10 years on, the UK is our home

The controversial poster points a finger and warns '26 million people in Europe' are after 'your' job.

10 years on, the UK is our home

The much-criticised Ukip campaign comes 10 years after the European Union expanded, adding Poland to its member countries.

Yet for Wolverhampton-born Greg Rudevics, enlargement has helped save the Polish club founded by his grandfather and others after arriving in Britain following the Second World War.

The Holy Trinity Church, attended by Polish Catholics, in Stafford Road had dwindled to a few dozen people in the congregation.

Now it attracts hundreds every Sunday. But it is no different to the numbers that attended in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

"It's like the church has gone back to its glory days," says 36-year-old Greg, who runs the bar at the Polish Community Centre next door. "The challenge for the club is a lot of people go to the church and then they go home again. They don't come into the club as much as they did."

Even so, there are still around 1,000 people on the club's membership books.

It was exactly a decade ago today that Poland joined the European Union.

But the UK was one of only three countries that immediately allowed Poles to work here without any restrictions.

At the time, the Labour government led by Tony Blair said it expected 13,000 Poles to move to Britain. It was a massive under-estimate.

The 2001 census said there were 58,000 Poles in the UK. By 2011, there were 579,000.

But Polish immigration was nothing new, certainly as far as the Wolverhampton church was concerned.

Mr Rudevics' grandfather Joseph Thudzik died in 1978. He had worked at the Bilston steelworks Stewarts and Lloyds.

"When he was trying to set the club up he'd go around on a bicycle raising funds," 36-year-old Mr Rudevics says. His grandmother Rozalia Urbankiewicz, who re-married after her husband's death, had also worked behind the club's bar.

"She's 92 now and it's great for her to see it's still going," says Mr Rudevics.

But he is also aware of the controversy over migration from the continent, particularly since Poland joined the EU.

"Most people who come over from Poland come for work," he says.

"The wages are vastly better. I did some teaching in a school in Wroclaw in 2001 and I found that I could make in a week here what a teacher over there could make in a month."

Poles have been migrating to Britain since the 1500s. Thousands of soldiers and airmen came over during the Second World War when the exiled Polish government moved to London. There were Poles in the RAF and flying in the Battle of Britain.

After the war, around 160,000 Poles settled in the UK, many unwilling to go back to what was at the time a Communist country. After Communism fell in the 1990s with the end of the USSR, emigration increased.

Witold Sóbkow, the Polish ambassador to the UK, believes immigration has gone as far as it can.

"This huge wave of people who came to EU countries trying to get well-paid jobs is over now," he said. "There are more opportunities in Poland. We have had huge economic success, wages are higher and there are more jobs, so I think this is over."

But immigration remains high on the political agenda, particularly EU rules guaranteeing people from its member countries the right to travel to Britain for work.

Ukip's leader Nigel Farage is enjoying a surge in popularity in the run up to the European Parliament elections on May 22, despite a series of scandals and accusations that the party is being 'racist'.

Mr Rudevics, who mentors children at Perton Middle School and is also a make-up artist at Birmingham's Hippodrome theatre, says he understands the frustrations some people have about immigration.

"A lot of jobs have gone to Polish people, bar work and so on. But there are also a lot of jobs that Poles are doing that English people don't want to do.

"I hear from people who run businesses that Polish people are on time and have a good attitude towards work.

"That makes a lot of difference."

For Karolina Cumming, life would be very different had it not been for Poland joining the EU. She was a day off her 21st birthday when it happened and it allowed her to study public relations at the University of Wolverhampton eight years ago.

Now, married to a Scotsman, with two children, she runs the Kabanos Polish food shop in Cleveland Street with business partner Kamila Adamczyk.

The shop was opened last year with help from the Mary Portas pilot scheme to get empty properties back into use.

Mrs Cumming, who turns 31 tomorrow, said: "If not for Poland joining the EU I'd have only been able to get a six month visa. I came here because I wanted to do something different. I couldn't imagine doing anything else now. My children were born here. This is home."

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