Spend a weekend helping feed & clothe migrants in Calais

Have you ever wanted to help destitute migrants in Calais, but not known where to start? Calais Light runs a regular car convoy, every 3 months from Brentwood, taking ordinary people to chop vegetables, wood & sort donations for refugees, volunteering in the amazing Help Refugees UK Warehouse, Refugee Community Kitchen & Care4Calais in Calais, France. It’s a work of mercy!

“Calais Light” takes manpower & money, not physical donations

There is huge & desperate need for volunteers in Calais. Since the Jungle was demolished in 2016, the situation in Calais has become increasingly worse for the refugees stranded there. Tents and their personal possessions are routinely destroyed by the police so they are currently living on the margins, in squalid & inhuman conditions with no shelter, in the wild.

The work that the three grassroots charities we support in Calais, Help Refugees UK, Refugee Community Kitchen & Care4Calais do is irreplaceable and cannot be underestimated. If they didn’t cook and distribute hot, culturally relevant, meals once a day, toiletries, tents, clothes & supplies to the refugees they would be starving, cold, wet, sleeping in hedgerows, without access to even basic sanitation. 

We want to have as many people going to work there as possible. In order to achieve this, we have created a process that makes it so easy. There are no excuses! 

We bring like-minded individuals together, in a friendly, supportive group, and organise convoys from start to finish creating a seamless experience. This gives people the confidence to go on their own or take family and friends in the future.

We are based in Brentwood, Essex and that is where most of us depart on the convoy. However, we have small groups of volunteers travelling from all over the country or London and we can, if necessary, meet them at the ferry crossing in Dover.

Why ‘Calais Light’?

The whole point about Calais Light resides in the title “Light”. We make it a light and easy process so you can see how easy it is to go on your own with your friends and colleagues. It’s also ‘Light’ – because we are a ‘light-touch’ organisation. We’re small but we want to create a sustainable service, one where you take responsibility for yourself, with little fuss, questions & paperwork. The weekend makes it totally compatible with work if you ask for Friday off to volunteer!

It’s a process-light, easily copiable model & the aim is not to take hordes ourselves but to show others how EASY it is to get some friends or groups together, learn the ropes & do it themselves. We want to help (via a mushroom effect) to provide the Warehouse with a consistent all year round stream of GROUPS of volunteers, not just individuals.

We also note that our volunteers are transformed by sharing some of the uncertainty of the people we go to help. So, we keep details to a necessary minimum. We travel fast, light & communicate digitally. We’ve discovered that getting your hands dirty & helping real people who have nothing actually changes you!

Invite Calais Light Founder, Mary Stretch, to your school

Calais Light Founder, Mary Stretch was invited by St John Payne School in Chelmsford to do a talk on the Calais Refugee situation & Calais Light volunteers, with videos & music. I also explained forced migration across Europe, the reasons why some migrants want to come to the UK & official figures of how many refugees have been accepted by European countries, including the UK to date!

How does it work

  • We book everything! We take the ‘scariness’ out of volunteering alone
  • It’s cheap! Cheaper than you could do it alone.
  • We leave Brentwood Cathedral in Essex car park at 12 noon Friday prompt & return around 7pm Sunday. We share cars, 5 to a car. If you have a car – we’d love to have you because that’s what we need: Drivers!     
  • c. £85 covers the weekend, all in: car–sharing, petrol, ferry, 2 nights’ accommodation in the lovely, ultra-modern Auberge de Jeunesse in Calais, just 1 min from the fabulous Calais beach, all your meals bar Friday night, a night out with dinner at a restaurant.
  • So…if YOU are keen to help……  but can’t drive, don’t own a car, are nervous of doing something like this on your own, don’t speak French, don’t know where to find the refugees, struggle to book accommodation in French, or just want a ‘different’ volunteering opportunity – this is perfect for you
  • It’s compatible with work – It’s just one weekend. We know people get put off volunteering if they think it might involve weeks!

Who do we take:

We’ll take anyone, from anywhere in the UK, who is fit, of any religion. As long as you have the heart to help refugees!

You will be in a fun group with like-minded people of all ages from 18 – 70!  It’s a great way to meet new people and do something worthwhile with your time

Rules: Very few!

  • The work is 9-5.30 pm & tough but there is no heavy supervision. You can sit down and rest for as long as you like. The warehouse  culture works with “gentle organisation”
  • We travel in convoy to the charity warehouses & back again. However this isn’t a a school trip! You are free after work! We all eat dinner together or to hang out together on the beach or in town –that’s what makes it special and sociable!

It’s a low flap/high fun/hard work trip!! 😊 Our job is to help the refugees.

Three ways apply

  1. Click on the ‘Sign Up’ button in the top-right of the Calais Light Facebook page.
  2. Via our website
  3. Email us

If you can’t make it there are lots of other ways to help:

Please donate any cash you can spare or collect or hold a fund-raiser for Calais Light to help us with our work.

You can donate money via our JustGiving Crowdfunder posts on our “Calais Light” Facebook page or on our website.

Or come with us. Do something different!

Gemma Flint’s story

I can remember first taking notice of the refugee crisis in the autumn of 2016. Being a teacher and Head of Year at the time, I was keen to explore issues of humanity and global importance with my year group. After delivering several assemblies on the topic, I decided I really wanted to be more proactive and involved. I knew that I could organise a donation collection and use the school as a hub if needed and set about aiming to head over in the October half term. Unfortunately, I was heavily dissuaded by numerous people around me; ‘don’t go, it’s too dangerous’, ‘you’re already busy enough’, ‘what happens if your car gets stopped or attacked?’, ‘You can’t go on your own’. These comments plus a never ending workload meant that my great vision of packing up the car and heading over to Calais soon dissipated.

It wasn’t until the following summer that I a) realised that there was still an issue in Calais; b) had an opportunity to go alongside several other volunteers; and c) I could prioritise the time to go. Through a friend, I was fortunate enough to be given a place on the July 2017 weekend trip with ‘Calais Light’, a community group set up by Mary Stretch. From the first day at the warehouse, I was fascinated and knew this wouldn’t be the only visit. I was bowled over at the sheer scale of the operation, RCK producing 1400 hot meals per day, tens of volunteers from all walks of life busying themselves with chopping, peeling, washing and drying; the enthusiasm and compassion in the room was electrifying. I was ‘lucky’ enough to be invited to a food distribution that same first day so the real purpose of the visit became apparent very quickly. What you see in the field can only be described as soul destroying – grown men reduced to shells of a person, clinging on to any dignity that they can by taking pride in their appearance and interactions with volunteers. Families emerging out of the woods to collect their only meal of the day, children and babies, clinging to their mothers, hungry and sad.

Two days was not enough. I had to go back. I was fortunate enough to have a little more time before my next venture, so rather than frittering away my ‘spare week’, I booked a return ferry, sent out a social media plea for donations, packed up the car to the roof with clothes, shoes, tents, blankets and toiletries and headed down to Calais. I left Nottingham and travelled firstly via London for an interview to which I brought 4 rather large bags of men’s pants and socks which I had purchased at Primark first and then via Brentwood where volunteers from the previous weekend had come together and collected yet more donations ready for pick up.

I couldn’t really afford to spend money on accommodation so I camped in a tent outside one of the RCK caravans for 10 days. It was a bit odd at first being on my own, the journey didn’t bother me at all but the initial setting up camp was a little nerve wracking! Nevertheless I was soon submerged in the RCK culture, back in the kitchen working long, tiring hours but yet not watching the clock or feeling tired. The music, people, motivation and therapeutic enjoyment that comes from doing a bit of mindless chopping or peeling was more than enough to keep you going…and more. I attended several food distributions, each time, learning more about the reasons why people had fled their countries, why things happened the way they did, how the CRS police were treating them and how brave and strong these people were. I admired the way the long term volunteers respected their cultures and situations and could see that every decision, no matter how small, was well considered as the impact of a lack of consideration could be catastrophic in such an environment.

I was successful at the interview I attended in London so after I returned to the UK, I headed to Peru to volunteer in a girls orphanage for 5 weeks followed by some time travelling in Mexico then spent the winter working in the French Alpes. Although I haven’t been able to re-visit Calais until recently I continued to share my experiences with whomever I could throughout the winter as the situation is reported so poorly and/or incorrectly. As soon as I returned from working abroad and realised I had some time before my new contract began I made plans to head back to Calais. Except this time, I cycled! I had sold my car so, rather than fill it with donations and sulk about not being able to get there, I decided to raise money by cycling from Nottingham to Calais. I spent a week there this time, the first 3 days of which were with a friend who ‘had never done anything like this’ and ‘wouldn’t have come on her own’. It was great to see someone else’s eyes open to the truths that are hidden in Calais.

As always, the experience was heart breaking, especially seeing more young children in Dunkirk. Yet at the same time, the goodness remains. Volunteers continue to work hard to provide a little bit of humanity and compassion to hundreds of refugees on a daily basis. It is incredible that in one experience you get to see the result of the worst that people can do to each other yet see the best that humans are capable of. At no point did I question as to whether I should or shouldn’t volunteer on my own as you immediately become part of a safe, network of interesting, caring and empathetic people. I will continue to prioritise my time so that I can contribute to this cause, as unfortunately, the issue seems far from resolved and needs more people to help and spread the word. Allow yourself to make the time to do right by these deserved people, you won’t regret it!

Annabel’s story

Annabel raises £800 for Calais Light by completing the Wales Three Peaks Challenge

Annabel comes from Dudley in Birmingham and is a Housing Officer.  Over the last few years Annabel has been passionate about the crisis in Calais but never knew how to help or volunteer.  She recently came across Calais Light on Facebook and contacted us.  Annabel decided she wished to come on our convoy in September as it allowed her to volunteer for a weekend which fitted in with her job/life and also be with like-minded people.  But first, Annabel decided to do some fundraising for Calais Light.

Annabel wanted to do something out of her ‘comfort zone’ – she is not particularly sporty  – so decided on the Wales Three Peaks Challenge on 14th September with 3 friends.  She did not find it easy – in fact it was a huge struggle but she completed it.  51 people sponsored her – it was an amazing achievement.

Annabel says ‘it was a huge challenge but nowhere near as much of a challenge as it is for refugees on a daily basis.  The refugee crisis is not going away we need to act now and help these people in need to fight for their human rights.  Every person has a right to be safe and I am sure if this happened to any of you, you would hope someone would rescue you and your family’.