An operatic odyssey: new film celebrates the women of Croydon’s Polish community

Members of Poles Connect. Pic: Seth Pimlott

The experiences of Polish women in Croydon and across south London has provided the inspiration for a new film about the hostile atmosphere faced by the community in the wake of the EU referendum vote.

Working with community organisation Poles Connect,  artist and film maker Seth Pimlott brought together the women for a series of art workshops as part of the film’s research process.

The film, titled Ciagle pod górę,  will tell the story of a Polish woman and her son in an operatic odyssey in Streatham Hill.

The title translates as ‘all the time uphill’ and encapsulates the struggle the protagonist faces as she is forced to confront the hostile atmosphere of her adopted country and her nostalgia towards her native one.

Pimlott said: “The idea was to work with the Polish community when they were going through quite a dramatic shift after the EU referendum had happened.

“Many in the community moved to Britain after Poland’s succession to the EU in 2004 and have made their lives here. Suddenly they were treated like second-class citizens and there was a spike in hate crime.”

‘Ciagle pod góre’ film poster. Pic: Seth Pimlott

Ciagle pod górę will draw on the work of seven months of workshops organised with Poles Connect. The community organisation  provides support and connects Polish women across Croydon and Lambeth.

Croydon and Lambeth have a significant Polish population and in the country as a whole, the Polish diaspora represents the largest source of immigration to the UK from the EU.

Rather than interviewing the women from Poles Connect, Pimlott organised art workshops to creatively explore their personal experiences of life in south London and their memories of home.

Marta Sordyl, co-ordinator of Poles Connect, described the workshops as “a therapeutic process.”

She said: “We explored our emotions and thoughts on what we had left behind in Poland and what we have been seeking to gain from staying in the UK.

“We were drawing and painting our life path, writing letters to our children about our favourite memories of life back home, having conversations about Polish and British culture, Brexit and dreams.”

Ciagle pod górę – All the time uphill from Seth Pimlott on Vimeo.

The complex feelings and ideas around national and linguistic identity discussed during these workshops led Pimlott to decide to tell the story of the film through song.

The film is accompanied by an original libretto and operatic score composed by Edgar Smith, which pays homage to the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and Polish folk music and lullabies.

The artist said: “The music in the film comes from lots of different sources but draws heavily from the folk songs and nursery rhymes that some of the women remember from their childhoods.

“This is a form of address from a mother to a young child that can communicate feelings and emotions more evocatively than just words. And the score carries the musical heritage of the Polish community with it.”

As well as exploring the challenges that the Polish community face in London following the Brexit vote, the film also seeks to celebrate what a new sense of British citizenship might mean.

Pimlott said: “In the UK there is the sense that integration should be one way- you must learn our language, history and customs.

“But this project is about a different approach, one that places respect and interest in the histories of other people as the basis for a dynamic and pluralistic idea of British citizenship.”

Members of Poles Connect at one of Seth Pimlott’s art workshops. Pic: Seth Pimlott

Marta Sordyl of Poles Connect also agreed that the project would help to challenge the stereotypes about the Polish community in London and a fixed sense of British identity.

She said: “The project highlights not only the needs and challenges faced by our community, but also shows the potential and richness of migrant communities.”

Filming will begin later this month now that the music and script has been written and the cast and crew are lined up.

The film will be screened at the Gasworks gallery in Kennington in early February. Gasworks and the Arts Council funded the research and development process for the film.

After the premiere, Pimlott and Poles Connect plan to show Ciagle pod górę at galleries around the country and film festivals worldwide.

To learn more about Ciagle pod górę and contribute to the crowdfunder to help fund the filming process, visit

Pimlott is the son of the late Professor Ben Pimlott, the academic and historian who was Warden of Goldsmiths in Lewisham from 1998 until his death in 2004.

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