- POSK temporarily closed
Review by Richard Williams
London Jazz News preview
"strongly performed Polish opera"
as part of the Insiders /Outsiders festival
Opera Now magazine, May issue
Review in Opera Now magazine
Proposed new constitution for POSK
Dominic Williams for London Jazz News
Things are not as bad as they say "on the street", not as bad as we have suggested (motivated by concern for the future of POSK) in several articles posted so far in "Nowy Czas". But they are also not too good.
This is why, for some time, the authorities of the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in London have been trying to implement alternative solutions to ensure the future of this major centre of Polish life outside of Poland.
I talked about these solutions and issues with the current Chair of the Board of POSK Mrs. Joanna Młudzińską . We started the conversation talking about the Conrad collection and exhibition, which preceded the transfer of Conrad Room (in connection with the redevelopment of the east wing of the Centre into apartments).
Joanna Młudzińska explained that some of the exhibits for the exhibition were borrowed from the collections of Canterbury Heritage Museum (thanks to Eugenia Maresch of the Joseph Conrad Society and Dobrosława Platt, Director of the POSK Library).
Parts of the collection belonging to POSK were transferred to the reading of the Polish Library, and the collection of old books were placed in the new Conrad Hall which will be suitably protected by a controlled environment.The books transferred to the library can now be used on a regular basis, without any special formalities, as before, which has met with high praise from members of the Joseph Conrad Society. When we enter the reading room, however, I see that the area of the room where literary meetings were held is now smaller.
“This is a temporary situation,” explained the chair of POSK, who is also chair of the Polish Library. “We have submitted plans for the development of terrace adjacent to the library.” I have to conclude my visit with the comment that no items were lost from the collection during the renovation and that all the most valuable souvenirs of great writers of Polish origin are located in Canterbury.
A TENANT WITH DEBTS
We move to the second major topic which has been in public debate for a long while - POSKlub. What is the statutory and legal dependence of POSK and its tenant on the fourth floor, which for years not been a reliable payer of rent due? It seems that the information circulating is true. The debt has grown and the club authorities have decided to resolve this issue amicably, spreading the repayment of the debt into instalments.
“POSKlub is an organization of the members POSK. It was created to generate money for POSK and create a club space (a meeting place) for members. And for many years it was so,” emphasizes Joanna Młudzińska.
“There are no legal or statuary relationships. POSKlub rents rooms from us and has its own constitution. We have a delegate observer on the POSKlub committee. We can only intervene as required from the position of landlord. Due to the resulting debt the club gave up two rooms that have now been rented by the Jagiellonian University. There is no legal basis for intervention of the POSK board in the internal affairs of the club. There are problems, we know about them, but their solution belongs to members of the club.”
The observer from the outside, including me, cannot, however, understand why POSK - following the most difficult period of the construction of the Centre, with the huge investment, books balanced by 1989 (as evidenced by the financial statements for that period) - now, for the last few years, brings a debt of about £250,000 a year.
“This is not a debt,” explains Joanna Młudzińska. “This is the so-called structural deficit. There is a basic difference. POSK is not bankrupt; POSK has the money in its account. This difference arises after deducting expenses from the amount earned on an annual basis, excluding legacies and donations. We are committed to eliminating this difference. Bequests should give security, but they can also be used for co-financing social activities, as is usually clearly indicated by the donors. These funds are administered by the Foundation for the Future of POSK, which has £2.5 million in the account. This is permanent capital; the Foundation should spend only the interest. Its statutory objective is to promote and support POSK.”
These are difficult discussions about finances. To this topic, I add the question of the amount of the membership fee, which is ridiculously low - £10 for life. This information is confirmed by Joanna Młudzińska. But she adds: “It's going to change. We are currently working on a new constitution, which is already drafted, and new membership fees are also included in it. This change however will not apply current members.”
HOW MANY MEMBERS ARE THERE?
This is an interesting question, because again, on this issue you can get conflicting information. The question is important, and before answering the Chair checks the data with her assistant.
“At present we have 3000 members, but unfortunately not all of them update their addresses. The issue of membership of POSK is quite specific,” she explains. “This is not a club with members. Usually in a club, members pay an annual fee and have something for it. In POSK members get current information and an important voice at the general meetings, which select the authorities of the Centre. In other words, they participate in the management of the Centre. The Centre can be used by anyone, which makes us very happy.
About 200 members take advantage of this important voting privilege. The sum is simple – those who are absent cannot impact decisions, and their arguments lose value. I ask Joanna Młudzińska how many new members enrol each year.
“In the last year we had more than 20. The procedure (apart from the current low cost) is similar to that of other clubs - two people are required to introduce the new member and then there is a short interview.” I ask if they include the Poles of the younger generation, who have recently arrived in the UK. “There are those as well.”
We move to the issue of big money, a topic that appears frequently in conversations about POSK, and the property in Warsaw. “This is a huge headache,” admits the Chair. I do not reduce the pain and ask why lawyers in Warsaw are to receive up to 40 percent of the value of the property.
“You have to start from the fact that the lawyer Mr. Stachura discovered this legacy. POSK knew nothing about it. The building in the centre of the Warsaw belonged to the city and was divided into public housing (three units were sold to the tenants). The pre-war owner of the house, Mr. Chmielewski (one of the founders of POSK) wrote a will and gave these to POSK; he probably did not expect his wishes to be realised.
“At that time, in the 80s of the last century, there was another system in Poland. POSK did not maintain any contacts with the Communists. The chances of recovery of this legacy were small and the POSK authorities at the time agreed to the percentage of the value. As you can see it is a long and complicated process, the fee is to be paid only after the full closure of the case. Ownership was restored only a few years ago and Mr. Stachura won damages from the city authorities for that period. The house is situated in an attractive location, but it is in poor condition, with tenants. Not all of them pay the rent, so there will be problems with eviction.
“To carry out the eviction, we will need to find alternative housing. The Council of POSK decided, after long discussions, to sell the premises. Until now, the law firm has received a small percentage of the agreed fee, and all will be settled after the sale of the building. We have also lowered the fee following the compensation paid by the city to 30 percent.”
WHO RUNS POSK?
“The AGM, which elects the POSK Council (51 people) for a period of three years. Each year, one-third of the Council is changed (councillors may re-apply for a nomination). Sadly, there are not many people willing to sit on the Council , although it is not too demanding with the Council meeting four times a year. The AGM also elects a Chair, who in turn chooses the members of the Management Board from the Council.”
Would it not be better to create a more modern structure of professional management?
“We do use such solutions in a number of areas . For example the Library Director, Dr. Dobrosława Platt, is an expert and full-time employee and the manager of the Centre. Bartek Nowak also has a full time contract and is my right-hand for all everyday issues, and takes care of all administrative matters such as rental of premises, including the Theatre.”
There are, however, critical voices, mainly allegations that the rent, for example of the Theatre, are commercialised to the extent that Polish organisers cannot afford to pay such high rates and are looking for spaces outside the Centre. They emphasise that POSK, as the Polish socio-cultural organisation, should assist in promoting Polish culture.
“Yes, POSK does charge commercial rates,” is the reply. But I do not give up and ask why Ms Ewa Becla moved to a venue next door, to the Baptist Centre.
“POSK supports activity such as the Poet's Stage, the Confraternity of Polish Artists in Great Britain, Syrena Theatre and the Polish Jazz Cafe ,which are non-profit-making run by volunteers. However the activities run by Ms Becla are a commercial venture and as such pay commercial rates and this is the basic difference.”
In the end we talk about the rebuilding the east wing side of the Centre , where four apartments are to be built to ensure a steady income, which will reduce the operating deficit and allow for more events. The renovation continues. Conrad Hall, the office of the Board of POSK and the Pilsudski Institute have moved to new locations.
Who won the tender for the renovation, supposedly a Polish company, which is associated with Mr. Jan Serafin, officially bankrupt, who has large private debts in the Polish community?
“Seven companies responded to the Tender. We chose a Polish company registered in the UK, unconnected with Mr. Jan Serafin, which was checked for its suitability.”
Finally another topic, at the end of our conversation: the Jazz Cafe. Proceeds from the musical evenings (on weekends): £70,000; expenses: £60,000. Hence there was a profit of £10,000. The room rental is £30,000.
So things are not as bad as the rumours. Are things good? Only time will tell. Fifty years of existence of the Centre carries responsibilities. We are looking forward to lively celebrations.
Translated by Janek Kaczmarek