History of the Polish Social Centre

History Of The Polish Social Centre in Bury

The Polish Social Centre White Eagle Club is located near Bury Town centre, at Back East Street serving not only the Polish Community in Bury and surrounding areas but also attracting members from the local English population and other minorities.

Many of you readers may have come into contact with Polish people socially, attending on some occasions your friends wedding, birthday party, other anniversary, leisure activity or fund raising event held at the Polish Social Centre and wondered why such a club exists and for what purpose.

After World War Two and events at Yalta, when Poland fell under communist dictatorship and Russian domination, servicemen and women in Allied Polish Forces found themselves with no home to go to for the well-founded fear of persecution and oppression, away from families and homeland, as exiles. They have settled in many free democratic countries around the world including United Kingdom.

Learning the English language and getting started in a new life, work or business was not easily achieved and it took time. In that period, all over the UK in nearly every city or town new Polish ex-servicemen clubs, churches and social centres were founded to cater for the need of social contact, friendly chats over a coffee or drink, or a meal, keep national identity and exchange of information with each other as well as to keep abreast of what was going on back in Poland where their families and friends lived.

The first main group of Poles came to Bury in September 1946 on a detachment of the Polish Army Second Corps to guard the Army barracks situated at Lowercroft. After demobilization, some of the troops decided to stay joined by the main influx of Poles into Bury during 1948. Many of the disabled ex-servicemen were placed in Remploy Hostel, Radcliffe attached to a furniture manufacturing factory. Able bodied ex-servicemen found either private accommodation or into their new homes having obtained work in cotton mills, brickworks, quarries, tanneries or paper mills.

During 1948, the families of many ex-servicemen began to arrive in Bury from various camps and orphanages scattered over Africa, India and Europe, predominately young, ranging from 10 – 18 years of age.

In 1949, permission was granted by the Bishop of Salford to celebrate Mass at the Chapel of Bury Convent by the Polish priest following a meeting of all Poles residing in Bury who formed an earlier Self-help Committee to help those with difficulties finding accommodation and employment.

In 1958, there were a number of wives with older children that began to arrive from Poland, after agreement was reached between the British Government and the Polish Communist Government to allow family reunification.

As the number of Poles in Bury increased, the lack of Community Centre facilities became keenly felt. The Polish community in Bury held a general meeting in 1959, with a view to establish a Polish Community Centre to cater to the needs.

The Polish community in Bury is small compared to neighbouring Manchester and the Club was founded relatively late in 1961, following the purchase by a general subscription of the dilapidated British Legion Club, Back East Street. After many months of hard, unpaid and dedicated work on building repairs and internal renovations, Polish Social Centre was formally opened in 1962. From that time, the life of the Polish Community began to revolve around the Polish Club. As the Polish Club grew in popularity, not only with the Poles but with the local British and other ethnic population, loans and debts were paid and the Club began to prosper. It became apparent that it was far too small even with later additional extensions to meet the needs of the community. A decision was made to build new premises in the grounds. Following completion of the new building in 1969 and formal dedication by the Bishop S Wesoły, the old building was demolished to make way for the large car park, with all the activities moved into new modern premises. The popularity of the club grew among all the local inhabitants and Poles alike.

From the early 1970’s, Polish Social Centre started a slow process of decline, neglect and loss of revenue. A new dynamic Committee was elected in 1977, during the AGM comprising of mainly second generation younger Poles, led by Mr. E Fiedziuk who undertook the task of turning the club around financially and modernising the interior over a 3 year period, attracting large membership from English and other minorities. Due to the successful turnaround, it was soon found that the Polish Social Centre was far too small for its needs. Plans were drawn and approved for the extension on the ground floor. Building work was completed in 1979, however the extension formally opened in 1982, following completion of final interior work.

The vacated top floor with direct access from the street has been converted from commercial premises to serve the Polish community as the RC Chapel, following closure of the Chapel at Holy Cross Convent used for many years for Services by the Polish churchgoers. Now regular services are taking place throughout the week and are well attended.

Regretfully, most of the original founder members have either moved on or passed away, leaving the legacy to their children and grandchildren and to the younger generation of Poles who came to work and have now settled permanently. Polish Social Centre is in a way a memorial to the older generation, many of whom have passed away, to their vision, determination, dedication and hard voluntary work for the benefit of the Polish community, that also serves the community at large. New changing situations, economic problems and recession are one of the challenges in these difficult times to remain open to continue serving the now 3rd generation Poles and the members from other communities.

2nd and 3rd generation Poles can now appreciate their parents and grandparents tremendous effort, determination, hard work and input they made to have their own centre. The centre gels the Polish community together to maintain its proud history and identity, where they can meet socially and attend Services in their own Chapel. 

One of the original founders and organisers of the Polish Social Centre who also served as the Chairman over a number of years was Mr. M Tomaszewski, who served longer than any other Chairperson in the Club’s history. Many other members of the Polish community in Bury have served for years also, sacrificing valuable time and still do to this day despite their frailty and advanced years. It is encouraging however that young Poles who have arrived and settled recently from Poland started to take an active role. In recent years, hard work in running, upgrading and modernising was undertaken by the new generation of Poles.

Past Chairmen.

M B Tomaszewski – 1961-1965, 1969 -1972, 1979 -1984, 1988 -2016
F Cibura –                   1965-1967
H Kornaś –                 1967-1969
J Ginter –                    1972-1974
Cz Krupa –                  1974-1975
J Szafranśki –            1975-1976
T Kojder –                   1976-1977
E Fiedziuk –               1977-1979, 1984 -1987, 2016 – 2018
A Gotkowicz –             2018 – 2019
R Krzyworączka –     2019 – 2020
T Kuleta –                     2020 – present

Polish Social Centre caters for its members, pensioners, has active day centre, sporting activities take place. In the past it boasted renown in the North West choir, excellent Sunday League football teams, men’s and ladies netball teams, and table tennis teams winning promotions and cups. It is also extremely important centre for the religious, cultural and social activities of the Polish Community. in 1993 top floor of the Polish Social Centre was converted to host RC Chapel as Matki Bożej Królowej Polski w Bury having first Mass 11 July 1993 and formally consecrated 1995.

In addition the club always helped financially and provided facilities for charities for fund raising events such as cancer research, children in need, famine aid, medical aid and many other worthwhile events. Beside the above mentioned The Polish Social Centre serves locals as a club, organizes events, has weddings, christenings and birthday and retirement parties in order to be financially viable since it does not dependant on any grants or subsidies. Other minorities and organizations are well catered for and are welcome making valuable contribution to the ever growing costs of the upkeep and maintenance.

It boasts large dance floor second largest after Bury Town Hall Elizabethan Suit, has good size kitchen facilities, stage, bar and in comfortable surroundings members lounge. It has all the facilities and good access including for the disabled as well as the large free members car park. Its spacious capacity can cater up to 200 people for the weddings, christenings, social and charitable fund raising events. In-house catering is available by the professional chefs and staff at reasonable prices or outside caterers can be brought in for those requiring refreshments, buffet or a-la carte meals.

Polish Social Centre became integral part in the life of Bury MBC community and Poles are proud of that. Membership is mandatory to those who wish to enjoy in full its privileges and facilities, in line with other clubs and associations.

From its inception, the Polish Club has been home for many societies and organisations. The main ones of those still active are:-

S.P.K. – POLISH EX-COMBATANTS ASSOCIATION

The Bury section was formed 16 August 1950. It undertook work of a social, cultural and national nature. To this day it organises the traditional Christmas meal (Opłatek), Easter meal (Swiecone), the visit of Father Christmas to the children, as well as the National feasts of May 3rd, August 15th and November 11th. An elaborate banner was bought in 1952 which to this day is unfurled at both Polish and English ceremonial occasions. Mr M Tomaszewski was it’s distinguished and active Chairman from the begging until his death in 2020

CHURCH/PARISH COMMITTEE

This very active committee has over many years fulfilled the difficult task of providing funds for the upkeep of the Parish Priest and for the use of the chapel at Bury Convent where to this day Sunday Hass is celebrated. The present chairman is Mrs D Wróblewska. Among long serving Chairmen were up to 1965 Mr S Satora, Mr.Norbert Kunert 1966-1973, Mr. Henryk Kornaś, Mr. Henryk Lasota 1985-1990. Mr Cz Krupa 1990 for many years, followed Mr D Drygalski, also for many years.

ASSOCIATION OF PENSIONERS

Founded by Mr Henryk Kornas, the association numbers were some 40 very active members. They meet every other Sunday for various events always culminating in coffee, sandwiches and cakes at which members old and new are made welcome. Now it became Day Centre run by Mrs D Wróblewska.

LADIES CIRCLE

The ladies were organised by Mrs Amalia Kojder, by birth Italian but Polish in heart, spirit and adoption. They were one of the pillars of the Club’s finances, earning several thousand pounds a year from catering activities with the Club, ably organised by chief cook, Mrs Bronislawa Budziosz. Currently Mrs D Wróblewska is current Chairperson.

CHOIR – OKTAWA

The choir was the basis of our national and cultural musical life in Bury. It was formed by its Musical Director, Dr Janusz Żukowski, and was acknowledged as one of the best in the North of England before its end a several years ago. It consisted of some 30 choristers, male and female, with a wide age range. It took part in many concerts, both Polish and English, throughout the North of England.

Prior to above Choir Octawa there existed also well known and travelled giving performances throughput North West Male Choir directed by Mr Grubczyński. Choir consisted mainly of Remploy Hostel residents and was based at Radcliffe. 

POLISH SCHOOL

A Polish school was organised in the early days teaching its pupils the Polish language and Polish History and Culture. The first teacher was Mrs Janina Monkiewicz. The numbers of pupils has fluctuated over the years peaking some years ago at around 40. The children took part in the celebrations of National feasts such as May 3rd Constitutional Day, adding their talents, charm and smiles to these occasions. The past director at the school was Mrs Wanda Menapace.

SCOUTS/GUIDES

The first Scout/Guide troop consisting of youth actually born in Bury, was formed in 1957 by Mr. Marian Tomaszewski, having 18 members. Regular weekly meetings were supplemented by local field trips and a summer camp at Delamere Park. After several years of successful work, the group-ceased to be active due to lack of numbers. However, the troop was later reformed on the initiative of Mr. Norbert Kunert, under the leadership of Andrzej Antonik and Jasmina Slater. During this time a Jamboree was organised in Bury for the whole of the Polish Scout Movement in the North of England. The Scout and Guide tradition is maintained to this day now based in Manchester, numbers permitting, particularly at the annual summer camps held in Penhros, N.Wales.

SPORT

The opening of the Polish Club in 1962 provided an excellent base for sport to develop. A Table Tennis team was formed under its captain J. Karwowski playing for many years in local leagues and with great success. This was closely followed by the formation of a Volleyball team which competed in local leagues as well as playing other Polish teams. In the 1975-76 season, on the initiative of J. Kojder, B. Budziosz and E.Wroblewski a Football team was organised, playing in the Salford league, then in the Radcliffe Sunday league. Cup Finals were reached on two occasions, one of which resulted in victory.

In 1977, after a break of several years, a Volleyball team was re-formed by R. Krzyworączka, followed in 1980 by a Ladies team. Both teams played in local leagues as well as taking part in Polish championships. Football team was disbanded, there being insufficient numbers to keep other teams active. However, the love of sport remains undiminished and we look forward to the future revival of other teams.

 

CONCLUSSION.

May 1992 marked the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the existence of the Polish Social Centre. The present imposing building stands as a testament to the active cultural and social life of its members, developed with the hard, voluntary work of its elected committee. For this marvellous achievement the whole of the present Polish Community in Bury together with those founding members and contributors to the Appeal Fund who are no longer with us deserve hearty congratulations and thanks which are offered in the name of the present Club Committee.

The life of the centre is entering a new era run by new young Committee full of enthusiasm and dedication ensuring it serves not only Polish Community but residents of Bury . After major extension as seen today, part of the building was rented out commercially in order to cover the costs of upkeep, to raise funds for repairs and improvements, and to establish a capital base which should guarantee the future of the centre. In 1993 the top part of the Polish Social Centre became an RC Chapel with first Holy dedication Mass said 11th July 1993. We appeal to the present generation that they may work as hard at preserving this building for their children and grandchildren as their fathers and grandfathers did to establish this viable symbol of their beloved Poland.