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.
2015 - 2020 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.
At The Community Table, people who are displaced come together with people who are not. Around the table we make art together using carefully selected art materials and media. We have seen how even brief periods of time around the table can offer opportunities for absorption, distraction, imagination, communication and solidarity. The Community Table can positively hold diversity, build on people's own coping strategies, and support the mental health and wellbeing of all those taking part.
The Community Table evolved in a crisis context and has been translated into other settings. More than ever in these deeply fractured times we think that such real and virtual tables have a role to play in supporting an exchange of ideas, creative responses, as well as our shared humanity.
We began working in Paris in 2019 at the invitation of our partner organisation Secours Catholique - Caritas France. Initially delivering face-to-face trainings to volunteers and workers within the day centre space, we 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 2020 we were able to straddle online and face-to-face delivery.
More recently two members of our team based in France have returned to Le Cedre in Paris to offer The Community Table on a fortnightly basis.