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Midlands Polish Community Association Projects

Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

01 July 2014

Fitting In and Getting Along: Integration and Identity for Birmingham’s British Poles.

The subject 

This is an oral history project based on recordings of people’s memories, feelings, attitudes and experiences. Living history enables people, whose lives would otherwise probably remain hidden from the wider public, to have their voices heard and life stories understood. Oral history is first-hand evidence of the past, but it is also its traditions, folklore and stories passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. 

This project will present the very unique and interesting personal histories of the second generation of Birmingham’s Poles: so called “British Poles”, born in this country in the 1950s and 1960s. The aim of the project is to show whether and to what extent Polish national identity survived in these British-born Poles, through the Polish language, culture, religion and many Polish institutions created by their parents. The “British Poles” had to deal not only with their parents’ culture of origin but also adapt to the culture of the host country. Knowledge of both English and Polish, bicultural behaviour and social adjustment were some of the results and strong evidence of this effort to adjust to two cultures.  

The individual stories of Birmingham’s British Poles, based on lives spanning different cultures, are an integral part of the city’s social history.

Project methodology and expected outputs

The project plans to conduct detailed oral history interviews with 25-30 second generation Poles. It would aim to cover not just cases of the children with two Polish parents, but also the children of “mixed” couples. Matters focused on will include: languages spoken at home; contact with Polish community organizations; church attendance; schools and education; friendships; food and diet; choice of marriage/life partner.

The original oral histories, transcriptions, collected documents (copied and recorded), digital stories, booklet and book manuscript will be deposited with the Library of Birmingham Archives. Catalogues for collections will be prepared by volunteers, trained (Archives Skills Training) by the Library of Birmingham.

An exhibition and community event will be delivered towards the end of the project.  The exhibition will draw out the key findings of the project, with a particular emphasis on the oral histories. The event will draw together members of the Polish community.

An illustrated booklet summarizing the stories of the  British Poles will be produced as a resource for schools. In addition, a book length manuscript of the project findings will be prepared with the objective of external publication within 12 months of the end-of-project date.

Outcomes

Identification of needs, responses and potential outcomes for this project have been formulated through a long process of discussions with many practitioners and professionals in the area of expertise . The experience of second generations group (within a context of migration and settlement) as a topic has seldom been covered for any group-certainly not as  HLF-funded heritage project. So a project on this topic, of the lives and experiences of specifically the second generation Poles (emerging from Post-War migration) is immensely important both for the Birmingham Polish Community and for society at large as it may perhaps shed light on the range of events, processes and experiences that bring about integration in a diverse city such as Birmingham. It is an experience that is related to but distinct from migration stories/histories- a specific area that broader migration heritage projects have not covered or paid adequate attention to.

The project is focused on the following three categories of Outcomes:

  • Outcomes for People
  • Outcomes for Communities
  • Outcomes for Heritage

Outcomes for People

There will be a number of people benefitting from the project through direct participation and as public.

  • All participants will increase their skills throughout and on completion of training in Digital Story Creation, how to carry out an Oral History Interviews, how to prepare Archives and organise an Exhibition.
  • There will be increased access to educational material for public: project Exhibition and Booklet, Digital Stories, Oral Histories all deposited in the Library of Birmingham and Polish libraries.
  • Greater than before awareness of own heritage and history of others

The listed above outcomes for people will be measured through monitoring attendance and delivery and evaluation of the project. Adults and young people who will take part in the project through digital technology will be able to tell what they have learnt about heritage.

Outcomes for Communities

This sort of projects are especially important for very diverse cities like Birmingham, where many groups of local communities lead quite isolated lives with little knowledge of history and culture of other communities. This situation could generate lack of understanding  of different cultures and potential conflicts. The “Fitting in and Getting Along” project, to some degree, might help to abolish some of the social barriers. This will be achieved through number of aims:

  • Increased cross-community understanding of diversity, identity and integration. History of  one generation of Birmingham’s British Poles is an example of a community development and integration into UK society. The digital, archive material, exhibition, booklet and book   and dissemination via varies websites would make a substantial contribution to the knowledge and apprehension of communities performance. Measurable through production of numerous of outputs and the extent of their usage and feedbacks.
  • Community cohesion and social integration through participation in many activities and events. Measurable through attendance of different workshops (photography, school, etc., trainings (oral history and archive), exhibition, events, etc.
  • Pride of the Polish community history , its ability to integrate  and  contribute  to the city life. Measurable through participation of volunteers and their involvement, feedback and evaluation.

Outcomes for Heritage

The project will record, document and celebrate the heritage and history of second generation of Poles born in Birmingham.

  • Heritage Identification and Preservation. The Library of Birmingham believes that there have been very limited number of initiatives covering the topic of the second generation of migrant settling groups (see letter of support). The processes of settlement and integration of the Polish community will be presented through 25-30 Oral Histories. Individual live stories will be recorded, transcribed and summarised. Interviews will be conducted by volunteers trained by experts in Oral History methods (see letter of support). Digital stories will present memories in unique format of short snap of individual’s history. Documents and summarised stories will be presented at the exhibition.
  • Heritage- better understanding and interpretation. The project group will cooperate with experts in the investigated field.This assistance will guarantee to produce a comprehensive booklet and a book manuscript and deliver exhibition and workshops for better understanding of this aspect of heritage.
  • Heritage conservation

The original oral histories, collected documents (copied and recorded), digital stories, booklet and book manuscript will be deposited with the Library of Birmingham Archives. Catalogues for collections will be prepared by volunteers, trained (Archives Skills Training) by the Library of Birmingham (see letter of support).