th – 14th May) will stay with me for many months. Belfast has a great vibe; good Universities, plenty of international students, many parks, a lovely city centre or incredibly powerful Crumlin Road Gaol Museum. The capital city of Northern Ireland is quite very special and unique.

I thought I “knew Belfast”. Reading a few books about the history of Northern Ireland was pretty informative, however driving through certain parts of Belfast was breath-taking. I felt stunned and speechless on quite a few occasions. On the way to Newcastle and County Down, I noticed small villages, literally next to each other, full of either British or Irish flags. “Political and historical separation” was strongly felt during our trip. In many ways, I was lucky as I was visiting Northern Ireland a week or so after the coronation of Charles III and ahead of the Local Elections.

Belfast itself was spectacular. Murals, paintings, Peace Wall, barracks are only a few examples of a “divided city”. Although there are clear signs of pain and suffering of this lovely place and its people, the extraordinary efforts to find a peaceful solution in most challenging circumstances are equally, if not more, powerful. Northern Ireland went through so much. The healing hasn’t ended but I hope that the process of reconciliation and growth will continue to positively impact many lives.

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Positive campaigning – best way to win the election?

I have spent exactly 24 hours door-knocking since the elections in 2022. I still absolutely love it and if I could, I would do it for a living! As I am standing again this year (one of my fellow councillors had to stand last year on health grounds), my campaign has intensified in recent weeks. The mood on the door-step has changed. Last year, some of the national and international topics dominated some of my conversations; war in Ukraine, end of the pandemic or a wide range of post-COVID government scandals.

I am pleased that this year, as candidates and councillors we have been campaigning on issues that we can actually influence; Local Plan, the state of our Town Centres, investment, infrastructure, potholes or transport provision.

The “toxicity” of campaigning has not gone away though. Has it got worse? It is hard to tell. I was “accused” by one of the other candidates of not living in my ward (I live 15 minutes walking distance from it). In many cases the literature of our opponents is quite repetitive and instead of suggesting new solutions, which could help to improve the effectiveness and functionality of the Council, it frequently “offers” scare-mongering and too often(?) a wide range of negative stories.

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“Why would you stand again?”

Bonkers? You have nothing better to do? What’s the point? Don’t you feel that your efforts are worthless? I often wonder whether standing again, literally after being elected 12 months ago, sounds “sane”. It feels like only yesterday I wrote to readers of the Liberal Democrat Voice to introduce myself as a candidate in the May 2022 Local Elections. I wanted to share my story, challenge some of the stereotypes and prove that only the sky’s the limit if we passionately believe in something. This is why I was delighted to get elected and overall, I am enjoying every minute of being able to serve you as your local councillor.

The national and international political landscape is not helping; the war in Ukraine, cost of living crisis, sky-rocketing inflation. Who would have thought that 12 months later, members of the Conservative Party would have selected their third Prime Minister? Has much changed? Not in my opinion. Is this why some many people are fed up with the Government, political status-quo and feel completely disengaged?

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A significant day (or not?) for Croatia

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Christmas is always a good time to catch up with the family. I am Polish, however my wife comes originally from Croatia, a truly spectacularly beautiful country in the southern part of Europe. I had a chance to live in Croatia for a number of years between March 2001 and November 2004, when I was studying and conducting research for my Master’s Degree.

On 1st January 2023, Croatia joined the Eurozone and the Schengen Area. During the Festive Season, at least on a couple of occasions, this was one of the main topics of our conversations; would my friends and family members be worried about some of these changes? How will they affect their lives and/ or their standard of living?

Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular have suffered a lot in recent years. The war in the former Yugoslavia has left many people dead, misplaced and hugely traumatised. The Dayton Agreement, which was signed in 1995, put an end to the three-and-a-half-year-long Bosnian War. However, many people have criticized the agreement, which created a weak democratic structure and which has not resolved several complex issues such as borders, cultural, social and faith heritage as well as the political inheritance of the diverse post-Balkan nations.

Whilst Croatia and Slovenia, some will argue, have moved on, other countries are still trying to find a clear pathway to economic stability. Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 and Croatia in 2013. Croatia in particular has become a traveling destination for many tourists from Europe. It is worth saying that this relatively small country with 3.8m people has a stunning coast, which attracts many visitors each year. Moreover, in 2019, just before the pandemic, tourism revenue contributed 21% of Croatia’s GDP.

So what do these most recent changes mean in practice? Many experts hope and argue that this significant milestone will strengthen Croatian economy, in particular its tourism industry. Others worry that the residents of Croatia, due to the currency change, will lose its “spending power” and to some extent, its monetary sovereignty.

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Christmas HOPE 2022

There is only one word that springs to my mind this Christmas; it is HOPE.

The last 12 months have been so difficult for us individually, collectively and for the whole global family. The end of the pandemic, re-adjustment to life after Covid, invasion of Ukraine, problems “at home”; endless political saga, high inflation and a huge cost of living crisis. The list of real issues and reasons to lose HOPE is endless.

Christmas is usually a good opportunity to stop, rest and recharge our batteries. Religious or not, we all look forward to Christmas to reconnect with our friends, relatives and family members. These social moments of interaction are so important for our wellbeing and sense of belonging to our community, society or respective traditions.

I personally HOPE that this Christmas, we will all try to remain faithful in the goodness of humanity. I HOPE that we will be able to be grateful for who we are, recognise that we are all unique and that we are a GIFT for one another.

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“Democracy in action” in Welwyn Garden City

Frustrated. Bored. Tired. Disengaged. I wondered quite a bit whether being involved in the Parliament Week, for the 9th year running, made any sense. As a Cllr, I’ve had countless conversations with residents about the UK Parliament and it is and was clear that many people still feel disillusioned and angry with the way our democratic institution works, but more importantly with the conduct and behaviour of some of our MP’s and “Parliamentarian chaos” of the last 2-3 years.

However, after a bit of “intellectual effort”, I managed to convince myself that every step and every simple initiative can help to restore our faith in democracy. Every moment or conversation, even in passing, can bring back at least some political hope for us and people in our communities up and down the country.

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Brexit, economy and the UK workforce shortage

Some of us saw this coming, didn’t we? We’ve spent years, literally, talking about it. However, the topic of labour shortages and the impact (negative) of Brexit is coming back to us like a boomerang. It was absolutely fascinating to see an intervention from Lord Wolfson, the Boss of retailer Next, who said that Britain needs a different approach to migration. Wow, quite a “discovery”! And yet, there are still plenty of people who want us to “move on” and look ahead for a brighter and more prosperous future.

I am absolutely convinced that we have lost several years to come up with a good, sustainable and meaningful economical model to address some of these issues and the last few Conservative governments have failed to deliver on its “fantastic” Brexit promises.  A famous slogan “Take back control” is simply not working. It never meant to work! I understand – we might have voted against a greater political integration, however some people couldn’t foresee or didn’t want to admit that leaving the European Union, purely in business and financial terms, might cause a lot of damage to the UK economy.

A prominent Brexiteer, Lord Wolfson is currently struggling to recruit staff in his shops and retail units across the country, even though Britain’s unemployment is at record low levels. It wasn’t that difficult to predict, was it? However, Lord Wolfson is right; we need to find a different approach to economically productive migration and stop building “fortress Britain”. I would go further than that and I would argue that the government must stop its obsession with immigration and ill-driven ideology to reduce the number of people coming to Britain to do essential jobs in agriculture, social care sector or hospitality industry. Example? There are plenty! Only a few months ago, the government’s “creative approach” to workforce shortages meant a refusal of the aviation industry’s request to issue special immigration for foreign workers. Due to understaffing issues, many summer holidays had to be cancelled.

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The importance of empowerment in an education setting: visiting Poland and my former secondary school

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There are moments in life which often stay with us forever. The return, after 24 years, to the “Biskupiak” secondary school in Lublin, which I attended from 1994 to 1998, was just such a day, to which I will return very often.

I was invited to give a talk about my journey, the work with the Polish community as well as the reasons why I decided to stand in the local elections. My presentation, which took place in the school auditorium, and which was attended by about 200 students, was a truly wonderful experience. There were questions; some easier than others on the role of Monarchy, Polish Saturday School, immigration or the process of becoming a Councillor. I spoke in both Polish and English, which was quite extraordinary. I was impressed by the very good level of English of Polish students.

It was a truly beautiful return to the past, full of emotion and positive energy.

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Rishi Sunak – UK’s new Prime Minister

Quite extraordinary times. Immediate reactions from journalists from all countries around the globe. Some joy, uncertainty, consternation and a bit of hope. Most certainly a mixture of emotions.

If someone told me that the last Prime Minister will last less than 50 days, I would not believe it. If someone told me that a new Prime Minister, who actually lost to Liz Truss only 6 weeks ago, will become the new Leader of Britain, I would also not believe.

I suppose that the election of the new Leader of the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister can be looked at from …

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What happened to British Democracy?

“Time is up” – Daily Mirror

Tory MP’s turn on Liz Truss – BBC

“Truss sacks Kwarteng in bid to save the premiership” – Financial Times

“Truss fights for survival” – The Times

“A day of chaos” – The Guardian

Many thought that after Mr Johnson left 10 Downing Street only a couple of months ago, the outlook for British politics couldn’t get any worse. I was proved wrong.

So many people, who often might not have been interested in politics, are now really “switched on”. While picking up my daughter from school yesterday, someone simply asked: what is going on in the UK? The second conversation, also in passing, was equally quite interesting. This comment gave me an idea of how much the standard of politics fell in Britain. In the past, people with opposing views might have looked up to politicians as people with conviction and integrity. Many people, even if they strongly disagreed with various government policies, could see some rationale behind implementing them.

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World Mental Health Day

A few days ago, I received an email from someone, who said that as a direct result of the cost of living crisis and high inflation, she will have to find a second job. She was feeling down and quite overwhelmed with the whole situation. She is not the only person who is desperately worried about her finances.

Nowadays, the world is facing many difficulties; war in Ukraine, famine in Africa, climate emergency, divisions and political polarization. It is often hard to see the light in a dark tunnel. Local, national and global news are not always too heartening. It is …

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The importance of community consultation

Quite recently, I was sitting in a council chamber when the topic of consultation was brought up by one of my fellow councillors. It made me think! I often wonder what springs to our minds when someone says – ‘community consultation’. I often have mixed feelings. On one hand, I am glad that someone asks a question which may be relevant and important to me. However, in too many cases, our actual contribution is not necessarily taken into the consideration. Far too often, the decision is already made and we can’t really influence it. It feels like we are fed up with simply ‘being consulted’ for no real reason.

Local authorities, government, businesses, they all want to listen to our opinions. We are always told that our ‘voice’ matters. Examples? Closure of a local hospital, cuts in bus provision or even Brexit which in my opinion could fall into the category of ‘community consultation’ (it was an advisory referendum). More recently, some would argue (not me) that the selection process of the Conservative Party Leader was part of a consultation. I also wonder whether any elections could be called a “consultation exercise”. We ask residents’ their opinions on topics, often in line with a party policy, of local or national importance. This is how, I hope, we would make our political judgment. Moreover, we actively encourage people to vote to enhance and strengthen our civic participation process.

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What does the election in Italy mean for Europe?

Surprised? Predictable? Avoidable win for a right-wing party in the most recent Italian elections to their Parliament? Did we have time to think about the result of the elections? Have you registered the fact that it really is, in many ways, a historical moment for Italy and quite possibly for Europe. However, as there is so much going on at home, on our British soil, I don’t think that we are paying too much attention to a potential “tsunami of political changes and repercussions” across the sea.

I have a lot of sentiment for Italy. I remember that, as a young member of the Focolare Movement, Christian based organisation founded in Italy, I had a number of opportunities to visit Italy and travel in particular to Castel Gandolfo, a small town just outside of Rome. Magnificent buildings, incredible architecture and heritage; it all left a huge impression on me. I think that I appreciated Italy even more when I had an opportunity to live there, in Tuscany, between November 2004 and June 2005. I still travel to Italy quite a bit; I speak the language and I have a lot of Italian friends here in the UK as well as back in Italy.

So, what happened? It is very likely that Italy has just elected their first ever female Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.

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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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