Overwhelming vote foreshadows new leadership for Kensington-based institution By James Brewer
An extraordinary situation faces the Polish Hearth Club in London, following its extraordinary general meeting when a convincing vote overturned a decision of a few weeks ago to put the club premises in Exhibition Road up for sale.
There was a call at the packed meeting to choose a fresh committee, to include as new chairman one of the leading campaigners against the sale decision, artist Barbara Kaczmarowska Hamilton, and this will be considered at a further extraordinary general meeting during June.
Earlier there had been a noisy demonstration outside the club by around 50 people with loud hailers.
Some 100 people attended the meeting, where the vote was reported to be three in favour and about 80 against a committee proposal to sell the club, with a few abstentions.
Born in the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot, Ms Hamilton, known as Basia professionally and to her friends, is an internationally acclaimed artist who has portrayed many high-profile sitters including Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Duke of Kent , Prince Michael of Kent, the Duchess of York, and former Polish president Lech Walesa. In 1994, Mr Walesa awarded her the Order of Merit “in recognition of her precious contribution to the spreading of Polish culture and art.”
The future of the club will now in the first instance be in the hands of a new committee, to be elected at the next meeting. Members meanwhile carried a vote of thanks to outgoing chairman Andrzej Morawicz for his many years of devoted service to the club.
Among proposals to date to put the club on a sound financial basis and enable it to pay for urgent maintenance, is an offer from the government of Poland to buy the building at a market price, likely to value it at around £20m. A move of this nature would secure the club’s role as a home for Polish cultural events, including the celebrated tradition of hosting book launches. While welcoming such an initiative, many people would rather a solution be found to allow the club to remain wholly independent.
The campaigners have fought against a sale to any commercial interest because they feared the premises would fall into the hands of property developers without sufficient respect for tradition.
The Duke of Kent and Lord Parkinson are among those who have opposed an outright sale of the Kensington-based club, known in Polish as Ognisko Polskie. The club was founded 71 years ago for Poles who were regrouping in Britain when Poland fell to the Nazi invasion to be bitterly fought over by Soviet forces. It was the meeting place of the Polish government in exile, and continued to be the headquarters of oppositionists for 50 years.