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Shape Shifting


This week there was a noticeable difference in temperature, and season in Calais, with the frequency of rainstorms increasing and extended darkness at the start and end of the day. As well as dwindling supplies of shelter and clothing, the number of volunteers on the ground in Calais has dropped and is impacting upon the capacities of some additional services that had been put in place over recent months.

THURSDAY Day Centre Within minutes of Secours Catholique opening their doors, the boys and men had put their phones on to re-charge and once this task had been completed, it was time to find a cup of tea or coffee and somewhere to sit. Following on from last week’s need to find a hill top, a sense of perspective, a viewing point, we set out the table with scenes of high and low points, of water and green spaces created through found objects and newly introduced materials.

We were joined by a volunteer from Secours Catholique who had a cup of tea poured by one of the staff members, who he commented reminded him of his grandma. With him, we acknowledged the huge significance of the ladies in the team who serve tea, change bandages and share a joke whilst handing out sweets. A box of beautiful fabrics brought softness to the houses that over the session evolved into a small village scene. Wild flowers that had been picked in early August from the surrounding fields were carefully selected from a small dried bunch and placed in a clay pot to decorate the yard. We noticed that the session enabled moments of individual attention from us as women in the Art Refuge UK team: and a sense that coming together with our colleagues at Secours Catholique, we perhaps represent family, hospitality and a welcome place to rest.

The builders of the group offered direction and guidance in the mixing of cement for the casting of new bricks. Across the table, another man used some soft plasticine to make his own brick that was pressed and made into a staircase so that the dweller of his house could reach the flat rooftop to smoke cigarettes- a simple place where it was possible to rest and reflect. As he completed his dwelling and yard, a young teenage boy created a space that grew more inviting and safer, welcoming the help of a team member in quietly putting together a plasticine gathering of people relaxing and drinking tea together. He created a safe space in the art therapy group, within the temporary walls of the day centre and joined his piece of land up to his neighbour’s.

A sheet of gridded paper helped a boy to draw a three dimensional box, which was echoed across the table in a 3D box made of paper and a little later in the same seat, an adolescent boy folded some paper, making a tiny box and flattening it out and rebuilding it. He pointed at the little box and said “baby”, immediately finding another piece of paper to make a bigger box…big enough for the little box to fit inside… “father”. Pleased with his creations, he then made one big boat and one little boat, placing one inside the other. We felt moved by the houses and places that are shared with us in the group. It feels that these memories are carried along with people somewhere internally, and are then recreated with care and attention through the art materials.

FRIDAY Staff at the Secours Catholique meeting this morning were worried about condition of teenagers; cold, ill, and insufficiently clothed and resourced. Donations are running low in Calais for clothing and blankets. The showers are very slowly being installed as directed by the court in Lille, but in the current places to wash they only have cold water and the boys and men have little to dry themselves with, returning to the centre on cool and windy day with wet hair.

Safe House Returning to the safe house this week the group emerged gradually from different places in the house; warm moments in a sunny yard chatting, cosy beds, and errands outside to visit friends in hospital. Many members of the household joined us today and we had a sense of a gentle but sustained pace to the session. Conversations flowed around the table about peoples choice of career; how you gradually find out what want to do in your life and where your talents might lie. One young man persistently worked away at his sculpture of a snake and goblet. Explaining its significance as the professional symbol for a pharmacy and sparking our interests into the origins of this symbol in Greece. The ‘Bowl of Hygieia’ and the ‘Rod of Asklepios’.

Elsewhere around the table, small buildings with unusual roofs were built and filled with lights, drawings coloured, and carefully sculpted clay animals placed together. The sense of group care and mutual interest in each others creation was vividly alive in the house today.

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