Town's a magnet for Polish workers

POLISH nationals account for about ten per cent of Banbury's population, according to the chairman of a new support group.

Since Poland joined the EU in May 2004 Banbury has seen an influx of Polish people meaning church services are now partly read in Polish, schools are getting an influx of Polish children, Polish food sales are growing and pubs will be showing all Poland's World Cup matches.

And community members and companies say the change is great news for the town.

Champion Recruitment in Church Lane said most of its clients looking for work in Banbury are Polish.

Managing director Tracy Hoodless said: "We have probably got in excess of 600 Polish people on our books in Banbury.

"The unemployment rate here has been steadily falling since 1998 – it was down to one per cent last June – so there has been a shortage of workers.

"In 2004 we thought it would be good for our company to start looking for labour in Poland so we advertised in Krakow and brought people from all over Poland to work here."

She said Polish immigrants had good engineering skills and were good timekeepers, but dismissed claims they were cheap labour, saying they were paid the same as other Champion clients.

Support worker Magdalena Zawadzka, 30, moved to Banbury from Torun in Poland 18 months ago.

She is chairman of a newly formed group called the Banbury Polish Association which hopes to give support and friendship to Polish residents.

She said: "We decided to establish this because we realised how many of us there are in Banbury.

"We also know many Polish people want to improve their quality of life and one of our main aims will be to help them find a job and accommodation."

She estimated there are between 5,000 and 6,000 Poles in Banbury now.

"There are a lot of people there who have finished their school or university education and most of them don't want to wait to find work. It is a better life for young people here.

"For many, factory work is all they can get."

Father Mervyn Tower of St John the Evangelist Church in South Bar said he had seen an increase in Polish visitors to the church.

Sunday evening mass is partly read in Polish for the 100 to 200 who attend.

He said: "It's a lovely addition and anything we can do as a parish to help them we do."

Miss Zawadzka said the Banbury Polish Association would introduce people to Polish culture and was open to people of all cultures.

She is also hoping to help open a Polish food shop in Banbury after the success of a similar food stall on the Saturday morning market.

Mick Robson, manager at Tommy Flynn's pub in North Bar, said he would be making a special effort to show Poland World Cup matches for the "loads" of Polish people he knows in the town.

St John's RC Primary School has four Polish children and is expecting more in September.