Polish Migration to the UK: The Role of the Polish Catholic Mission to England and Wales

Nick Gill and Paula Bialski

Nuffield Foundation

[Download this brief research summary here]

Existing research suggests that when people migrate they tend to become more religious because places of worship are familiar when many other things are changing. There is disagreement, however, about whether places of worship are good ways for migrants to form a collective identity: what happens to those who don’t share the faith of the majority, for example? The aim of this research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is to examine the role of the Polish Catholic Mission to England and Wales (PCM) in the lives of recently migrated Poles who have come to Northern England. The PCM was created just after the Second World War and was a central organisation representing exiled Poles for a long time in England. Very little research, however, has been conducted into how it has changed following Polish Accession to Europe in 2004. Between January and December 2008 42 interviews were conducted with both Catholic and non-Catholic Poles, as well as a range of British organisations that communicate with Poles frequently, such as employment agencies and emergency services. The research revealed that:

  • The number of Poles attending Catholic Mass in England is substantially lower than in Poland, against the predictions of existing migration theories. Based on the estimates on a number of Polish clergy, only 5-10% of new migrants attend Catholic Mass through the year.
  • This is because many young Poles, who tend to be the ones who migrate, work long hours and are less conservative than older Poles.
  • Despite the fact that the PCM is not representative of the majority of Poles though, many British organisations still think that the PCM is the best place to contact Polish migrants. Employers, employment agencies, emergency services, English language schools, health and education providers all told us that the best way they know of to contact the Polish community in the UK is through the PCM.
  • This indicates that recently migrated Poles in the UK do not have a central meeting place that is well recognised. Our interviewees told us that Polish shops, public libraries and the internet are all imperfect substitutes for a common meeting place and expressed frustration that the PCM was the only Polish ‘centre’ that is widely recognised.
  • The PCM therefore has to perform a lot of services that it is not necessarily designed to perform, like providing housing and employment information, forming a social safety net for newly migrated Poles, and providing passport and registration services on behalf of the Polish consulate.
  • This can put excessive strain on the resources of the PCM, and has led to tensions between Polish communities because some Poles are forced to attend church instrumentally, for the social and economic services offered there, which breeds distrust among Poles.
  • There is therefore demand for an alternative Polish social space that is more representative of the largely non-Catholic new generation of Poles in the UK. This demand is voiced equally by members of the PCM and non-Catholic Poles.
  • Yet the PCM seems to be locked into its present social position, because so many service providers in the UK keep turning to it as a way to communicate with Poles. There is a widespread association between Poles and Catholicism among British organisations, which has itself become counter-productive to the formation of an alternative space: the PCM crowds out attempts to form non-Catholic social spaces.
  • The tensions between old and young, Catholic and non-Catholic Poles in the UK may, at least in part, therefore be due to domestic organisations’ simplistic ideas about Polish Catholicism.

This research is on-going. If you want to discuss any of these findings then you can post a comment on the following blog. Two academic papers have been written as a result of this research and when they are published they will also be posted online.


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