Our time in France began early with the unexpected news of the temporary closure of the day centre. Due to the overwhelming numbers of displaced people accessing the space there it has been a struggle for staff to maintain a good enough space of care within the centre. We were very aware of the anxiety this decision caused for these colleagues, of not being able to provide a safe and stable enough space to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of vulnerable young people and adults who are trying to exist around the Calais area.
We made a brief trip to Dunkerque to collect our materials and art work from the Médecins du Monde office which were thankfully safe from the destruction caused by the devastating fire a few weeks previously. On returning to Calais we were invited to extend our sessions in the Safe House over the two days. This provided an opportunity for more members of the household to spend time using the materials and joining together in the art making and creative support we offered.
There was an immediate need to convey news about the incessant and escalating violence towards many of the young people we know and work with. From the staff who support the house, we were aware of a heightened sense of fear for their safety and wellbeing. The house is full, and the young people are feeling trapped and isolated. They seemed subdued and restricted; dreading the violence they face on the streets.
Over the two days the dining room table became the creative arena where we laid out a selection of bricks, pastels, self-hardening clay and paints. The bricks became walls, houses, a smallholding, churches and sacred places with landscape backdrops. There were discussions about what is needed to make a home, remembering the connectivity of ceremonies and traditions that link so closely to family.
We became aware of the absence of even short journeys outside the house this week. As individuals felt unable to move freely, a closer exploration of the meaning of home was brought to mind. The locus and nature of different homes, past, present and future was considered by everyone around the table. We joined in discussions about those who have moved on from the house and the former Calais camp, remembering those we know who have arrived to places of safety.
A staff member shared his experiences of accompanying a number of individuals through their safe and legal passage to the UK, a journey which can be distressing and highly anxiety-provoking following experiences of extreme turmoil. There was an awareness of the care necessary in this process, of the significance of being able to support from door to door, from one pair of safe hands to the care of another.
Our usual Friday routine of visiting our friends in the hostel was thankfully uninterrupted amidst the flux of this week. We spent time together carefully selecting and mixing colours to paint the much treasured clay objects made in previous weeks. This felt nurturing, the objects holding identity, tradition, and reconnection to family. Again, this week’s discussion centred around place, home and belonging; what future plans are possible, where can life be rebuilt?