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Newry Housing Executive to provide interpreter service for immigrants

The Housing Executive in Newry is combining with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to provide a specialist interpreter service to immigrants seeking to set up home in the area.

Collaborating with the Council’s Diversity and Inclusive Unit, a weekly Tuesday clinic will be held at the Executive’s offices on Boat Street, hosted by Polish native, Mr Artur Kmiecik.

Mr Kmiecik and his family first made the move to Newry in 2006 when his wife was offered a six-month work contract here.  At the end of the contract period, the family returned to Poland but their eldest child had expressed a strong desire to return and live here.  Having enjoyed a comfortable life in their native country, the family’s decision to ultimately move back to Newry was not an economic one, but based on the whole family’s desire to live here.

Mr Kmiecik speaks a number of languages including English, Russian and German, which, together with Polish, have proved vital in being able to support others who have emigrated to Northern Ireland.  He has been involved with interpreting since he arrived first with STEP in Dungannon, then the NHS and also in local schools.  He has worked with Newry, Mourne and Down Council since it became involved with the Ethnic Minority Centre in 2010.

It was around this time he began working with the Housing Executive.

Explaining his role, Mr Kmiecik said: “During a typical year I would receive 250 visits for help.  It is my knowledge of Russian which helps me tremendously to communicate with those from Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and Bulgaria.  About half of those who attend my clinic come from my native Poland.”

In speaking about the main issues faced by those using the service he added: “It is the formality of the forms which have to be completed; whilst their spoken English may be good, comprehension and written English can be a challenge.”

As part of his work he regularly helps compile housing benefit applications, support those who present as homeless through the process, deals with changes in earnings calculations, overpayment requests and appeals.

Mr Kmiecik heaps great praise on the Housing Executive team whom he describes as “fantastic and very helpful.”

“I am proud of how the service with the Housing Executive in Newry has really helped, particularly in emergency situations.  I have built a good relationship with the team in the local office and they have been able to get help to those in real need quickly.  It’s a great partnership”

Owen McDonald, the Housing Executive’s Area Manager, is pleased with how the service has been received: “The team in the office is delighted to have the clinic onsite each week.  It has proved a vital support to those who need a bit of extra help as they make Newry and Northern Ireland their home,” he said.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Naomi Bailie is delighted that Mr Kmiecik is continuing to interpret for ethnic minorities in the district.

“The Council has embraced a number of wide-reaching initiatives aimed at fostering equality and inclusion of marginalised groups, especially recent migrants,” she explained.

“In 2007, the former Newry and Mourne District Council opened an Ethnic Minority Support Centre to assist the growing minority ethnic population in the area.  This Centre supports approximately 175 people a month.  This outreach initiative at the Housing Executive’s office forms an integral part of our work in the community and I commend everyone involved.”

The clinics will continue at the Housing Executive’s office in Boat Street, Newry, each Tuesday until end March next year.