It was a full and rich two days in Calais with bitter temperatures. The cold weather night shelter is currently open but people spoke to us about it being like a prison with regular patrols and many are reluctant to take the bus out to the shelter, preferring to try to sleep in their own tents in the hidden edges of Calais. Headlines about ten migrants rescued from the Channel were posted up across town. It’s not a place to be living out the winter and people are taking desperate measures.
We delivered our final of 6 arts-based psychosocial training sessions on Thursday evening, an evaluation session that also aimed at listening to what volunteers’ ongoing training needs are, as well as those of permanent staff engaged in this complex field.
We were privileged to have Majid Adin join us as a volunteer across the two days, travelling to Calais and back to London with us on the Eurotunnel, having made the journey across the Channel two and a half years ago in the back of a refrigerated lorry. A respected artist and film animator from Iran, his presence brought hope, humour and new content into the spaces and our practice.
The afternoon in the Secours Catholique day centre saw many individuals drifting into the space out of the cold. The atmosphere felt generally calm and kind, belying the large numbers, people from many different countries generally accepting of one another. Two young men worked across the afternoon at the table, one from Sudan, the other from Iran, both skilfully building their own unique structures with remarkable focus. With the building blocks as the main material, Majid brought sensitive humour to the table with the addition of playful, animated plasticine figures, one acquiring a gold chocolate wrapper and naming the figure Liberty Angel. Such activity encouraged other older men to join in, dropping the idea that play is just for children, taking their own creative risks.
Two members of our team joined the Medecins du Monde medical team. We had a number of conversations in front of the large bright map taped to the side of the ambulance. We also fielded requests from several young men who were asking for eye drops having experienced teargas; others asked for gloves. This exposed spot is particularly cold with sharp winds; small fires burned, a hot meal was served nearby. As we left we heard from one of the nurses that she’d just said goodbye to a family of four with two small children planning on embarking that night on a small boat to cross the Channel. There was nothing she could do to stop them.
In the biting wintry morning air we made the journey back to the site of the old ‘jungle’ camp so that Majid could have the opportunity to witness its new landscape as a nature reserve. He also wanted try to put together in his mind, and later through art-making, the same space brimming with activity and life when he occupied a tent there for 4 and a half winter months in 2015/16.
The day centre in the afternoon was full and the atmosphere a little more charged. Many people kept their coats on in spite of the warmth of the room. The building activity continued across the afternoon. A number of men, young and older, joined the table to briefly construct something or join in an extended period of making and conversation.
Majid’s presence at the table as an Iranian man alongside several of his fellow countrymen felt to us significant. His resilience helped to ground things for people as did his willingness to share his own story.
Bridging this space between people served in a manner to equalise things, particularly poignant for this time of year and at a time when there are so many kinds of divides.