LIVING AND LEARNING TOGETHER
Much has been written, on this blog and elsewhere, about the vexed question of immigration. Some of the comment has been informed and reasonable, some of it less so, but it is rarely less than impassioned. One cold hard fact is not up for discussion. Thinks are not going to change, certainly in the foreseeable future. There is a queue of countries from The Balkans and further afield waiting to join the EU, and unless Britain leaves the Community or radically renegotiates the clause that gives people from member states the right to settle, then there will continue to waves of migrants looking to settle here, attracted by tales of comfortable state benefits, free healthcare and education and good employment prospects.
Regular readers of these pages will have read much criticism and friendly lampooning of our various local authorities and their sometimes accident prone elected members, but they can do absolutely nothing about who comes to Wisbech looking for a new life and the crock of gold at the foot of the rainbow. The inability or reluctance of the police to tell us what percentage of recorded crime is committed by immigrants makes for frequent and lurid speculation. We no longer have a magistrates' court, and understandably local journalists do not cover court proceedings in Lynn and Peterborough, so the once weekly round-up of minor offences in the paper is no more. It wasn't scientific, but at least it used to give some idea of who was doing what to whom.
My perception - and it is just that, a personal view - is that in Wisbech it is easy to jump to false conclusions about what immigration has brought to the town. The biggest impact on how we feel about it is caused by;
(1) A very visible minority of adult males who are jobless, and living in multi-occupancy housing.
(2) They are usually tipped out onto the street in the morning, and do not return again until the evening.
(3) There is a strong street drinking culture which impacts heavily in the town.
(4) Alcohol is cheap and readily available.
(5) Police do their best to combat this, but struggle for time and resources.
There is a national political debate about integration and language skills, and this mines into very deeply felt views which are often expressed with anger. Public services pay out huge sums annually for interpreter services, and still provide multi-lingual signage. The sheer numbers of migrants in Wisbech means there is little incentive for many adults to learn English, as they can get along perfectly well in their own language. There are two rays of sunshine in what appears to be a bleak picture. Firstly, as children of migrant parents grow up and go to school, they quickly become good speakers of English. If we are looking at the very long term, then their generation, as they become adults, will become completely integrated. Secondly, there is a minority among the adult migrant community who are very keen to learn English, and it is my experience of this group which I want to describe in the rest of this blog.
Since finishing a lifetime's work in education, I have been lucky enough to become involved as a volunteer at The Rosmini Centre. The Centre works in many ways providing services to both the migrant community and English residents. At the extreme end, there try to feed the homeless, and provide free legal and translation services, along with advice about health and financial matters. I have been at the 'happy' end of things, running guitar classes for youngsters, and sharing the a two-hour English class on a Thursday night. After years of hard struggle in schools trying to persuade reluctant teenagers that learning is a good thing, it has been a breath of fresh air to work with adults who, despite daily lives of drudgery in local fields and factories, turn out for two hours on a Thursday night, sometimes walking long distances to get there. The range of nationalities has been amazing, including folk from Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Spain.
Last week we had our Christmas Party, and it was a memorable occasion. I had prepared English food, but was overwhelmed by the number of people who brought in food and drink from their own countries. Wearing my other hat, we had live music from two of my guitar pupils, a girl from Latvia, and one from Lithuania. They have been playing for less than a year, but are both extremely gifted musicians. They played and song solos, and then we finished off by tacking the class "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - in English, of course! The class starts again on Thursday January 10th, 2013.
|Inge organises some Lithuanian delicacies|
|Mike is persuaded to try some fiery Lithuanian spirit|
|Julija and Diana|
|We Wish You A Merry Christmas|
|The Class - July 2012|