Features / Polish

The Polish ladies climbing the Alpine peaks of their dreams

By Katarzyna Sowinska  Friday Jan 22, 2021

“In a group there is strength,” says Henbury resident Iwona Barbaszyńska, founder of Babskie Spotkania Bristol (Women’s Meeting Bristol, or BSB). “It’s always better together, especially in these crazy times of the pandemic. While waiting for a return to normality, we try to be there for each other and support each other.”

BSB was founded in 2018 with the aim of integrating Polish women living in and around Bristol. The founders – Iwona Barbaszyńska, Małgorzata Piotrowska and Izabela Smolorz-Krzekotowska – decided to offer active and inspiring ways for their members to spend time.

Polish women were able to enjoy each other’s company and invite guests; some of them were specialists in physical and mental health, beauty or fashion. Among those who appeared were a psychologist, a nutritionist, an aromatherapy specialist and a florist. Now, through their Zoom meetings, the women have been able to travel the globe and learn skills that transcend their lives under lockdown.

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“Building a life as an emigrant, one-and-a-half-thousand kilometres from home, is a great challenge,” says Małgorzata Piotrowska, who lives in St Anne’s. “For many Polish women, the realities of living in England were difficult to get used to. Without the support of relatives or friends who remained in Poland, we struggle with many problems, having no one to talk to or complain to.”

Over time, the group has grown to include several dozen ladies, who come to regular meetings and events. Their Facebook profile is followed by 1,100 people. Before the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions which followed, the Polish women went out to pubs, galleries and parks, exercised together, went to a spa at a luxurious local hotel, and took part in events such as Race for Life. They visited Tintern Abbey and summited the Sugarloaf Mountain during a two-day trip to Wales. Regular meetings were held at Bluebell Nursery in Southmead.

Members of the group describe it as feeling like a “big family”, and the support and motivation has continued through the pandemic. Photo by BSB

“The positive energy of the first meeting I went to two years ago pleasantly surprised me,” recalls Horfield resident Magdalena Markham. “I was apprehensive at first, as I did not know any of the group’s members. However, no one judged me or expected anything from me; I could just be myself and have a good time in a group of amazing women.

“I had a lot of bad experiences in my life and I lost trust in people. At BSB, I received a very warm welcome and a lot of support in difficult times. The girls are always full of ideas. We are like a big family that supports and motivates each other, which we all need more than ever during the pandemic. Thank you all for being there.”

The pandemic forced the group to adapt, and new opportunities opened up for them thanks to Zoom. Throughout 2020, BSB held around 30 virtual themed meetings – focused on travel, women with passion, and motherhood. The group could talk to a speech therapist, a child physiotherapist, a sensory integration therapist, a sex educator, a coach, a fitness instructor and a specialist in the Bowen massage technique.

As part of Wielka Majówka 2020 (May Day, a Polish national holiday), Polish women visited fabulously beautiful, exotic places using Zoom. They virtually flew in planes and helicopters, sailed on ships and ferries, travelled by train through Africa and by van through Europe. They watched shamanic rituals, built a camper van and did laundry in Colombia. They were also guests at a grand wedding in a Kenyan village: all thanks to the fantastic female travellers which joined their meetings, and their incredible stories.

“We spoke to guests from the furthest corners of the world, and to those who previously seemed beyond our reach. We could ask questions, which they patiently answered, watch films and see hundreds of beautiful photographs. We felt as if we had personally been to each of these wonderful places,” says Małgorzata Piotrowska.

In addition, they have managed to organise around ten sociall-distanced walks in small groups, including in the Cotswolds, Clevedon, Backwell, Ashton Court and Blaise Castle.

The women’s group ran around 30 virtual meetings in 2020, connecting the members even though they can no longer physically be together. Photo by BSB

Many mothers with young children, previously unable to attend  gatherings in person, have also joined BSB during the pandemic. As part of a series of talks on motherhood, they hosted Dorota Zawadzka, known from the popular Polish TV show Superniania.

“I was happy with the virtual meetings because I had a baby in December, just before the pandemic, and live meetings would not have been possible for me,” says Justyna Kloc who lives in Kingswood. “If I were to have a wish, I would like to participate in live meetings again. In the long term, I would like our group to have a branch in every place in the world where Polish women live.”

Barbara Bach, who comes to the meetings from as far away as Cardiff, also dreams of returning to live meetings as soon as possible. “Every woman, irrespective of her age, if she feels lonely or isolated, will undoubtedly always find support, tolerance and respect in our group,” she says.

The organisers, which since 2020 includes Renata Lasko from Highridge, are planning what will happen next in 2021. ”Unfortunately, we have to contend with another lockdown. We are not giving up and are active as much as we can be in the current situation. There are currently virtual walking groups, herbal groups, maternity groups, and a life chat group; these are run via messenger,” Renata Lasko says.

Iwona Barbaszyńska has a wishlist of places to visit this year, including waterfalls in Wales and the Bath Skyline walk. “We also believe that we will be able to climb our dream Alpine peak,” she adds.

Find out more about Babskie Spotkania Bristol by visiting www.facebook.com/babskiespotkaniabristol or email [email protected]

Main image by Babskie Spotkania Bristol

Read a Polish translation of this story



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