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Calais, northern France, November 23-24 2022

Yesterday evening we joined a commemorative march in Dunkirk before crossing the English Channel by train back to the UK. Other memorials were held in Paris, Folkestone, London, all marking the first anniversary of the tragic deaths of more than 30 people desperately trying to make the same journey in a small inflatable boat.

Underpinning the work in the refugee day centre over the last two days were thoughts of those who died, alongside an acute awareness that many of those using the service were preparing to make the same dangerous journey.

The weather in Calais was harsh with stormy winds and fierce rain, although there were fleeting flashes of blue sky. It’s a very grim reality for those living outside.

The Community Table was full and rich, both days being very busy. The World Cup popular in the main room, a real community feel developed organically at the table, with friends encouraged to come along, English and French lessons happening alongside the typewriters, people joining with a variety of skills and a liveliness.

A range of modern and traditional houses grew around the table. A young boy from Syria built an ambitious new structure to house a community, alongside other small worlds with plasticine creatures. Little English or French was being spoken by those who joined us which meant that we needed to use different ways to communicate, enabling the materials to come into their own alongside the use of picture dictionaries and Google translate.

Our collection of old black and white landscape photographs gave both a gravitas and meaning to conversations and interactions. One man paused briefly at the table and found a photo: ‘where is this?’ he asked. ‘A stone village high in the mountains somewhere’. ‘I would like to go to this place’ he said - while others found images that stirred gentle memories of places they knew well.

Words by Miriam Usiskin & Bobby Lloyd

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