A warm welcome in the community centre

At 5pm on Monday night it’s already dark outside but inside the community centre it is warm and welcoming. There are cups of tea and plates loaded with cakes. Children play, mothers chat. Conversations alternate between two languages and I soon discover that while some people come here to improve their English others drop in to brush up their Polish.

Swietlica is a drop-in centre in Fort Community Wing for Edinburgh’s Polish community. The word means ‘meeting place’ and it is indeed becoming a place where people from different communities meet to exchange ideas and get to know each other.

Here’s Simon, a film-maker gathering material for a documentary sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council on Polish migrant workers, and here’s Toni, a policeman, trying out some Polish. We’re just discussing the challenge of learning to count in Polish with George, a volunteer, when Gordon, a local councillor, arrives. Soon we are all enjoying bowls of delicious hot tomato soup which appears by magic from the small kitchen . Of course we can’t say no but I’m embarrassed to find I am the only one who can’t say ‘thank you’ in Polish.

Food, conversation and company are all part of the mix at Swietlica which was set up in 2006 by Polish volunteers to provide support, advice and information for Polish people arriving in Edinburgh. “Language is often the biggest problem,” says Kasia Raszewska, a social worker who is a very active voluntary worker in the community (Kasia was also one of the shadows in our Opening Doors programme for 2006-7).

Now around 500 people regularly attend the centre, including 100 children.

Next on the calendar is St Andrews Day. There will be a traditional Polish celebration at the centre on Monday 26 November and I am delighted to say Leith Open space will be there to meet the cooks who are preparing the food for their traditional Christmas Eve feast. By then I hope I will be able to say dziękuję!

this blog was posted by Fay

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