Art making, art therapy and training in northern France
Art Refuge returned to The Community Table in Calais in October 2021 to re-join colleagues from across the Channel in holding and delivering safe creative spaces, and continues to sit around the table on a fortnightly basis inviting conversation, art-making and the written word.
In summer 2015, Médecins du Monde invited Art Refuge to join their delivery of essential psychological services in the camp. We responded by offering open art therapy groups for two days weekly until the camp closed in October 2016 and subsequently worked in the area on a fortnightly basis. Art Refuge was unique in offering psychological support to all people, regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender or age, until the closure of the camp at the end of October 2016. We continued to provide this support in as cohesive and stable a manner as possible. Until the start of the Covid19 pandemic and the first UK lockdown in mid March 2020, our project took place in partnership with Médecins du Monde and the charity Secours Catholique, in a refugee day centre, in the Maria Skobtsova safe house and alongside a mobile clinic.
Around 70 refugees took part in our fortnightly arts-based groups. 95% of refugees who make it to the France-UK border at Calais are male, and most of our work was with unaccompanied young refugees, as well as adult men, and a small number of women and families. We used maps, kites, cyanotype, photography, film, stop-frame animation, building materials, plasticine and manual typewriters; adapting these to context. In addition, one of our tools - The Community Table - evolved out of practice in the day centre and safe house spaces in Calais, and has been adapted for other settings.
We developed a particular set of skills during our five year programme in Calais. This included offering training to other organisations working on the ground. Additionally, a small handful of the young people we worked have made their way to our groups in Bristol where our spaces have also utilised creative, flexible, culturally attuned approaches.
Our work in Paris began in 2019 at the invitation of our partner organisation the Secours Catholique-Caritas France. Initially we delivered face-to-face trainings to volunteers and workers within the day centre space, but shifted our work in 2020 during the pandemic to develop our project The Community Table Online.
Delivered initially on Zoom from the UK, we were able to span country borders and include people (volunteers, staff, interpreters, people experiencing displacement) in regular online creative spaces from both Calais and Paris. When the lockdown lifted in Paris during Autumn 2020we were able to straddle online and face-to-face delivery.
Since January 2021 two members of our team based in France, Naomi Press and Kate France, have offered The Community Table at the CEDRE on a fortnightly basis. As the months go by, and the relationship with the CEDRE grows and deepens, the activity has expanded to include a series of experiential workshops for CEDRE volunteers: Being Alongside, Hosting and Imagination.
Inviting visiting artists and practitioners to The Community Table, including Iranian artist Mehdi Yarmohammadi, (met through the Atelier des artistes en éxil) and ethnobotanist Véronique Desanlis. Taking on and supervising trainees from French Art Therapy school INECAT.
For Refugee Week 2022, Art Refuge and the CEDRE took the Community Table out into nearby cultural centre, Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, to raise awareness about the situation of displaced people, and open up dialogues within the local and international community.
Following on from this, in 2023, Art Refuge will deliver a series of monthly workshops with Les Laboratoires where people from the CEDRE will participate alongside local residents and associations.