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North Poles

It all began one Sunday morning in summer 2004, when our small United Reformed Church congregation welcomed some visitors to our morning worship. Their presence swelled the congregation by 30%, and lowered the average age considerably. Only one spoke English with any confidence, and we got by with sign language and smiles. They were Polish.

We discovered in faltering conversation they lived over the road from church, and were here to work at one of the local fish and chip shops down by the harbour through the summer season. There was a gap in the seasonal labour market, and they could earn on our minimum wage here in 3 months, the near equivalent of an annual Polish wage back home. As active Roman Catholics, they naturally came along to their nearest church, assuming it would be Catholic. They hadn’t realised the variety of denominations around them in the UK! The local Roman Catholic Mass was later in the morning, when they were at work. Denominational differences though possibly confusing, did not diminish the friendship and fellowship that quickly grew.

Our two local United Reformed Churches were already, by this time, exploring the use of film as a vehicle for mission in our rural communities. Following the establishment of both a mobile cinema in Seahouses and a static cinema in Belford URC church, there has been a growing interest in film-making. North Poles was our first such adventure, a 24 minute documentary, telling the story of seasonal migrant workers in rural north Northumberland. Funding for the proposed documentary was secured by Diana Herbert, a

People coming out of the home church in southern Poland of one of our Seahouses migrant workers

local church member, and North Poles was filmed using the expertise of Luk Luk Productions, a local television production company. Tomasz and Ula, the two young Poles featured share their experience and reflections as they seek more permanent work in the area. Ula now works in Barclays Bank, and Tomasz for Nissan, at Sunderland.

A recurring theme in the documentary is that of

welcoming the stranger: just how does a small settled village community react to an influx of young Polish workers? Drawing on reflections from across the community, the DVD presents a realistic and positive picture, consciously addressing some of the more xenophobic reactions to east European migrant workers articulated in certain sections of the print media.

North Poles was publicised through various websites, and was reviewed regionally and nationally It has generated an encouraging amount of interest from across the UK. The small congregation of St Cuthbert’s

United Reformed Church felt affirmed as they had been the catalyst for the DVD, which has provided a flexible resource that has been widely used. The original production run of North Poles quickly sold out, requiring a second, then a third batch to be produced. The documentary has been used by different denominations, and on a variety of platforms from home groups through to training events and conferences across the UK.

And Tomasz and Ula? They were married in Poland June 2008, and continue to work in Sunderland.

Copies of North Poles cost £10 for individual use, and £50 for those larger networks and organisations who will use the material on a variety of platforms for wider audiences on many occasions. They are available from: Mr Jimmy Turnbull, 5 Osborne Gardens, Seahouses, North Sunderland, NE68 7UF. Tel 01665 720040 email

Revd Dave Herbert URC Minister, north Northumberland


migrant workers

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