Why it’s important to bring the voice of Central and Eastern European communities to the People’s Board

Written by Karol Wyszynski, Peoples Board member

As a board member, I represent the diverse communities of Bradford. My experience revolves around Central and Eastern Communities; their work around mental health and wellbeing.

As a member of Peoples’ Board I represent the people of Bradford but also as a Polish citizen I am part of the Central and Eastern European communities which makes those communities’ wellbeing close to my heart. I was really excited that Sharing Voices Bradford, an organization I am also involved with from a number of years, has started CEEC, a front line services workgroup. Something that has not existed before. They were able to generate a lot of interest and get many organisations involved.

Two issues were put on the table straight away, mainly …Brexit. It’s the number one burning issue but really the second issue which comes up in every meeting I attend, also when some sort of consultations with the public needs to be done or a new scheme is put in place, is ENGAGEMENT.

First I was a bit frustrated with this coming up. I came here in 2005 and the main issue back then was also engagement. 14 years later nothing had changed? In 2005 there were two polish speaking community workers in the whole of Bradford working part-time, now it’s about 5 and maybe 2 or 3 Slovak speaking community workers across the council and voluntary sector.

According to the 2011 census in Bradford (if anyone even bothered to register), we have 5526 Polish and 2162 Slovak speakers.

So the issue of engaging the disengaged community seems to be pretty easy to solve. Recruit members of those communities and start slow work of animating the environment; bringing people together, establishing long term relation and identifying community leaders. Asian communities and others already have been on that path. So why is this not happening?

Obviously, times of austerity don’t help but also, in my opinion, the CEEC community is not so much visible with its issues, often disregarded as “hard-working”, issues like the highest suicide rate amongst men over 30, homelessness, alcoholism, domestic abuse, high amount of children taken to custody are very vaguely addressed and seem to grow.

Lack of integration or centres where communities can meet, participate, create, preserve culture, exchange information and build resilience to some of the social issues is almost evident. Effectively those communities have members operating individually, therefore they are vulnerable to all those issues I’ve mentioned. On top of this, while they are trying to build their identity in response to changing life situation, the populist right-wing propaganda seems to attract some of their attention.

Brexit is not helping. Mixed messages are sent and cultural implication have started to be an issue, including incidents of hate crime. People from one side are encouraged to use public services support, but there are rumours about a bus coming through Bradford to pick people up from the streets in order to detain them unless they can prove their residential rights.

Fear of the future is increasing and mistrust of public services is creating an even bigger gap between people and services. The level of distress is causing mental health issues and anxiety levels are going up. Under these circumstances to engage those people will be even harder. Some may say they should go back, but from our perspective, we’ve been invited here to work. We stayed here and have had the best time of lives. Many of us have families and children who were born here. The unresolved issues of these communities will become even harder to resolve unless we change this.

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