Like most great ideas this one was formulated over wine between good friends, whilst reeling in this year’s overwhelmingly depressing events. Deciding that it was time to positively contribute to the universe, Crew for Calais’ call out video was the perfect answer.
After a few e-mails and a morning of booking travel, accommodation, and insurance, it all seemed a bit too easy. But it really was, and not because it’s in my nature (and job description) to be organised and savvy with paperwork, anyone can book the trip with ease. The only other admin to take care of was crowdfunding the cost of some of the expenses to get the pair of us out there (it should be said that we both donated as well). We were completely humbled by the response from our friends and family, in the end raising nearly twice the amount needed, which will be going towards more volunteers getting out there in the future.
On a very practical note, Calais is very easy and cost effective town navigate once you are there too. The buses run regularly, and the routes are simple, so even me and my non existent french managed to get off at the right bus stop. There are also bike hire schemes similar to London as well if you prefer.
Arriving at the warehouse (half way through the working day) was very sobering, suddenly the gravity of the work being done there became very real. Not that there was too much time to acknowledge that, as we got stuck in sorting clothes and packing sanitary kits for the rest of the day.
The following two days were just as full on, there are jobs to suit everyone. Although, it was run on a potluck system while I was there, so my advice would be to give anything a go and get stuck in (unless you’re really bad at putting up tents). If you are there for a week or more you'll be working with one team in a way that plays to your strengths. As stage managers with a wealth of relevant transferable skills for the situation, we really wanted to try and make sure we were tasked with the jobs that would get the most use out of us. However, because we were there for only a few days it wasn’t practical this time round. Never the less, it really impressed on me the importance of just being there to help. Every individual made and impact on the workload, and it truly didn’t matter if you were a teacher or a student or a pensioner because there is always work to be done.
They were long days and was mostly spent on your feet, and without trying to romanticise it too much, everyone was playing for the same team. It was brilliant to see the diversity of skills and backgrounds in the volunteers, and this made for some excellent coming together of ideas in tasks and great chit chat whilst working. The co-ordinators did a great job of impressing upon us the social and political importance of the warehouse supporting the camp and why we were there.
I stumbled upon a post on Instagram* during a tea break in the warehouse that read “Do everything with love.”. There couldn’t have been a more fitting mantra for the warehouse. It functions to help a group of people in the present situation they find themselves in, regardless of where they have come from or where they are going. So whether quality checking bedding, or making a production line of people to sort and size bras, it didn’t matter what the task was, it was about remember the importance of those items to the people that so desperately needed them.
These basic things offer a piece of humanity and dignity whilst in a world of unknowns. It may not seem like much, but it means something to ensure that what is sent to them is right, and if you do it with love, with humility, and some common sense, you’re doing it well.
I cannot recommend more highly going out there and getting stuck in. I had an excellent 3 days and wish I could’ve stayed for longer, but we have plans to return later in the year.
* I won’t apologise for being a product of my generation considering I’m writing a blog post.