Should we stay or should we go?

As summer draws to an end, and August offers us some time to breath, we reflect upon the busy last few months we had.

Even though we work on very diverse projects, our focus was Brexit and how to prepare our communities for it.

In this sense, we continued our focused outreach campaign  to raise awareness on the changes that Brexit will bring on people’s lives. We traveled across London and across the country, from Lincoln to Milton Keynes, from Wembley to Lewisham, or Parsons Green.  From the beginning of the year only, we have organised over 10 events about the new settled status, with over 320 participants, and we will continue to work with our communities in reaching many more people.

In May and June, commissioned by Brent council, we delivered a series of drop in surgeries for Eastern Europeans in the borough. This was preceded by an intense outreach and communications campaign in Brent. We visited 26 Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian shops, 4 Romanian and Polish churches and talked to over 20 local organisations and council representatives about the lives of Eastern Europeans in Brent. The West London borough has one of the biggest Eastern European populations in London.

This was a great opportunity to discuss with  people about how they actually feel about Brexit. We talked to over 70 people in shops and churches and the focus of conversations was if people are considering staying or leaving after Brexit.

Most of the discussions were informal, but, nevertheless interesting. Regarding Brexit, we found that the majority of people are not well informed on the latest developments on the settled status and Brexit.
A significant number of people haven’t even heard about Brexit at all. The trend is that people are just waiting to see what’s going to happen and some of them are contemplating leaving the UK for their home country or another EU country. We also heard from people, that some of their friends have already left.  People are more worried about the quality of schools, their jobs, the rising costs of living in London and so on.

We talked to hair dressers, shopkeepers and their clients, priests and members of their congregations, business owners. In general, people take great pride in their work, in their abilities to integrate and make a life for themselves in this country. They believe that their contribution to the economy is invaluable, their work important. Some of them feel resentment towards Brexit, some of them empathise with British people’s concerns about controls on immigration. One very young shop assistant in north Wembley mentioned that many people he knows, including himself, don’t even believe that Brexit is going to actually happen, an opinion which concerns us, but the attitude is understandable considering the general unstable political climate at the moment. Another shop keeper told us that they already feel that people have started leaving the UK, they could see it from the decreasing number of customers in their shop.

Generally, people with families here wish to stay, they have build a life here and their children consider UK home. On the other hand, some young workers and professionals are undecided.  They are waiting to see what happens.

The eastern Europeans are a flexible working force. Many Romanians, for example, moved to the UK after living in Italy or Spain for several years, but when the recession came,  they moved to the UK for better opportunities. The general attitude in this case is that people can easily move somewhere else if the UK economy and social climate doesn’t offer them the opportunities they came for.

The EE migrants are resilient and flexible, they adapt quickly and they have no problem going back home, a wish expressed especially by the Poles, or going somewhere else in Europe, such as Germany.

After weeks of field research, we can say that, when thinking about leaving or staying after Brexit, Eastern Europeans think  more about the state of the economy than anything else.  A weaker pound and a stagnant economy do turn people away from the UK. We are already reading reports that farms in the UK are less enticing prospects, and recruiters are struggling to fill spaces.

However, we do not expect a mass phenomenon of Eastern Europeans leaving the UK, not immediately, in any case.

Are you thinking of leaving or staying? What are your concerns? For questions and information about Brexit, please email us at .