The British Council has been operating in Poland for over 80 years, promoting British culture, engaging in social projects, providing examinations services and teaching English. Since opening, the English language has been at the heart of our work, creating cultural relations between the UK, Poland and the rest of the world.
The history of the British Council in Poland goes back to the year 1938. Warsaw was one of the first five cities in the world where the British Council created its office outside of the UK. After a short break in operations caused by the Second World War, the British Council in Poland re-opened its doors.
In 1946 the British Council reopened, concentrating its work on the popularisation of British culture. The scope of activities included English teaching and summer courses in the UK, exchange programmes for Polish and British scientists and scholars, showcasing British art and providing access to a library and English teaching posts at universities.
After the first post-war elections in January 1947, the communist government was elected and Russian became the main language in schools. English studies were strongly discouraged.
The political situation become more liberal after the elections in 1956 and the demand for English language lessons increased. New technologies were introduced into teaching and the British Council even gave correspondence courses using gramophone records!
From 1958 a strong focus of the British Council’s operation was on teaching English. In December that year, at the request of the Ministry of Higher Education, the first pilot scheme of the Cambridge Proficiency Examinations in Poland was held on the Council’s premises.
In the 1960s, prominent art events were organised in Poland by the British Council: the Henry Moore Exhibition which broke gallery records; the Old Vic Theatre Company with visitors crowding the theatre; Royal Ballet with Dame Margot Fonteyn which was the first foreign company to perform in the newly reconstructed Opera House in Warsaw and the “British Painting from Hogarth to Turner” exhibition at the National Museum in Warsaw, which was visited by over 70,000 viewers.
The English language increased in popularity, with over 75,000 students in universities choosing English in 1967, making it the second most popular foreign language.
In the 1970s the following art events were featured: the London Contemporary Dance Company’s visit to Warsaw and Gdańsk, a visit from the Royal Shakespeare Company and a performance of Ballet Rambert in Warsaw, Łódź and Poznań.
In 1978 the governments of the United Kingdom and Poland signed a convention on cultural, educational and scientific cooperation, which is still in force today and outlines the areas of mutual work.
In the early 1980s, there was apprehension when Martial law was introduced in Poland. However the British Council continued to operate as normal delivering education to the Polish people.
In 1980s and 1990s, the British Council continued its educational and cultural work, funding scholarships, training teachers, lending books, films, music records, and showcasing British arts.
On 26 March 1996 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened the Teaching Centre in Warsaw and in 1999 the Teaching Centre in Krakow was opened.
Since Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004, the British Council has also delivered cultural and social projects with a European focus.
In 2008 the British Council library was moved to a new location in Praga Południe at 5 Meissnera St where it thrives until today.
To see what we are up to nowadays find out about current projects and learning opportunities.