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Karoline Zobens-East is a third generation British Latvian whose grandparents moved to Yorkshire after the Second World War. She co-founded www.latviesiem.co.uk. We spoke to Karoline about the Latvian community in London:
I was born in London but from birth have been heavily involved in the Latvian community both in London and England. Although not an EU migrant myself, I interact daily with people who have moved to London from Latvia recently.
The Latvian Community in London
It’s difficult to know the exact number of Latvians living in London, but recent figures suggest the number could be around 20,000. The community itself is much smaller and we can usually expect around 200 people at a large scale event inLondon.
The community is very active with a choir, a traditional dance group, a school and various other organisations and groups. The community actively organises all sorts of events from theatre productions, music concerts and karaoke evenings, to Independence Day celebrations and more formal, traditional celebrations.
The London Latvian House
The London Latvian House is the beating heart of the Latvian community in London: Latvian people, food, drink, music, and atmosphere. It’s the only place in London you will feel the traditions of Latvia at any time of the year.
When the Latvian House was originally bought by the Latvian Welfare Fund (back in the 1950s) its purpose was to be the central meeting point for Latvians in London so they could feel at home away from home.
Nothing much has changed since then. It gives all Latvians in London and the UK a place to stay, to meet friends (there’s a bar in the basement) and to hold all sorts of events.
The choir, dance group and school all use the Latvian house for their rehearsals and classes and the hall provides a perfect space for a small scale concert.
The Latvian bar is a place where Latvians can enjoy Latvian music, food, beer and sports on a regular basis. There are always Latvian beers available to buy, as well as stronger drinks, and on Fridays and Saturdays it’s possible to eat a traditional Latvian supper cooked by Latvian chefs. Every evening ends up in the favourite Latvian pastime – song!
In addition to all this there is also a Latvian library in the house which is open a few days a week which has a vast collection of Latvian books.
I think the Latvian House will also provide Latvians in London a place to come and watch Latvians competing in the Olympic Games. I expect the men’s BMX races to of particular interest, as the current Olympic champion happens to be a Latvian!
Where to Sample Latvian Culture
Apart from the Latvian House and specific events organised by the community, I don’t believe there are any other places in London where you can experience Latvian culture.
However, Latvian produce is available at most Polish and Lithuanian shops so it’s always possible to find a Latvian delight for your dinner!
Setting Up latviesiem.co.uk
I set up latviesiem.co.uk around two years ago, with a friend who moved to England from Latvia. Apart from a couple of websites and newspapers, we felt there was a lack of information about Latvian communities in the UK, and for Latvians who have recently moved to the UK.
We have information designed to help Latvians settle into life in the UK, as well as news about and for Latvians living in the UK. Here they can find travel, education, work and emergency information. Our main audience is Latvians living in the UK, therefore, most of the website is in Latvian.
Is there anywhere else you can experience Latvian culture in London? Tell us in the comments below.