I love how multicultural Liverpool is and that you can experience so
many different cultures here. You don’t have to be Chinese to
attend Chinese New Year or African to come to Africa Oyé. They are
rather wider community celebrations bringing the whole cit
together to share, experience and enjoy particular culture.
The European Union enlargement in 2004, resulted in additional
countries gaining new benefits and their residents having right to
come to Britain. At its height, there were million Polish people that
moved to the UK. For me, migration is a natural process that brings
balance, but the media created a hatred campaign against the new
migrants which directly resulted in an increase of hate crime. My
feeling was that people were uncomfortable of the unknown and
media presented it as a problem.
I thought that if only local and new communities would have a
chance to meet they would realise, they are not that different: they
all want to live in peace, have a house and a job, their family to be
healthy, safe and happy; and what’s different such as traditions,
food, culture, make them more interesting as that’s the reason why
we travel and explore the world and other cultures.
And that idea was the beginning of Merseyside Polonia, of creating a
space where people can meet and get to know and inspire each
other with the aim of developing positive relations between the
Polish and local community. Over the 14 years, the organisation
delivered numerous successful projects and events inspired by Polish
and other cultures, art and heritage.
Among many different activities and some influenced by other
minority communities in the city, we also developed Liverpool
Midsummer Festival inspired by the traditions still very much celebrated in Poland. Initially, it was just a one-day event with Polish folk dancing and singing, cultural and information stalls and art activities at the Bombedown Church. The next Festival in 2014 included 16 different events with classical and folk music concerts,
literature events for adults and children, film screenings, theatre
workshops, exhibition, symposium and performances as well as
midsummer themed craft workshops. Inspired by the Chinese New
Year and Africa Oyé, we wanted to grow bigger and started thinking
of involving other Eastern European Communities.
And then Liverpool won hosting Eurovision in 2023 and it became
obvious that we have to get even bigger to include all European
countries. So inspired by other cultures, the idea was to create a
Festival that will be for European Communities like:
- Africa Oyé for the Liverpool African community,
- Chinese New Year for the Chinese community,
- Liverpool Arab Arts Festival for the Arabic speaking
The Festival will be a way to support those local European
communities to be more recognised and represented, their members
further engaged and involved, and their rich culture celebrated
broadening the artistic offer of the city.
With the large-scale events such as the Eurovision 2023, it would be
terribly upsetting to forget/dismiss Liverpool European communities.
Over the recent years, they were already very much hurt with Brexit
and its aftermath to have to reapply for permission to continue to live
in the UK. At the same time, one positive outcome of the EU
Settlement Scheme was establishing the number of Europeans still
holding their national passports. Based on those registrations,
Liverpool has 40,000 Europeans and that number doesn’t even
include those who were already granted British citizenship. But how much does the general population really know of the Liverpool
There is such richness in European culture. When you move to
another country you bring your culture with you. You are part and
representation of your culture as its inseparable from your identity.
Many European migrant communities in the city continue to celebrate
their national culture but it’s often accessible only to those who are
from that country. The Festival could be a way to open the
communities and celebrate their culture together!
It often happens that the small community events are not even
noticed by a wider audience. Therefore, it was important to make
the Launch Event noticed. The Town Hall seemed to be the right
place where we can have all the European Communities present
holding stalls and deliver a programme that’s representative of their
culture. And at the same time Liverpool VIP guests, European
Ambassadors and Consuls but also representatives of local services
to start the engagement between the communities and providers.
The date for the Launch was also meaningful: 9 th May – Europe Day!
Eurovision is all about singing therefore the idea for the Festival was
to focus on other aspects of European Culture and the Themes for
the first year were dance, film and heritage.
- European Dance Spectacular: traditional folk dancing, music
and costumes are often the most colourful and energetic
representation of ethnic cultures! From Irish Ceili, through
Greek Kalamatianos to the Schuhplattler of Germany and
Austria and so many more in between. The idea was to develop
and deliver a day of dancing and finally it developed also to
include the European Parade!
- Masters of European Cinema: this was the opportunity to see
and hear of the European contribution to cinematography! From the first film projection by the Lumière brothers on 28 December 1895 to the most avant-garde European film movements including German Expressionism, Italian neorealism, French New Wave, Polish Film School, New German Cinema, Portuguese Cinema Novo, Movida Madrileña, Czechoslovak New Wave, Dogme 95, New French Extremity, and Romanian New Wave. This year we will present a selection of 6 European films.
- European Cultural Heritage: in this project the heritage didn’t
just refer to history but also included wider culture of the
European Communities. The Festival would offer an
opportunity to visit historical locations and find out more about
the European migration in the city! To take a trip back to 19 th
century to find out more about Little Italy; follow stories of The
Great Famine and the dramatic journeys of Irish migrants; find
out the roots of the city’s Greek community and visit the
stunning Greek Orthodox Church. And then jump to 2004 and
EU enlargement which brought to Liverpool so many new
migrants from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia,
Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania. And finally, find out
more about the most recent Ukrainian resettlement in the city.
And then the closing event to celebrate the success and thank all those
involved, again meaningful date: 23 rd June, the date of the EU
Referendum to say we are still here and flourishing!
However, I wanted more than just a month of events therefore part of
the project was to create an online resource presenting Liverpool
European Communities, including a database of local organisations,
and the cultural activities they offer. I wanted the local communities
to be more aware of their European neighbours, their history in the
city, traditions they still celebrate and open up their artistic provision.
For me, this project and process are an investment in capacity
building and realising the capability of city’s European community to put on even a greater show next year when Eurovision will be hosted
elsewhere but we will continue the legacy through the annual
Liverpool European Festival. The Festival to be an opportunity to
make the local European communities more visible and offer them
voice, support the capacity building of those communities with
establishing and developing organisations that represent them linking
them with partners, develop additions cultural offer of the city and
inspire new artists and creators from within the community.
Form my experience, working with the local communities you can be
sure that you get so much more than what you paid for because their
culture is who they are, they are proud of it and here to stay for years
And this year, is only the beginning!
Be part of the Liverpool European Festival celebrating together the
culture of local European communities!