Immigrant community far from Poles apart

Children at Hawick's Saturday Polish school.
Children at Hawick's Saturday Polish school.
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Multiculturalism is alive and well in Hawick despite Britain as a whole turning its back on the continent and preparing to quit the European Union.

It’s four years since the idea of a Saturday Polish school in the town became a reality, and it has proved a big hit.

The idea came directly from the Polish families in the Borders, mainly in Hawick and Galashiels.

Parents knew there were supplementary schools for Polish children in Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere, but that was too far to travel, so they approached Beata Kohlbek, a project manager promoting languages in education, to set up a Saturday Polish school in Hawick.

Hawick High School and Scottish Borders Council helped to start up the community-run project, aimed at children aged three to 16.

And since its launch in April 2013, it has gone from strength to strength, with pupil numbers growing over the last four years from 32 to 70.

The parents and teachers involved are all Poles living in the Borders.

Dr Kohlbek believes it is a great example of how communities can unite and flourish despite cultural differences.

She also reckons it is a prime example of an immigrant population trying its best to be active within its host community and to share its culture, traditions and language.

Dr Kohlbek said: “The children are often born in Scotland. Some have Scottish-Polish parents, and when asked who they are, Poles or Scots, they raise both arms.

“This is a great example of a positive impact of immigration from the EU and a successful integration.

“It is important to the Poles to allow their next generation to keep in touch with their roots, and the Saturday school is doing exactly this.

“A history teacher visits the school once a month to work on Polish history, something they would not know much about from learning only in mainstream Scottish schools.

“The history of Poland is as complex as Scottish history and is vital to the feeling that Poland is worth keeping in touch with.”

The Polish School is now registered as a community interest company, with parents and teachers as directors.

The school is staging a celebration to mark the end of the academic year at Hawick High School on Saturday, June 24.

Dr Kohlbek added: “In the era of Brexit, terror attacks and a general election in the UK, the Polish community is an example of a community contributing to the culture, education and economy in Scotland.”

“We want to be part of a multicultural, open-minded society in modern Europe and do our best to work on this model.”

Earlier this month, children from the school went to Eddleston to visit and learn about the Great Polish Map of Scotland, a 1970s project inspired by Second World War general Stanisław Maczek and a group of topographers from Krakow who created a 3D outdoor map of Scotland as a thank-you to the country for hosting them after the war.