CBCC member interview - Petr Torak MBE, Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic

Petr Torak MBE talks about his interesting career journey from the arrival in the UK in 1999 till receiving MBE in 2015 and becoming an Honorary Consul in 2021 as well as his extensive work for migrant and underprivileged communities and so much more…

Please briefly introduce yourself….

I was 18 when I arrived in the UK. Naturally I did a lot of jobs first – I worked at customer services, in various sectors, you name it. I simply started at the bottom just like everybody else in a similar situation. In 2006 I joined the Cambridgeshire Constabulary as a community officer, then got promoted to the response team that goes out to incidents and lastly to a detective role investigating modern slavery offences, hate crimes and other serious offences. After 11 years I left the job and became the CEO of the Compas Charity where I still am and 11 months ago, I assumed the role of an Honorary Consul in Peterborough.

Did you always have aspirations to be part of the police force?

I studied a private law academy in Liberec and completed my university degree in the UK in criminology and psychology. Originally, my aim was to go into social work sphere but then throughout the studies I really enjoyed the law, so the last year of my studies in addition to applying to a few universities I also applied for a position with the local police in Liberec. That of course materialised later in the UK.

After more than 20 years in the UK, would you ever go back to the Czech Republic?

Yes, it’s not if, it’s when. I definitely want to go back one day. We planned it many times but it’s difficult to find the right time, particularly when you have children. Maybe when our children are at the university, it may be possible as we’ll be more independent. If it doesn’t work, then definitely for retirement.

Can you summarise your community work?

In addition to the Compas Charity which I’ve mentioned, I also work with young children at the World Forum Foundation based in the US; the organisation has leaders and branches in different countries. I am their contact person for the Czech Republic as well as a global leader for the UK. It’s about early childhood development, so the age group between 0 and 7 years. In addition, I take part in other projects with schools in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, mentoring, presenting role models to kids from different backgrounds.

Where do you find the time for all this?

Sometimes it’s 70 hours per week but I am so passionate about it. That’s why I left police - to dedicate more time to these activities. Police work was my dream job, but this area is even more important for me and that is why I do it. I find the time although it’s interfering with our life. The Honorary Consul role is on top of everything; however, it opens lots of doors and helps me show, not just to the Roma community but especially to young generations, that there are possibilities and if they work hard, they can achieve a lot. In addition, it is about projecting a positive image to the general public about the Czech Republic giving the chance to a Roma person like me.

You left your country for the UK due to racially-motivated attacks, has the country become more tolerant?

That’s a difficult question to answer. There were times when I felt it had improved a lot but then sometimes I still experience the same attitude as 20 years ago. It feels it’s settled in people. I’ve never said that the nation is racist, it is in individuals. I have so many good friends there, my family is non-Roma and none of them thinks like this. It’s silently engrained in people; they don’t publicly protest against Roma people. The UK has the same problem but the difference is in legislation as the Czech system often fails the victims of hate crimes and discrimination.

In 2015 you received the Most Excellent Order of British Empire (MBE), were you surprised?

I was shocked. Having come to the UK as an asylum seeker, an 18-year-old boy, with no hopes, feeling hurt, with no firm plan, starting from scratch, working in factories and elsewhere, I would’ve never expected something like this. It was quite surprising also because one has to be nominated by a number of people.

You opened the Honorary Consulate in the pandemic…

I tried to open it around 2015/16 but I was still with the police force and it was declined due to the conflict of interest. I couldn’t work for both the UK and Czech governments. After I left, I got some experience providing a similar support to the Slovak Embassy, helping Slovakian citizens with passports and other things, but the Czech Embassy wasn’t able to do that, so I applied for the Honorary Consulate again. The approval came so timely as after Brexit people were desperate to arrange new passports, translation of birth certificates, applications for certification of citizenship, for example, and with the Consulate in Peterborough, they didn’t have to take a day off and go to London. The feedback was so positive. At the start we were a bit overwhelmed with hundreds of people but for me there is a huge purpose in this; it’s so beneficial.

Why did you join the CBCC?

For me as an Honorary Consul this is a great opportunity to promote what I do and that I am here to help Czech citizens. In addition, I aim to promote Czech history, culture and art and well as Czech businesses here in Peterborough and vice versa. I believe there is a big potential.

How would you define yourself in three words?

Determined, confident…. and curious.

What do you in your spare time?

When I have spare time, I exercise. I used to run only but now I also do weight-lifting, at least four times a week.

More information about Petr Torak MBE can be found here: http://www.petrtorak.com/

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email tereza@cbcc.org.uk if you are interested.

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