• Tomasz Bertman
Location:
Edinburgh
Date:
Sunday 7th December 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/024

Simon:

I think we’ll start by talking about the work you did in Poland. You were a social worker and ...?

     

Tomasz:

Actually I didn’t work as a social worker in Poland. I just was trained in social work field. And this time, when I finish about six years ago, I couldn’t find a job so the main reason why I came here was high unemployment. That time was like 20% unemployment so it was really hard to even find any job, not just only social work jobs so ... The main reason why lots of Poles came here at the time, 2004, was because we joined the EU and because the labour market was open for Poland, Czech Republic and the countries who joined the EU also. It was impossible, for example, to work legally in Germany or in France or Spain. It was just Great Britain especially and Ireland were open market for ...

Simon:

So did you, when you were first starting for work, did you try to look for work in the area where you had trained or just ...?

     

Tomasz:

Not really, because when I arrive in UK, it was really hard to find ... not really hard, but hard for me to find job as a social worker or anything to do with social work and the main reason was because I couldn’t speak English. So I arrived with couple of words: “Hi, Bye, I’m looking for job.” That’s it, so my plan was just came here, earn some money and just come back to Poland and open care home, this was main reason. So I didn’t work for two years as social worker. Just kitchen porter or cleaning, wherever, what was possible to do, and just earn money and save money, just come back. So this was ... And this time I didn’t want to stay and then I stayed in one small town where it was really hard to live and find job in social work. Maybe social care, care home, but not really social work.

Simon:

And so now you don’t actually have social work employment? You’re still doing more agency employment but through things like Świetlica you say you’re starting to do ... Starting to draw on your skills? Is that ...?

     

Tomasz:

Eh, yes and no. Yes, because through the Świetlica and through other employment, through the Harmony employment agency actually, I’ve got view to other agencies which work with homeless and disabled and the elderly, people with addictions. So you can see the different projects and I can actually see how they support people. I do more support than social work, I use some technical social work. And no, because I’ve done eighty days practice training as a social worker in Multicultural Family Base where I met Kasia from Świetlica. So I’ve done like eighty days, I’ve seen how social work departments work, I’ve had some cases ... Which social workers deal with in UK so I had some experience and now I’ve got more idea of how social work is working in Scotland, maybe not in Great Britain because Scotland try to be independent. I don’t know how it’s going to be but I’ve ... So this experience give me just an idea of how the system works and I’ve done this training because I try to register as a social worker in Great Britain and then applying of application for registration one and a half year ago and one of the points which gave me chance to be a registered social worker was to do practice placement in Great Britain. So I’ve done and I’ve got my registration and now I’m looking for a job as a social worker or maybe social work assistant. I will see what is happening.

 

So this is very interesting and through Świetlica you can see that British people, Scottish people, Polish people ... they’ve got the same problems. Actually, you can find the same problems but maybe dealing with the problems are different, because at Świetlica people actually some of them they don’t speak English. They don’t know the system, how it’s working and where to actually find help so, for some of these people, Świetlica is the first organisation which deal with some sort of problems. But not all of them, like with homelessness I think. I’ve met lots of homeless in Edinburgh who were Polish and I don’t know how it’s moving, what these people do, but I see on the street and I know that spending time on the street ... Nobody help and some of them, they are getting worse so some of the projects they are working with people. They maybe don’t have support or maybe just they choose to be homeless. The individual reasons ... Once I was in one project and there was out of ten clients like eight Polish people and so I can see how many people is homeless. I don’t know how is it now. It is two years ago or something.

Simon:

How significant was homelessness as an issue amongst Polish people when you were in Edinburgh?

     

Tomasz:

I would like to know that but I think this is changing and some people just stay. Some homeless just moving around so it’s really interesting. Maybe some of the stories were that they just came and they didn’t have house or flat, they didn’t have enough money to rent. So it was interesting to talk with them because I wasn’t part of this organisation, just supporting organisation once a week or once a month or sometimes once a year so ... You can see that Świetlica is more open for families and women and children, where women can get some support there. They can have break from the children so they have some activities and parents they can learn English and children they can learn Polish or some history so I think this is what we do. Some advice, some support, maybe filling application form, and maybe just talk. Some of the sort of things that we deal with so ... but as well it might happen ... it’s happened that some women, they deal with abuse and domestic violence but not a lot because they are people that are afraid we are part of an organisation, UK organisation, and we don’t help people. So I think that they have to get used to our organisation.

Simon:

When people experience a problem, let’s say domestic violence as an example, what do you find is their first ...? Well, do people look for help or do people kind of internalise issues like that?

     

Tomasz:

I think most of people looking but they look for help, and then good example for ... when people, even they don’t know what to do even, call police ... Even me, we are not specialising in domestic violence or in alcoholic issues or drugs problem ... still we know where we can seek for help or which organisation we can refer our client and I think this is the first point. That people, they know where to look for. I try hard to say I’ve met anybody in this country who didn’t know what to do if it’s violent or maybe ... there was maybe some situation where somebody was beaten up and didn’t know what to do, and just go: “Oh OK, it’s just accident, I was just walking and drunk,” whatever, so maybe there was situation like that which can happen to everybody, but I think Edinburgh is safe city. So I think the main reason people come to Świetlica is because they can feel more safety there, they can talk with people on certain problem. You can see the mothers, they come with children and just have a chat and have a doughnut and drink coffee and just have a relax for two hours or forty-five minutes, whatever.

Simon:

How did you get involved? I take it was through Kasia?

     

Tomasz:

Eh, like I said, I met Kasia through Multicultural Family Base and Multicultural Family Base is organisation that support Świetlica and so I met her there. We had discussion about Świetlica and she invite me to one of the sessions, she say: “Oh, you might be useful as a social worker because of experience from Great Britain and you’ve got some knowledge from Poland so I think it would work out to us that you could help us.” I wasn’t sure to do this kind of work but eventually I think it’s good idea. I just help people and through my life I have been enjoying helping people. I’ve been working for Citizens Advice Bureau and other organisations where I was just helping people for free and it was very nice. You are giving something, people they are giving you back something as well so ... It’s not like you’re exhausted after two hours every week.

Simon:

What sort of thing do you do? What’s a typical evening in terms of your own ... the things that you might do? Do you help with the information point?

     

Tomasz:

Yes. Like one of my colleague said, most of it is supporting people with employment. There might be some advising with benefits, filling application form. Some of the cases maybe they’ve got difficulties at home and maybe someone needs money advice but still we don’t have all instruments to help so we try to help people as much as we can. We don’t leave people without any advice. So like I said, it’s been some problems with ... more with like benefits and employment and maybe information about Home Office, when you can get registration from Home Office. Those sort of things. Some family problems as well so ... I think that’s main help we try with at Świetlica.

Simon:

Is the people that come, are they mostly from the local, like Leith, area or are you getting people from across town?

     

Tomasz:

It’s hard to say for me, maybe because we don’t keep records of families, which would be useful to keep records what kind of help we’ve done so we could have records to show that now we’ve done certain people and we gave ... I presume that most of the people are from Leith because I’ve met some people who live on the other side of the city and I spoke about Świetlica and they said: “I wouldn’t bother to go there because it’s too far,” and maybe some of these people would need help. So ... I think that majority are just come from Leith because Leith is so multiculture so ... You can see how many shops, Polish shops and Turkish shops and Chinese shops, are along the Leith so I think it’s a multicultural street.

Simon:

Do you think the fact that the area around, like Fort Leith, is an area which has problems of it’s own, longstanding social issues, does that have an impact? What’s the relationship between that and people coming in? The migrant communities coming in?

     

Tomasz:

It’s really, really ... again it’s really hard to tell. I know the problem of people who live in Leith. It’s some problems of drugs and alcoholics issues and I think the existing prostitution as well, but how it’s impacting on Świetlica and the Polish community, it’s hard to say. I’ve met as well some problems with Polish families. We deal with some families and women who sell themselves on the street or through the Internet, so those are issues which are related to British society. But how it’s related to Fort and Świetlica, it’s ... I think some of the problems are related but what kind ... I think as well, like alcoholic issues in the Polish society. Polish people like drink so they find themselves really very ... they can find that actually their neighbours drink as well a lot of ... So this is relations between these people. Try to think in this area ... this area where the Polish society can mix with the British, they can feel part of Leith and ... I think you can see that if it’s not open, just only for Polish society ... We’ve got visitor from neighbourhood and she round the corner and they can have a .... (inaudible) ... or whatever and they can enjoy as well, so I think it’s open for everybody. Because we’ve been here maybe four or three years and so it’s still something new for British people, I think, so I think they have to get used to it, that there is organisation which helps. And it can be, like ... it can have disadvantage and advantage of being there. Some people can say: “That is going to be useful,” and some of them they don’t. It’s a really good example, Shakti Women’s Aid but they ... There are people from the organisation who support or are close to Shakti Women’s Aid and they find out actually that it is really useful, whilst some people in society they think Shakti is just only ... they are just for prostitution and they are lesbian and they don’t do anything, they just break families. So this is also coming with Świetlica. Maybe not exactly like that but it’s going to be as well, maybe some people’s opinion in Leith or in Edinburgh. Which I think in the future we can just try to be more open. Still we are but I think more advertised et cetera, et cetera.

Simon:

Are you getting people from other Eastern European countries? Like Lithuanian, Latvian, Czech?

     

Tomasz:

This question, it should be ...

     

Simon:

On the one hand, there’s no obvious reason why someone Lithuanian would want to come to a Polish organisation but then on the other hand I think Edinburgh’s not ... Lithuanian workers are a much smaller percentage, so an Eastern European organisation maybe of some value for support. Have you had people coming to ...?

     

Tomasz:

No, I haven’t in Świetlica. I think these people, they find ... We are open for these people if they need some support and they need help they can find ... But still I find that Citizens Advice Bureau is more institution which help people from everywhere so can find Chinese and Lithuanian and Hungarian and so ... For Świetlica haven’t help anybody who come from Czech Republic or Slovakia or Hungary or even Lithuania but I think we are open for these people as well if they need us. Just ... We are open Monday to help them. But like you said as well, because there is larger population of Poles and they came here are certain problems so we are more open for Polish and these people that are come here, they can find more other people and they can talk with Polish people. You are with child or with certain Poles, they can just feel a bit better that they can get something to eat. But we are open as well for other cultures.

Simon:

Do you think ... How long has Świetlica existed?

     

Tomasz:

I’ve been supporting Świetlica for half year but properly they’ve been two or three years. I’m not sure for 100% but it’s about two or three years. I think Kasia, she is person who knows better.

Simon:

Yeah. The question I’m about to ask is probably better for Kasia but I’ll ask you anyway. Do you think, as time progresses ...? On the one hand you’ve got more of a community that’s been here longer and possibly the patterns of migration might change and there might be less people coming from Poland and you might have some people go back but at the same time you’ll have some ... At the moment it’s looking quite high, the amount of people that decide to stay long-term. Do you think the nature of Świetlica, in terms of what they support and provide, will change?

     

Tomasz:

It might be, it might be. I think it’s going to be easy for Świetlica to get some fundings as well that are going to be specialised to do something rather than everything. At the moment Świetlica is open for everything and there are ideas of having some drums and playing guitar and chess and et cetera, et cetera, so there is lots of ideas but in the terms of how helping, I think that Świetlica should have some specialisation, that we are really good on this one or that one or, we are helping, maybe, women with children and in this package we’ve got some advising, English lesson, Polish lesson, and like now and some ... Like St. Andrew’s Day or special days, when people they can come and have fun, just meet. So in the future I think each organisation in Edinburgh, in the world, when you look for organisation, they must change. So and we’ll see. We can follow this progress as well so ...

Simon:

And there’s quite a lot of other organisations of a similar line starting to come into existence in other parts of Scotland ... (inaudible) ... Obviously the people I’ve been meeting. Do you think there’s an advantage in different groups connecting up or communicating with each other?

     

Tomasz:

I think the communication and exchange experience would be useful for this organisation. Świetlica came up from Multicultural Family, like I said, so I think exchanging experience and Multicultural Family Base still support Świetlica, so I think it’s going to be really useful for them to get some other organisation which support Polish community or Eastern European communities. Just exchange maybe comes up to one idea. Maybe we gonna be one organisation, I don’t know? Maybe it’s possibility, but, like you said, as well about that maybe lots of Polish maybe moving back to Poland and Świetlica won’t have place and maybe some people they won’t need certain ... Maybe other organisation take this time, like supporting Poles as well so ... We don’t know. Maybe in the future. Like I said, I think this is good to see that actually other organisation help and one organisation is always not enough and is going to be changing in terms that it’s going to give some support or give any advice or whatever.

Simon:

Do you the think the fact that there’s quite a strong cultural and social basis to Świetlica, that it makes a difference in terms of partly how people relate to it and how ... How it’s seen? Does it make a difference to how people’s experience of seeking advice through it? If to contrast you to the Citizens Advice Bureau ...?

     

Tomasz:

Oh, I think we cannot compare to the Citizens Advice Bureau because we don’t have resources as the Citizens Advice Bureau and ... Like I said, for our clients it’s more important there is one place that they can get some advice and then we know actually where they can seek for another ... so where is another step of seeking help? So for them it’s important that we speak Polish, we know actually organisation which can help them and it’s, for them, it’s more important that they ... We cannot compare ourselves to Citizens Advice Bureau because some of these people are really qualified to help them and we are as well, but ... the Citizens Advice has got more resources and the name. Like they’ve been supporting from 1946, just after the war, so it’s like fifty or sixty years of experience which we don’t have so ... This experience, they have that, so I think in fifty years time if Świetlica survive, is gonna be: “We’ll know, we’ll know!”

Simon:

When you help people, do people come back afterwards? Does that ...?

     

Tomasz:

Some of them yes but most of these people with certain problems I think ... Some of ... I think is 10% they might come back but most of them just get advice and just feel happy that actually there is some place that they can get advice. I think this 10%, maybe rest of Britain … Maybe some problems so ...

     

Simon:

Are you able to get a sense of once someone, once you’ve passed someone on to another body, are you able to get a sense of how successful that person is in dealing with ...?

     

Tomasz:

I think our success is these people coming back to us and they feel that actually we help them, so this is more important because what we can say we are success in ... We gave some support, we talk with them, we fill in applications form ... This is success. Maybe they applying for housing benefit, maybe they won’t get it, but for us it’s like we succeeded. We help them to fill in their application form and maybe indicate that they cannot learn what this is meaning and that one and they learn a bit something. So this is small success. It’s really hard to say all the success, especially in the social helping people, the social support and some of the support is a bit ... and we think that we’ve done a lot and expectations sometimes are higher. But if somebody’s come back to us, we deal with same problem and try to help.

Simon:

Maybe people get to that organisation and then find other problems ...

     

Tomasz:

Yes, some people they get this organisation and disappear from our lives and some of them they come back after a year and: “OK, actually I’m fine.”

Simon:

And one aspect of what you do is Polish classes for kids. You’re not so directly involved with that ...?

     

Tomasz:

No, actually I don’t know what to say about those classes. I don’t know what is going on! (laughs)

     

Simon:

I was going to ask about what you think, how children are coping with the situation?

     

Tomasz:

From my experience working with some families, some of these children deal with it really, really well, but some of them they’ve got problems actually. Parents didn’t explain what’s the main reason of moving to different country and some of these children don’t know why they’re here. So I think there’s some missing of communication between children but I think you can find this is everywhere, that actually parents don’t talk with the children about certain things. So that’s from my experience, so this is some children who were fighting with their peers so they had problems with learning English. Some of them want to straight away come back to Poland so there is ... somewhere some problems like that but I don’t know, I think we should ask somebody who works with children from Świetlica. From my experience not with Świetlica, it’s more like based on other organisation, so this was main reason they didn’t feel happy here. And this was again, this come back, language. They don’t want to learn. Thought that actually English is really difficult for them so ... certain things like that.

Simon:

A lot of people have Polish TV at home. If they can get a television tuned into the Polish channels and that. Do you think ... (inaudible) ... your language? Because once you have something like that, and I think it’s fine to watch Polish television, but it can sometimes create an atmosphere where there’s less incentive, less exposure?

     

Tomasz:

I know what you ... This is really good. Actually some of Polish or most of these Polish, they live in these feelings that actually in Scotland we live in our society and you can see different cultures, even Chinese or Russians or Ukraine, they try to live in their community. They are not open to different cultures and I think this is the same but illusion that you have got TV, Polish TV, you’ve got Internet, you read to yourself on Polish website ... This picture give your imagination actually that you are living in Scotland but actually you don’t have to speak English and I think this is actually a bit wrong. These people don’t want to mix with British and I know that it’s sometimes hard to live in different country but still the relationships must be done. If you meet more British people, more Scottish, more English, more ... You feel that you live in multicultural city and if you try to live in communities ... You can find everywhere, even in London or Edinburgh or Glasgow or Manchester, that there are some communities and they’ve been living here twenty or thirty years and some of them they don’t speak in English at all. The next generation, their children, they speak in English so ... You can find them. I think you will find, if these Polish people stay here and they won’t do anything to try to mix with British or try to just live life with British, I know that .... Not this meaning of living: “Oh, I’m living in a flat and my neighbour, who is Scottish, is next door and we don’t talk to each other because we don’t know each other,” and so on. To do effort actually to meet people from other country and this is exchange of culture as well and I think Scottish people are open and try to like people and that for me was very surprising actually, that there are lots of Polish shops but they don’t have British food and would be very useful they would have some British food but it’s only Polish so ... Actually Scottish or English could come and try: “OK, I’ll buy Mars Bar and maybe I’ll try something Polish as well!” in that case so they can see like Tesco. They’ve got British product and there are shelves with Italian, Polish food, American, Scottish and so on, so on. I think this will be really good as well, not just in ...

 

So in this example of having TV and radio and everything Polish, I think it’s their illusion of living in the different country and expectation of actually: “No, I don’t care about other neighbour.” So folk from the Scotland actually can see that Świetlica is advertise for Edinburgh because we have Polish community and we open for others that just want to see the ... There’s larger population of Poles in Edinburgh but you want to show: “Actually, we want to help everybody and we want to just be open for everybody.” And just like advertise that we help. If somebody’s from Leith, children or mother want help, just have a chat with us they can just come and try some Polish food! It’s open and it’s worth to come and try to see.

Simon:

And also you get some people that come ... There’s been one guy in particular who said: “I came to Britain to get away from Poles and there’s so many Polish people here!”

     

Tomasz:

(laughs) That is good example!

     

Simon:

But it can kind of go both ways. Some people really want to make a break and ...

     

Tomasz:

But I think the main reason ... it would be good to look in the research, but the main reason why lots of Polish came was really huge unemployment in 2004 and the labour market was really open here and some people just came and they found job and they’ve actually realised that actually misses a bit my country, and you can see as well this movement to the States in the 70s, when Polish they moved to the States. In Chicago there is like a huge population of Poles and now they are mixed with Mexican and American and some of people just moving and thinking that there is as well big corporation of Poles and I think ... I give really good example. Like if all of these Poles who emigrated, if they would come back to Poland we would have like 80 million population! Would be double!

Simon:

Do you think the recession is having an impact on people?

     

Tomasz:

I think there is some movement and some of my friends decided to come back but how many percent that will? And what is a bit annoying, it’s opinion about Polish people that left the country, that actually they were useful for the country, but it was that they left Poland and they are without any skills or education and so this is stereotype of Poles who left the country. So this is really, really bad in Britain, stereotypes. I think some of them ... they are already in Poland but it is as well that you can see this in credit crunch or crisis or whatever you call it, it’s going to Poland as well. At the moment it’s good but maybe next year exactly the same, so you never know. So we will see, we will see. Maybe next year we will be ... As well, we can see that Home Office does not know how many Poles came here or how many Eastern European. There is registration but not all of them register in Home Office and still you don’t know how many Poles back into Poland as well. There’s no numbers. I think they want to in Scotland, in 2010 or 2011 they want to make ... I don’t know what’s the name of this but they want to count population of ...

Simon:

Oh, a census?

     

Tomasz:

Yes, census. They want to do the ... I think after that you will know how many people live in Scotland at the moment and the plans and they going to ask them what did they do and I think it’s going to be ... (inaudible) ... in research of Scottish society and British society as well. It’s going to be useful for both sides as well.