Europia, based in Manchester, is a friendly and innovative voluntary organisation which helps to make new arrivals to Manchester feel more at home.
The group welcomes new European nationals who have come to live and work in Manchester to help make it an even better place. Europia connects these people with their new neighbours and their local community.
The group’s activities are varied and have taken place in different locations across the Greater Manchester. What makes them unique is the fact that they enable European nationals to take a lead on practical community projects, which makes a real difference to the lives of migrants and brings them closer together.
The group believes that each nationality and person is unique and has a different story to tell. Volunteers listen to these stories and help people to put their hopes and dreams into practice – from being able to pay their rent, to putting on an art exhibition or learning how to write a CV for the first time. The group all shares an excellent common ethos of respect and human dignity – encouraging a spirit of openness and co-operation amongst their volunteers and with everyone who wants to work with Europia.
One incredible story from the group is that of Joanna Login, who is now Head of Europia Children and Families.
“I was born and brought up in Szczecin, a seaport in the north of Poland. It used to have a thriving shipyard but most of it has shut down and now lies derelict. I first came to the UK in 2001 to work on a strawberry farm in Kent.
“We moved to Manchester in 2007, where I started working in a bank. The pay was better than before and I was pleased to be able to take advantage of the fact that I could now speak two languages. My English was improving but I still found that people treated you differently when they found out that you weren’t English. That’s how it is I guess. Even if I could speak perfect English, there will always be a gap. I will never be English, but I like to work with and get on with British people – though sometimes it isn’t so easy.
“I quit my job when the Polish accounts dried up. That’s when I decided that I wanted to put something back into my own community and make the most of my ability to communicate in both Polish and English. I enrolled for advice training at Cheetham Hill Advice Centre and started work as a volunteer there. That’s where I came into contact with Europia for the first time as two of their members were doing the same course. I was really pleased to find Europeans who wanted to work together with other Europeans and local people to make a real difference in the areas where they live.
“We were a friendly bunch of people who wanted to get stuck in. Being a migrant can be very lonely – especially if you don’t speak English – but even if you do, as I did, it’s easy to be isolated from what’s going on around you. That’s what I liked most about Europia. We could make new friends, start to overcome the barriers that kept us apart and begin to create a new spirit of community. So for the first time in the UK I started to get involved in all sorts of local projects. I really enjoy it and it is definitely worthwhile.
“Europia has also helped me to develop my career. I am now able to apply my experience in working with migrant families and children skills on a daily paid basis. First of all, I got a part-time job as a Support Assistant with Manchester City Council – providing language and emotional support to Polish children at local schools. You could really see the difference in the confidence and mood of both the parents and their children when they knew that they could communicate in their own language. Lack of English is still the number one barrier which holds migrants back.
“I like Manchester. It’s not too big and not too small. You can always find something interesting to do. However it can still be an intimidating place if you a migrant – alone and not speaking English in a big city. I know what it feels like to be worn out, taken for granted, lonely and afraid. I carry those memories around with me even though I am no longer so isolated myself. No matter what country you come from, as a foreigner here in the UK, we all face similar challenges. Europia has made it possible for me to tell my story but the story isn’t finished yet. I still go back to Poland as I have family there, but my future and my children’s future is in Britain – and Europia is at the heart of everything that I want to be and do.”