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"'Brits' in Poland

This from yesterday's Guardian....

The Brits who moved to Poland

Up to a million Poles have come to Britain since their country joined the EU. But it's not all one-way traffic. Helen Pidd meets some of the thousands of British citizens who are building new lives over there

Wednesday December 12, 2007
The Guardian

'I could have bought four of these with what I made selling my semi in London," says Jim Parton, midway through a tour of the 50-room stately home he bought earlier this year in Piotrowice Nyskie, a tiny Polish village near the Czech border. Only five of the unheated rooms are currently even halfway habitable for Jim, his Polish wife Anna and their daughters Jozefina, two, and Henryka, one. There is a basic kitchen with a woodburning stove, a toilet, shower room, bedroom and living room, where Jozefina is camping out in a tent until there is time to buy her a bed. Anna, 33, is pregnant again, this time with twins, and it is not yet clear who will sleep where when they arrive in March.

Article continues


Not that any of this fazes 48-year-old Jim, the kind of charmingly ramshackle character who, when you see a gigantic crack in the bell tower of his mansion and gently ask why he didn't get a survey done before buying the dilapidated property, says with a grin: "Because that would be no fun!"
Jim's chutzpah may be unusual, but his recent decision to swap life in the UK for an adventure in Poland is not. According to official figures from the British embassy in Warsaw, around 2,500 Britons are currently living and working in Poland, but officials say the real figure is probably much higher - many incomers don't bother registering with the authorities when they arrive. And anecdotal evidence suggests there has been a huge surge of Brits moving to Poland over the past year or two. "Just look at how many bars, restaurants and cafes in Warsaw are stuffed with expats," says Mike Judge, a property broker who is based in the city. "Go to any upmarket hotel lobby at 9am and you can't get a seat in the coffee bars for all the businessmen speaking English with architectural blueprints spread out on the table."

Of course, this reverse migration is still a relative trickle, and doesn't go far towards plugging the gap left by the estimated two million Poles who have abandoned Poland since it joined the European Union in 2004 - up to a million of them to the UK - but this reverse flow is interesting none the less. After all, why move to a country deemed by so many of its own to be inadequate? And isn't it, well, a bit grim?

The answer to the second question is yes - and no. There is no doubt that communist town planning was not kind to many Polish cities, where the only green you will see is at traffic lights. But leave behind the big conurbations, with their monolithic tower blocks and multiple lane roads, and there are delightful villages and stunning landscapes. Some 28% of Poland is covered by forest, and there are almost 10,000 lakes, dozens of mountains and 23 national parks. And don't forget the dune-sheltered beaches on the northern coast.

In fact, few people move to Poland for the scenery. Like many of the Poles who have pitched up in the UK and Ireland in the past three years, a good number of the Brits who have moved to Poland are primarily motivated by money. This might sound a little odd when you consider that the average monthly wage in Poland is just £595, but start your own business, or arrange to be paid in sterling, and you can be rich in Poland - something that looks set to continue with the new, enterprise-friendly government led by Donald Tusk.

The first influx of fortune-seeking Brits arrived shortly after communism collapsed. Then, high-earning, experienced business people were flown in to head up the outposts of western firms, to teach Poles how to make money in a capitalist country.

Some 18 years later, many of these British bosses have gone home, having passed the capitalist baton on to Poles, but there is still serious cash to be made, particularly for entrepreneurs such as Richard Walker, 27, from Chester, who moved to Warsaw in March 2006 to work for the commercial property developer Jones Lang Sasalle. After six months, Walker set up his own rival company, Ethel Austin Poland. He was soon joined by a former colleague, Theo Michell, 34, originally from south London, who moved to Warsaw earlier this year.

The business has been going for only a year, but already the pair have amassed a property portfolio worth €30million (£21.6m). You only need to visit the gelled-back duo at their swish new headquarters to see how well they are doing: they occupy a small but impressive office at Warsaw's flashiest address, the Norman Foster-designed Metropolitan building on Pilsudski Square. They have no qualms about foreigners snapping up property and claim Poles don't either. "They are overwhelmingly positive about it," says Walker. "Warsaw is changing so quickly and everyone is out to do well here. There isn't the discrepancy between locals and expats that you get in places like Dubai." One wonders if all the families in the grim blocks of flats on the outskirts of the city, living on subsistence wages, would agree with Walker. But certainly all the Poles the Guardian spoke to for this article seemed remarkably generous about the British invasion, such as it is.

For our interview, Walker and Michell suggest a sleek coffee bar on the ground floor of the glittering glass building, which the Polish photographer later tells me is a well-known haunt for young women looking to catch the eye of rich foreign businessmen. Not that Walker or Michell are in the market for any of that: both persuaded their girlfriends to up sticks and join them when they moved.

Warsaw was not, both admit, an easy sell. Michell's fiancee, Brid Carr, a 33-year-old architect from Donegal, says her reaction on hearing her beloved's business plan was: "If only it was somewhere like Barcelona."

This is a common theme: most Brits in Poland admit that it was far from their dream destination. "I came here nine years ago purely for the job," says Jo Raskin, 40, the Warsaw-based director of Bell English Language Teaching, which has six schools in Poland. "I became an English teacher to work in sunny places in southern Europe, and I had this vision of Poland as being grey and cold."

Warsaw, with its bitter winters and traffic-choked streets remains cold and grey - Phil Jones, a 30-year-old IT worker, recalls an occasion when he blew his nose and ice came out during the winter of 2005. But over time, Raskin has fallen for Poland. And she is not the only one. She reports an increase in applications from Brits who want to teach English. "There is a steady stream of people wanting to work here. We pay more than English teachers would get in many other European countries. I know for sure that they earn more than some schools pay in London, pound for pound," she says.

Her colleague, Sue Holmes, a 42-year-old from Crewe, agrees that an English teacher can live handsomely even on the basic Bell salary of the equivalent in zloty of £500 net per month. "You can afford to live right in the centre of town," she says. "And get a cleaner," Raskin chips in, "and really enjoy yourself. Warsaw is very cultured - you can go to the opera for £15."

But both agree that life has got more expensive as the zloty has strengthened - there are currently around 4.96 zloty in a pound; when Poland joined the EU in 2004, the exchange rate was 7.13 zloty to the pound. The days of 50p pints are over: half a litre of lager in Warsaw now costs around 10 zloty, or £2. The Ethel Austin duo say a new flat in Warsaw now costs the same as one in Liverpool, putting it well out of reach for any Pole on an average wage.

Ray Bridgeford, 47, an Edinburgh-born businessman, runs Sense, one of Warsaw's trendiest restaurants. He says prices have rocketed since it opened five years ago. "Salaries have trebled and the cost of food has doubled," he says. Plus he is having a nightmare recruiting. "All the best waiting staff have gone to the UK," he says. "When we advertised for staff five years ago, we received 600 applications. I am currently looking for waiting staff and have only had six people interested."

Raskin thinks that Poland has a lot to offer Brits however. "Poland is one of those countries where being a foreigner is a good thing," she says. "Particularly if you are male, you get a lot of attention. I have seen so many average blokes come over here and get a nice Polish girl with almost no effort at all."

The not-at-all-average Jim Parton met his Polish wife, Anna, at his London tennis club almost six years ago. Anna, who comes from near Katowice in south-west Poland, had come to the country to learn English and have an adventure. Stockbroker-turned-writer Jim was looking for something new after writing a few books "but not as many as I should have" and after waging a long campaign to win access to his eldest son, now grown up. They fell in love, married and around two years ago started thinking about buying a place in Anna's homeland.

"Originally we were looking to buy a three-bedroom place in Poland for investment purposes," says Jim, as he makes a pot of the nearest Poland gets to proper tea. "Then one day we saw a stately home and got hooked on the idea of buying one."

At first Anna wasn't desperately keen to return home when so many of her compatriots were getting a Ryanair plane in the other direction. The reaction of her new neighbours in Piotrowice Nyskie was one of bemusement, she says. But for the Partons, the prime motivation for moving was for their children. "Small children can have a free-range childhood here," says Jim. "They can run around and see cows and pigs. Plus I can't afford to engage in the education arms race in London, and all the state schools in my area are crap." Jozefina and Henryka already understand Polish and English, and will attend the local primary, along with the as yet unborn twins when they are old enough.

Jim says he hasn't sensed any animosity from locals. He can't speak Polish yet, but he says: "People from the village keep popping round to see if there is anything they can do to help." He has no regrets, he adds, about moving, though like many emigres he misses certain things about the UK. He has managed to get broadband installed - Radio 4 streams from his laptop throughout our interview - and there is a jar of Bovril on the kitchen shelf. He really pines for the rugby, though. "Is there a team in Wroclaw?" he asks the photographer. He misses the variety of food you can buy and eat in Britain too. There do not appear to be any restaurants or shops in Piotrowice Nyskie, let alone one that sells Heinz baked beans or Marmite, though in Warsaw many expats admit guilty trips to the city-centre Marks & Spencer to buy horseradish sauce or chicken tikka curry paste.

Over in Wroclaw, Nick Blunt, a 24-year-old English teacher from Weymouth, says he misses "gravy powder and real ale". Blunt moved to Poland in April to be with his Polish fiancee, Ania Rudawska, 27, a Wroclaw native whom he met a few years ago when she was working in a bowling alley in Britain. "Nick was the first English guy I met who I could have an intelligent conversation with," says Rudawska.

She says Polish people are happy when the British come to her country - just so long as they are not on a stag night. "We don't like people coming here, getting absolutely drunk and screaming in the street," she says. In fact, you will rarely hear Poles trotting out any kind of "they come over here, they take all our jobs" line - perhaps partly because unemployment is at its lowest level in years (thanks in no small part to so many jobless Poles seeking work elsewhere in the EU).

Blunt and Rudawska are currently living with her parents, but are planning to move out when they get married next August. It is not necessarily easy to live well on a Polish salary, says Blunt, who earns £400-£500 a month teaching English to Polish business people. "Food and drink is cheaper, but some things, such as clothes and electronics, are much more expensive," he says. But the food is one of the things Blunt loves about his new homeland. "It's great that you can still buy traditional produce that actually tastes of something. The meat is particularly good. In England all you can buy is Tesco plastic ham."

Stephen Riley, a Glaswegian, moved to Warsaw a year ago, originally to do marketing for Celtic football club, which has two Polish players. "I love bigos," he says - bigos being the ubiquitous cabbage and meat stew that is one of Poland's national dishes. That, along with "being paid in pounds and being able to live well" is Riley's favourite thing about Warsaw. He doesn't feel too cut off from his friends and family - he can generally get a return flight to Glasgow Prestwick for £50, which is a lot less than it cost to get the train from London when he worked there.

Later on in the evening, in the Irish pub Bar Below in Warsaw's central Srodmiescie district, a gang of Brits have gathered to watch Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur. Steve Whittle, 47, came to Poland 10 years ago to work for the advertising agency WPP and has never gone back. "Things are better here," he says. "It's cleaner, it's cheaper, people have better manners. It's safer - you see more policemen around central Warsaw than you ever do around central London." Plus Poland is much a much better place to indulge in his great hobby: carp fishing.

Helen Maguire, 37, who moved to Warsaw six years ago with her property-developer husband, says Poland has so much to offer. "You don't realise it until you get here - but it's the expat's best-kept secret".

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

Of those people who allegedly have super jobs, property portfolios etc, one keeps ringing my office to sell advertising space on a website and one to my certain knowledge is unemployed and sleeping on somebody's sofa!!!!! And they've both sent me their CVs within the past few month's.

And Sense is hardly 'one of Warsaw's trendiest restaurants' unless trendy restaurant has suddenly become a synonim for sleazy and loud bar.

And if they're teaching EFL in Warsaw, why on earth are they working for 400 quid a month? Less than 2000 zl!!! The going rate is 50zl for a 45 minute unit. Even Polish EFL teachers expect 50zl per 60 mins.

So much

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

So much for journalistic accuracy.

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

"arrange to be paid in sterling, and you can be rich in Poland"

Earth calling planet grauniad!
Sterling's lost 20% against the zloty (or more)

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

This sort of article is almost always based only loosely on fact.

"'I could have bought four of these with what I made selling my semi in London," says Jim Parton, midway through a tour of the 50-room stately home he bought earlier this year."

This amongst much is nonsense.

The cheapest tiny house in Poland is now selling for almost 100,000 pounds.

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

Yeah, it seems the Guardian has a bad habbit of publishing this kind of junk.

I didn't understand the bit about getting paid in sterling - besides fx fluctuations, what difference does it make?

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

" Plus Poland is much a much better place to indulge in his great hobby: carp fishing.

Where is there any decent carp fishing in Poland? France, yes, spain, Yes. UK not bad but Poland

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

Another story

An English Migrant to Poland

My wife Anna and I have just emigrated to Poland. Were a little contra-eddy in the tide of Poles going to Britain. Obviously there are plenty of UK businessmen in Warsaw already, and Tesco is one of Poland's largest supermarket chains, but as an independent Brit, not backed by a large company, I am unusual...

Obviously there are plenty of UK businessmen in Warsaw already, and Tesco is one of Poland's largest supermarket chains, but as an independent Brit, not backed by a large company, I am unusual.

Tides change. A Daily Mail headline at the end of November wailed, “The Polish baby boom: Fears for NHS and schools as 1,000 Polish children are born here EVERY month”. There is a photo captioned, “Poles queue outside their embassy in order to gain a visa to remain in Britain”.

A peculiar story, because Poles don’t need a visa to remain in Britain. And not since communist times have they needed an exit visa from their own embassy. Almost certainly the caption should have read, “Poles queuing to vote in the recent general election in the country they are about to return to...”

Some Poles will settle in the UK, of course. But very many are buying a little parcel of land to build their new house on when they return. Anna is Polish, and enough of her friends are doing it for it to be called a trend. The tide is turning. Poland is under construction, the entire place is a building site.

Some people think it odd we want to leave Britain. Of course Anna's happy to be returning after six years of doing the economic migrant thing of cleaning your houses, looking after your children (she worked in a Chiswick nursery school) and serving you (and me) beer from behind a bar.

Three jobs. The bar job was how I met her; she was the girl behind the bar at my tennis club near Holland Park.

Poles make great servants, but I doubt – and don’t you agree with me – that they see their long-term destiny as being a new servant class in Britain. Especially as, quite often, they are better educated, and work harder than the people they serve.

Anna was a maths teacher, her half brother, who loads Tesco shelves in London on behalf of Crispy Crème Donuts, was a professional pianist. They don’t want to be servants.

Still, Anna liked Britain, the idea to leave was mine. Poland is clearly on the launch pad to prosperity, while Britain will be lucky to escape a nasty little recession caused by the bursting of the property bubble. So we’ve cashed in our three-bed semi in South East London, and bought a former Bishop’s palace, built in 1660, with 50 or so rooms, a few kilometres from the Czech border and the Sudety mountains.

Our money could have bought us four bishop’s palaces. Some mispricing going on, I felt, in Poland’s and Britain’s property markets.

Ravished by the Nazis then effectively annexed by Stalin, Poland emerged in 1990 with an economy in ruins. In 2007, it is still dowdy and run down, but beginning to motor. In another decade or so, it will have more or less caught up Germany, and dare I venture, Great Britain too?

As economic forecasts are nearly always wrong, I prefer to look at how forecasts change. Poland’s numbers have spent the last year being revised in a good way. GDP better than expected, unemployment dropping far quicker than expected, and so on.

At the start of 2007, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s forecast for GDP growth was “5.5% expected for 2006, easing to an annual average of 4.7% in 2007…”

After three quarters, 2007 is looking like 6.5%. The EIU has now upgraded forecasts for 2008 and onwards.

On the downside, inflation is at 3.0% (against 2.3% expected) … and where central banks have been cutting to stave off a credit crunch induced recession, Poland’s bank has been tightening. Some urban property development prices – not bishop’s palaces – look to be in bubble territory. Wage costs are rising, and the Zloty is strong, up even against the Euro. (The plan is to join the Euro zone in about 2012 – the plan keeps changing, so I’m vague about the date).

Taking into account such risks, Forbes magazine has just published a beauty parade of countries good to manufacture in. Compiled by accountants Price Waterhouse Cooper, Poland came top.

Anyway, no need to worry about rising labour costs, or shortages. Just as the UK’s labour costs have been kept down by an influx of labour from abroad, so it will happen, I predict, in Poland.

Where will Poland’s labour influx come from? Why, Great Britain, of course.

In reference to the bishop’s palace, I get asked all the time, “But can you find any Polish builders, they’re all over here? Ha, ha, ha.”

True, the Polish government is even talking of making it easier for Indians to work on the stadiums and roads being upgraded for Euro football 2012.

But I type this to the merry background noise of our new shower going in. It’s being put in by a local plumber, called Slawek. He’s quite a bit older than the Pole working on your new conservatory in the UK, but he’s available and keen. You see, the Poles in the UK have left their dads behind.

Slawek’s son, Bronislaw (Bronek for short), works in England. The conservatory he’s working on right now was paid for by a little bit of “equity release”. The UK equity release game will end with falling house prices. In fact it probably already has.

Bronek is finishing off the conservatory just in time for Christmas, and finding that the loft conversion that he was booked to do next year is no longer wanted. Meanwhile, Bronek’s wife Gosia, is a waitress at your local gastropub. Their two small children, as the Daily Mail observes, are “clogging up” a local primary school.

Come January, when bar sales are at the lowest for the year, the manager will regretfully shake his head and say to Gosia, “You were fantastic during the Christmas party season, but as you can see, my tables are empty, I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to give you any hours this month…”

Bronek, Gosia and the kids may not know it yet, but they are coming back to Poland next year. Upward wage pressure and labour shortages in Poland will ease. At first, they’ll move back into Slawek’s two bedroom communist flat. Not that they were more comfortable in England. There, to save rent, they all piled into a one bedroom flat.

But luckily, they bought their plot of land. With their English savings, and time on their hands, they’ll start building…

Meanwhile, while Slawek may be monoglot (and old), but Bronek and Gosia speak pretty good English (and are young). They’ll be a real asset to any company thinking of setting up a plant in Poland, as will their totally bilingual children. They won’t be unemployed for long.

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

"Still, Anna liked Britain, the idea to leave was mine. Poland is clearly on the launch pad to prosperity, while Britain will be lucky to escape a nasty little recession caused by the bursting of the property bubble. So we’ve cashed in our three-bed semi in South East London, and bought a former Bishop’s palace, built in 1660, with 50 or so rooms, a few kilometres from the Czech border and the Sudety mountains.

Our money could have bought us four bishop’s palaces. Some mispricing going on, I felt, in Poland’s and Britain’s property markets. "

I wonder if he'll be so happy when the konserwator zabytków turns up, and insists he restores it painstakingly, using old photographs, qualified craftspeople and original materials!

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"Bronek, Gosia and the kids may not know it yet, but they are coming back to Poland next year."

This assumes they are not resourceful enough to find alternative work....

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

Changing track slightly...

I've been spending a bit of time in Warsaw recently and I have to say, it's made me the most homesick I've been for a long time. It's grown up to resemble the London I left more than 13 years ago.

I think I'd really like to live and work there now.

Re: "'Brits' in Poland

It really is the best place to live in Poland. It doesn't have the olde-worlde charm (& tourists) of Kraków, or the beaches of Trójmiasto, but everything else is here and right now there is a real buzz here.

Re: "'Brits' in Poland