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Calais, France 24/11/23

Two years ago today - 24.11.21 - the deadliest cross Channel disaster in 30 years took place, with the tragic deaths of 31 people who died trying to cross to the UK in a small boat from France. Earlier this week two people lost their lives in the sea. There were other shocking deaths in Calais itself this month, largely unreported. Conditions people are existing in are worse than ever.

Blue sky and cotton wool clouds met us when we arrived in Calais - but this was deceptive as the winds were brutal. Looking out to sea from the beach, the sand blasted across our faces. As we watched the dramatic waves rolling from high white foam, peak to peak, crashing into the sand it seemed inconceivable to cross such a sea in a small boat.

The day centre reopened today after a week’s closure due to violence and disturbances. Supported by its amazing group of staff and volunteers who manage the day centre with a range of duties to fulfil, around 650 men soon filled the space.

The particular creative outlet that we offer is unique in this setting. Today we witnessed people using The Community Table to help process events and attempt to make sense and meaning out of their situation. A man used watercolours to paint a tropical beach scene which he generously shared so that others could access the image in different ways. He also demonstrated how to make a small paper boat. People retold their sea journeys from Libya to Italy, as well as their longed for journeys to the UK.

One man found a miniature figure that he delighted in noting was wearing the same coloured clothes as his own. As he placed it on the watercolour beach, he communicated “this is me, I can actually look at a beautiful world.” It was a moment of hopefulness which we reflected back to the artist, translating in Google that he had actually made a beautiful world for everyone there at the table.

Words by Bobby Lloyd & Miriam Usiskin.

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