Polish Immigration to the UK and Gloucestershire
In the 1930s there were only a few thousand Poles in Britain. Then, immediately after 1945, approximately 135,000 Poles entered the UK as refugees or displaced persons. At this time, Cheltenham became home to a small Polish community, now well established, but its numbers are decreasing due to the age of its members.
In the last 4 years, Gloucestershire, as other areas of the UK, has experienced a rapid and large influx of migrant workers, mostly from Eastern Europe or former Soviet States. Nationally, since May 2004, more than 230,000 East Europeans have registered to work in Britain. In Gloucestershire, 41% (6,438) are Polish. The migrants are predominantly young (under 34) and 62% of them are male. Estimates put the current Polish population in Cheltenham at approximately 9000, but increasingly, Polish migrants are finding work elsewhere in the County.
Migrant workers are involved in a variety of employment in Gloucestershire, notably in Manufacturing, Hotel and Catering, Agriculture, Care and Retail. Employers give high praise to the migrant workers that they employ, finding them to be hard working, reliable, and committed. An estimate of the number of dependants who are likely to be living with the migrant workers who have registered in the County concluded that there could be more than 900 young children under 17.
This means that the single largest language group of new arrivals in Gloucestershire schools is Polish. READS staff are currently supporting nearly 300 Polish speaking pupils in Primary and Secondary schools in Gloucestershire, though the total number of Polish pupils in schools will be higher than this.
As employers praise their parents, similarly, schools and teachers praise the efforts Polish children have made in school. They are generally well motivated, settle in well and learn English rapidly. Many are high achievers, as is evidenced by this year's KS2 SATs results!
We asked a selection of parents about their reasons for choosing Gloucestershire and their experiences so far.
Most of the people who took part in the questionnaire were between 20 - 35 years old with a good educational background. The majority were married and came from towns or cities in Poland.
75% came here for financial reasons and some for educational reasons or to experience a new culture.
We asked them if they planned to return to Poland:
25% said 'Yes';
33% said 'Don't know';
and 42% said 'No'.
They all had good contacts with other Polish people living in Gloucestershire. The main obstacle they had to overcome was the language barrier. Over half were working but the jobs they were doing were below their level of qualifications. 90% said the standard of living was higher in England than in Poland but they missed their families and friends very much.