Melton man invites Polish people to picnic in the park to ‘show them they are welcome’ despite Brexit vote

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A Melton man who fears Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) could have left Melton’s Polish community feeling unwelcome here has invited them to join him and his children at a picnic in the town to show them they are welcome.

Paul Atkins (48) extended his invitation to the Polish people of Melton in a letter printed in last week’s Melton Times and on Saturday he intends to leave a Polish translated version of his letter at key locations in the town.

In his letter Mr Atkins wrote: “Britain has voted to leave the EU and Melton Mowbray was among those that did. “When I saw the result I was shocked, saddened and confused. I’ve tried to imagine how you must feel in the aftermath of this, living among us, feeling unwelcome. I’m sure I can’t do it justice but I have enough humanity in me to feel wretched for you. I wanted to say I’m sorry.

“Your children are my childrens’ friends at school. When I take my children to school I want you to know that I don’t see immigrants, I see loving mothers and fathers, fretting over their babies just like me, and I know we already have one huge thing in common.

“I see men and women that have left their homeland and moved to a country that doesn’t speak their first language, where things must be disorientating and frightening. And you’ve done this to secure a better future for your families. I admire you.

“I know we voted to leave but I don’t want you to. I want to thank you for all the hard work you do. I get the frustration with Brussels, but that’s politicians, not people. You are not my enemy, I just don’t know you yet.

“I want to bridge that gap. With that in mind I will be in Melton’s lovely public Wilton Park on Sunday, August 14 with my children and a picnic. I’d love you to join us. Bring your kids, footballs, whatever.

“I don’t care what we voted, our community is ours to make. Please stay a part of it.”

However since his letter was published Mr Atkins has come under fire from some Melton Times readers who voted to leave the EU for their own reasons and who said they felt ‘insulted’ by his comments, stressing they didn’t have a dislike of Polish people and they got on well with Polish friends and neighbours.

Speaking to the Melton Times this week Mr Atkins, who has lived in Melton for about the last 10 years, said: “I’m not having a go at people who voted to leave the EU and there’s absolutely no inference on my part that they were wrong in what they voted for. That’s not what I’m saying. I just think there’s a danger that Polish people could potentially feel unwelcome and I wanted to invite them to the picnic as an act of friendship and to show them they are welcome.”

Mr Atkin’s invitation has been welcomed by some members of Melton’s Polish community who wrote to the Melton Times this week.

Polish couple Sylwia and Rafal Orzech, whose family have been living here for four years, wrote: “We’d like to thank Mr Atkins for trying to understand our situation. It’s true the whole process of referendum brought an unwelcome atmosphere around our minority who live and work in Melton. That made us feel uncomfortable and a bit upset.

“We were a bit confused after the Brexit vote. On the one hand we were surrounded by the xenophobic atmosphere which surprised us a lot but we know there are more open and friendly people in this country and Mr Atkins and his family are a great example.”

Father Krzysztof Zalewski, of the Polish Catholic Mission, wrote: “I thank Mr Atkins for his warm comments about the Polish community. He looks at people without any prejudice. We are not just immigrants but the same human beings who are mothers, fathers and children with the same hopes.

“He wants to build bridges between people and not destroy them. This is the best way to mutual understanding and lasting good relationships. We greatly appreciate his kindness and goodwill and hope the picnic will be a great success, enjoyed by everyone.”

The Melton borough had a high turnout (81.4 percent) at June’s EU referendum, with 58 per cent of voters (17,610 people) wanting Britain to leave and 42 per cent (12,695 people) wanting to remain in the EU.