The project used oral history interviews with twenty-six volunteers to explore themes such as how British Poles were shaped by their exposure to both Polish and British culture and the extent to which Polish national identity survived in them. A project exhibition was held in 2015 in the Community Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.The archive features an information booklet, exhibition flyer and recordings of oral history interviews. The booklet gives information on the project background and themes. It also includes a profile of each of the interviewees summarising the content of their conversations.
The booklet would be an excellent place to start for anyone interested in the archive. I particularly enjoyed the rich visual content of the booklet which includes copies of participants’ personal photographs. The photographs commemorate significant life events such as participation in performances of traditional dance and meetings with Pope John Paul II as well as family portraits.
Also included in the booklet are profiles of cultural organisations that have helped to preserve Polish culture and identity in the city. These include the Polish Catholic Church and Polish Centre along with clubs held there, the Polish Saturday School and the Polish Brownies, Scouts and Guides.
Aspects of the interviews that I found the most interesting were the participants’ responses to visiting Poland for the first time, whether they feel Polish or British (people had particularly mixed thoughts about this) and their experiences of Birmingham.
Here are some examples of their comments:
‘The first time I saw Poland from the plane I started to cry…., it was the country you knew so much about, loved so much – having, from your parents, that nostalgic attitude towards- but never seen …. From day one I felt at home.’
‘I always say my heart is Polish. But we live in England so we embrace the culture that is here…’
‘I feel at home neither in Polish culture or in British culture, it’s a mixture of both.’
‘I feel Polish, I often think in Polish…, but am very much aware of the fact that I lived in Britain all of my life.’
‘[Birmingham has] shaped me no doubt subliminally in many ways… It is a very multi-ethnic city and that allows me to feel very much at home here. I have hardly ever experienced any prejudice or discrimination because I am Polish.’
‘I am a Brummy and I like being Brummy. But that doesn’t clash with my Polishness. It is ok.’
Full recordings of interviews with each of the participants are available to request in advance and listen to in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research. Please email email@example.com for more information.
The project in partnership with the Midlands Polish Community Association was ‘dedicated to all second generation Birmingham Poles and to their contribution to the cultural and economic life of the city.’