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Transformation and Possibility


Butterfly House

The first days of spring brought with it the sun’s warmth, which enabled people to enter the Butterfly House with a sense of possibility and hope.

It was also the last day for our colleague from Médecins du Monde with whom we have worked over the past 5 months. With so much loss and uncertainties around reconnecting with loved ones, there was for our colleague a struggle imbued with sadness at having to say goodbye to a group of people with whom meaningful relationships have been formed. It highlighted for us the depth of connections that have been built despite the backdrop of wariness and mistrust.

What seemed particularly apparent today was the emergence of a strong community within the space; networks have been formed providing mutual respect and care for each other, despite the difficulties over the past week which has meant that the space has not been able to be opened.

One little boy wanted to stick his picture firmly to the wall using sellotape. The sellotape then became an exploration of testing strength, its tautness versus flexibility. The scissors used to cut gently and yet also aggressively the tape. There was transformation of serious absorption into playfulness. He beamed with pleasure at seeing his finished piece securely attached within the space.

Adults and children were able to give each other time to talk, both individually and within groups. This enabled some rich and varied conversations, where several people talked to us about finally changing their ideas about where they wanted to settle; One young man spoke of finally deciding to stay in France in order to get on with university and education, whilst another woman talked about returning to Germany so her children could begin school and a sense of future could begin. There was talk of the struggle necessary to be able to transform one dream into another in order to make space for other futures that are possible and positive.

A young man spoke eloquently of his love for Rumi’s poetry and how he himself wrote as a means to tolerate the situation he was in. Poetry was for him a way of reconnecting to the heart, managing the absence of loved ones far away. Speaking about differences, he talked of the shared desire to belong being what unites us with one another; the need for all to be connected with family and to make a future outside of conflict.

A long term resident, who is well known to us, delighted in trying out chalk pastels for the first time. An accomplished artist, this was a new media for him, and he was able to take the time to relish and enjoy the experience of gaining mastery over a new material. Making several images, he was keen to then share his work with his friends, and photograph it for us to publish.

Many spoke to us about the importance of being able to access studios and art materials, keen to hold onto their links with us, thinking about their lives further down the line of their individual journeys. “Will I be able to find a studio to work in the UK”, “I might need your help in getting my old artwork sent on when I am safe”.

Our colleague from the Safe House in Calais came to visit us in the camp with a wider team which had worked extensively and long term in the former Calais camp to facilitate community dialogue and support groups that were integral to resolving many of the conflicts and complex situations that occurred within the camp. They are looking to develop a similar initiative here in Dunkerque, and we were pleased to welcome them into the community we work alongside at the Butterfly house.


In the morning we visited to the homeless hostel to see the group we support. We initially talked with one man alone and heard his hurt and frustration at being treated with little respect in his current context. Eloquently stating that “this situation is like digging in water”. There was a need to have the space and opportunity to express what feels like an unbearable situation; navigating the complexities of his legal process whilst living in an environment that feels punitive.

When his friends joined us, self-hardening clay was introduced to the group and cautiousness gave way to experimentation with the possibilities of a new material. A command was made by one of our friends, “Lets use this clay to create our futures!” Working with clay seemed grounding and the rhythm of silence, making, and conversation about methods of making and firing clay in different places settled the mood into a more positive and hopeful space.


We arrived early as the Day Centre was closed due to a meeting and found the space busy with volunteers gathering to drop off supplies and exchange information. A very memorable person reappeared, whom we have not seen for many months since the ending of the Calais camp, a young man who is now being cared for by a foster family. He joined us around the table alongside residents and volunteers both settling into the now familiar routine of making work together.

There was a companionable silence and absorption in creating imagery. One man worked with quiet precision as he drew portraits and a detailed picture of a cross copied form his phone.

There was an exchange of interesting conversations around how we use art and reflective discussions around the impact of the work created in the previous week’s session. Experimentation with various materials occurred, using crayon to rub the surface design of crosses, watercolour washes over oil pastels, sensitive pencil drawings and tracings.

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