Aid trip to Calais

On behalf of DRS Pete Thorpe and Matt wright took a van load of aid to Calais on 4th December. They then volunteered for two days Matt in the woodyard and Pete in the kitchen.. Massive thanks to them both!

This is Matt's report.

"My overall impressions are of an extraordinary place, with volunteers from all walks of life giving time and working very hard to a common purpose – the support and well being of refugees in and around Calais.

Wood yard work. L’Auberge sends out 1 tonne of firewood every evening. This was made up of 65 large bags (over 12kg of wood) and 45 smaller bags (5kg). They have mapped the fire pits. Refugees are moved on every 2 days, but return to the fire pits; or new groups arrive and take over existing fire pits.

The wood yard is well organised. Large quantities of pallets arrive – I didn’t find out how these are sourced, but I believe they are donated; as is other scrap wood. A large flat-backed lorry load of wood arrived while I was there. They do buy in logs/hardwood to augment the bags that are sent out. Bags are filled with some kindling; lots of softwood from pallets etc; plus a couple of logs/hardwood chunks. Essentially everything needed to get a fire going.

These bags go out on the evening “distro” – distribution – which I didn’t get involved in.

Wood yard work is essentially a production line operation. Outside the yard, pallets are broken up – see photo for tools including large homemade pry bars. Nails are flattened and the wood stacked on a pallet for the forklift to take through to the yard. Here there are 2 chop saws; operated by long-term term volunteers with appropriate training. There is a large store of wood here; more dry storage was being created while I was there.

In the afternoon bags are made up – extra kindling is also produced if there isn’t enough small stuff from the pallet breaking. These are then loaded for distribution.

The mix of volunteers was different each day; the person in charge of the yard takes everyone through the process, so the jobs and purpose are made clear.

It is hard work; breaks for tea and lunch are taken and are important for recovery but also to chat and find out more. Wibb, in charge on my second day, was clearly proud of the set up he had up and running. He also filled in a lot of the background I didn’t know. From the press reports I’d read I thought the migrants who had returned to the Calais area were mostly young men. In fact there are many families there and many minors. There are 2 people in wheelchairs. For many of the migrants it is only a year or two since they were living normal family lives, so they are up to date with what’s happening – in music and football for example; they have phones and are in touch with what’s going on. Many have lived in Britain before and have friends or family here. Many would know exactly what to do if they were able to come here. They also know what is likely to happen – where they would be sent first for example.

Returning to overall impressions, it seems there are many long term volunteers who have taken on roles managing wood yard, kitchen and warehouse. The organisation seemed pretty tight, especially given that each section could have a new mix of experienced and inexperienced volunteers every day. Meetings each morning set out the purpose of L’Auberge as well as ethos of respect for all; plus basic safety and common sense advice. I attended these both mornings; but if you were there longer you could get straight on with work. Information is everywhere – notices, see Pete’s photos; info from the people you work with; and field training if you were staying longer. People running the different sections seemed to have a real clear mission and grasp of what they needed to accomplish each day – how many meals needed; how much wood etc. I saw less of the warehouse, although I did help load a lorry with stuff not needed at L’Auberge and bound for another charity they work with. It does seem that nothing useful goes to waste.

Although many volunteers, us included, knock off around 5 it’s clear that the work goes on after. Kitchen work carried on late into the evening and distributions go out.

People I met were eager to chat; friendly; willing to work hard. It is an inspiring place to be for a few days. I imagine a long term stint would be hard. Some volunteers I spoke to had found cheap local accommodation with someone who had previously worked in L’Auberge. My personal advice if you go out – keep an open mind, try and get involved where you think you can be most useful; chat lots!"

Matt Wright