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Essex, England 18.04.24

Yesterday we were in Dunkirk in northern France with Médecins du Monde, and today we were with a larger Art Refuge team in Essex, England. Since January we have been offering psychosocial group support to men housed in a former military camp in Essex. This is as part of a grant from the King Baudouin Fund to support the mental health and well-being of young men housed in Home Office accommodation. This work has so far taken the form of regular activity at a town-based church drop in, and three pilot workshops within the camp itself.

Today was our third session inside the camp. The weather was nicer than previously with trees in blossom and a sense of potential. We laid out the building bricks on a large map of the UK. Across the afternoon, around 30 men joined us. Our larger team of five allowed for activity to satellite away from the table and across the large recreational space - where men from the Middle East and north and central Africa chatted, played table tennis and pool. Security guards who themselves are displaced showed interest and even joined us at the table.

The transition from working in northern France yesterday, and in UK Home Office asylum accommodation today carries its complexities. It makes us aware of these, and sensitive to the careful path we need to walk, with is often about bridging between people, spaces and organisations in very complicated settings. It also gives us a small insight into the journey people seeking asylum here in the UK need to travel.

At the table, homes were built based on Somalia, Nigeria, Kurdistan, Afghanistan. One older man, who has joined us in the church drop in recently, today made a beautiful park scene and delighted in the photograph from above. Nearby, an artist balanced a chair on a brick on a table much to everyone’s delight.

We ended the session with a communal putting away of the bricks into their various boxes, men joining us in this ritual and rhythm, an important feature of the work.

Words by Bobby Lloyd & Miriam Usiskin.

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