Care in Calais

Volunteering with Help Refugees in Calais and Dunkirk

For a number of years I have been following the work of Help Refugees, a charity which provides humanitarian aid for refugees worldwide. Their biggest operations are in Lesbos, Greece and Northern France. In July last year, I volunteered in their warehouse in Calais for a fortnight.

The so-called ‘Calais Jungle’ was demolished in 2016, however, there still remains approximately 1600 displaced people living around Calais and Dunkirk; almost 300 of these are unaccompanied children. Many are from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. There is some indoor accommodation available but most migrants are living in make-shift camps in woodland or in between sand dunes.

Help Refugees and several other charities operate from a large warehouse open all year, on the outskirts of Calais. It is a labyrinth of lines of clothes, tents and toiletries with boxes piled high. As well as providing clothing and toiletries, the warehouse also has a kitchen that produces and distributes hot meals every day, a wood yard store for the winter and an information bus that provides refugees with legal information. There were also a number of other projects running from the warehouse including the Refugee Women’s Centre, L’ Auberge des Migrants, Refugee Youth Service and Human Rights Observers. The long term volunteers were continuously busy with tasks such as making sure the refugees were getting medical treatment and finding accommodation for family groups.

Each morning began with a briefing, with updates on the camps, police activity and the number of meals needed for the day. This was then followed with a short ‘wake up activity’ such as yoga. The work was very flexible, so I split my time in three different areas. For the first week, I helped in the main warehouse, sorting out donations and preparing arrival packs, tents, bedding and hygiene items to be distributed.  Three of those days were spent cleaning old tents which had been salvaged from Glastonbury, there were some interesting finds!

In my second week, I volunteered with the Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) which is connected to the warehouse. They provide and distribute hot dinners every day in Dunkirk and Calais. Working in the kitchen was good fun, preparing vegetable to loud French dance music! I went with the RCK to Dunkirk where we served food to refugees outside a leisure centre, which was being used temporarily to house women and children. There were also a number of temporary shelters and tents surrounding the centre. The atmosphere seemed quite optimistic. After we finished serving we chatted with some of the refugees and a few youngsters attempted to teach me a bit of Kurdish.

I also spent a couple of days helping clean a safe house run by a local church group. The house had become infested with bedbugs and needed to be thoroughly cleaned following the fumigation. The volunteers at the house had left their jobs to work in Calais and made me feel very welcome, serving me dinner and inviting me to a celebration one evening.

At times the experience was quite upsetting. Whilst I was there, a young gentleman had passed away whilst hiding in the luggage section of a coach and a child contacted the charity for help from within a refrigerator lorry. It was also harrowing to see the shelters that some of the refugees were staying in. One night there was a heavy thunderstorm, it felt wrong that I was comfortable and dry in a youth hostel when there were hundreds of people spending the night under tarpaulins.

However, what struck me in Calais was how strong, kind and positive many of the refugees were, despite their plight. There was a real community atmosphere in the warehouse, with a strong focus on inclusion. The other volunteers were from all walks of life and from all over the world including Australia, South Africa and Mexico. I spoke to one woman in her 80s who travels to Calais every month from London to mend clothes and sleeping bags.

The dedication of the long term staff was incredible; many had been there for years and had seen many upsetting things. I also felt the charities really looked after their volunteers, for instance, after each distribution the team would meet to discuss their experiences and discuss any issues they had. Volunteers were also encouraged to take regular breaks and take days off to prevent ‘burning out’. There were also workshops and mental health talks regularly available.

If you’re thinking about volunteering in Calais I would highly recommend it, even if it’s for just a couple of days. I met some really interesting people and it really opened my eyes to the situation on the other side of the Channel.  If you have any warm clothes, camping equipment or tinned food that you’d like to donate it would be very welcome in Calais.

Rosie X

Bastille Day Fireworks, Calais

The Joy of Letter Writing

Is there still a place for handwritten letters and cards?

The art of letter writing is dwindling, which of course is inevitable in our technology saturated world. In some respects being continuously connected is a good thing, we can keep updated on the news and contact friends living in other towns or countries. However, as we hide behind our screens we’re also missing out on meaningful human interactions and connections. We’re also being continuously pumped with a constant plethora of messages and notifications, which can be quite overwhelming as well as inconsequential; how many of us have forgotten to reply to a message, despite always having our phones glued to our hands?

Do you remember that feeling as a child when you received something in the post and you felt excited and extremely important? I would say currently 90% of the post I receive doesn’t invoke these feelings. It’s usually something bland like a bank statement, a bill or some life admin I need to complete (and not really keen on doing). There’s something wonderfully sentimental about receiving ‘pleasant post’ such as a card, postcard or even a handwritten letter. Someone has taken time out to switch off from their phone, sit down and write. A letter is also more tangible than an email, it’s something that we can see and touch, as well as save and cherish.

Last week I decided that I would send some handmade letters to friends and family.  I made tiny envelopes from an old Dulux colour chart and attached them to some brown card. They did look a little makeshift and I will not be starting an Etsy page any time soon, but I was quite pleased with my effort.

Once the cards were made, I started to write. I did feel a little like a character in a Jane Austen novel; sitting with my quill (Biro) at my desk, looking wistfully out of the window. The first thing I noticed was how messy my handwriting was. I rarely write anything at the moment and when I do it’s usually done in haste or carelessly, such as a shopping list, note taking or jotting down an appointment in my diary. I recently came across a story I had written aged about nine or ten, my handwriting was incredibly neat and legible, currently it is quite the opposite.

For the first few letters I struggled to think of relevant things to mention and the fluidity was terrible.  However, once I completed a few cards it seemed to come more naturally and I had almost too much to say. Like most things, the art of letter writing improves with time and practice. It also felt quite satisfying posting the letters; it was nice to complete an activity that I actually had something to show at the end.

I’m going to endeavour in writing more letters and cards. As well as improving handwriting and storytelling skills, it is also a meaningful way of connecting with friends and family.  As we’re trying to come through this pandemic, it seems even more important to stay in touch with one another through letter writing.

If you have any letter writing tips or card ideas, I would love to hear them.


How to be a Self-Isolating Slob

Don’t worry about perfecting your downward facing dog or mastering Japanese

It’s a bizarre and scary time, a lot of people are unwell and most of us are social distancing at home. In light of this you would have thought it would be a great time to escape those normal every day pressures and concentrate on what is important. However, I’m seeing continuous online magazine articles and advertisements on how we should be bettering ourselves by learning a new language, getting the ‘perfect’ body, excelling in yoga, reading classical literature and producing freshly baked bread daily.  These reinforce the message that we should still strive for the ‘Perfect Instagram Lifestyle’, but now from our living room.

This is an opportunity to get a break from those everyday burdens.  How often are we told to stay at home?  We should now be using this time for relaxing (which we seldom have the opportunity to do), doing things that make us happy (even if that means watching The Stranger on Netflix) and re-connecting with friends and family.   I’m not saying that we should be complete slobs, it’s still important to have a basic routine and exercise regularly, but just don’t be too hard on yourself.  If you didn’t run a marathon in your exercise session, who cares? What’s more important is using your this time to look after YOU! So embrace your leg hair or grow that beard, go make up-free, give your hair a break from the shampoo and limit your time on social media.

I hope everyone is keeping well and big thank you to all the NHS staff.  I leave you with my slob’s alternative quarantine guide.

Rosie  X

A Slob’s Quarantine Timetable

08.00 Alarm goes off. Press snooze button
08.30Turn alarm off after pressing the snooze button 6 times
08.45Scroll through Twitter
09.00Watch Joe Wicks’ work out on YouTube while you sit on the sofa eating Frosties
09.45Second breakfast
10.00Turn on BBC 2 for Homes Under the Hammer. Judge the landlords for not reading the lease before they bought the property.
11.00Switch over to This Morning to see what Phil and Holly are up to. You’re appalled that it’s Eamonn and Ruth.
12.30Deliberate about getting showered, decide there’s not much point
13.00Coffee Break
13.30Zoom meeting with friends, but all you can see is yourself
13.45Watch Neighbours. You haven’t seen it in years but just want to make sure Toadfish is still alive
14.45Another Zoom meeting with family, spend most of the call focusing on spot on forehead
15.00Coffee break then wonder round the house aimlessly
16.00Decide to ‘Marie Kondo’ your wardrobe but end up looking outside at the sunshine
17.00Watch the government’s daily press conference
17.30Get bored/scared so turn over to Channel 5 to re-watch Neighbours, just in case they’ve added another scene
18.00Realise you haven’t left the house all day and its getting dark. Bound outside to make the most of your one permitted outing
18.30Start to make spaghetti Bolognese but realise there is no pasta, so you will just have to have ‘Toast Alla Bolognese
19.30Second dinner of the leftovers which were meant to be kept for tomorrow
20.00Have an online quiz session with university friends
21.00Start watching a new show on Netflix
23.00Yes Netflix I’m still watching
01.00Decide you will finish new Netflix show tomorrow
01.15Attempt to go to sleep but can’t due to impending death.

Five Comedy Podcasts to Listen to Whilst Self-Isolating

The world feels a strange place at the moment *cough coronavirus cough*. If you’re self-isolating or want to switch of from the world; these podcasts are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Over the last few years I’ve become a bit of a podcast geek. It’s become a little bit of an obsession. As soon as I’m alone or have spare moment I whack on a pod! I’ve started listening to my favourite shows on my way to work, in the shower and sometimes when I’m going to sleep.  I’ve even attended a few live podcast recordings. I’ve composed a list of some of my favourite comedy podcasts which should hopefully make you chortle…

My Dad Wrote a Porno

I’ve burst out laughing listening to this in a busy street.  Jamie Morton reads his father ‘Rocky’s’ pornographic novel whilst his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine provide comical observations. Dame Emma Thompson, Daisy Ridley and Lin-Manuel Miranda are just a few of the guests that star on the Footnotes episodes. You’ll never feel the same way about pomegranates, Amsterdam or the pots and pans industry again!

Do the Right Thing

This is a comedy panel show, hosted by Danielle Ward, with team captains Margaret Cabourn-Smith and Michael Legge.  Each week they are joined by different comedians as they try and work out what the right thing to do is, in many bizarre situations. Continuous ad-libbing, anecdotes and meaty jokes from vegan Michael Legge, provide a very funny yet ‘informative’ podcast.

Dear Joan and Jericha

Joan and Jericha are the alter egos of Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine. They are two agony aunts who give judgemental, filthy advice to people’s problems.  The aunts are experts in life coaching, female sexual health, pyscho-genital counselling and sports journalism. Davis and Pepperdine provide a satirical take on ageing, gender roles, sexual health and more. Probably not one to listen to with your parents!

Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster

Each episode, comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster host a special guest in their magical restaurant. They choose their dream meal (starter, main and dessert) whilst being waited on by ‘genie’ James. Guests include Greg Davies, Katherine Ryan and Daisy May Cooper. The comedy pair will take you through a comical culinary journey and by the end of it you will be able answer life’s biggest quandary:

Poppadoms or bread?

Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast

Each week Richard Herring ‘The Podfather’, interviews a guest in front of a live audience. Towards the end of the interview he asks them nonsensical questions such as ‘have you ever seen a big foot’ or ‘if men evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys’? Each guest brings their own uniqueness and each episode is packed full of gossip, gags and giggles.  My favourite guests have been Tim Minchin, Rosie Jones and Brian Blessed.

So there are a few to get you going. If you have any more podcast recommendations I’d love to hear them.

Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Rosie xx

International Women’s Day

Each for Equal

“Start to assess your life step by step and work out who you are and how much more dangerous you could be if you got fearless and ferocious.”- Deborah Francis White-

Today (8th March) is International Women’s Day. It’s a day of celebrating women’s achievements socially, politically, economically and culturally. This year’s campaign theme is #EachforEqual focusing on how we collectively can create a gender equal world through challenging stereotypes, fighting bias and broadening our own perspectives.

Obviously I’m not going to solve all the issues in one day, but I’ve been brainstorming a few simple ways of supporting and celebrating other women:

Donate or volunteer for a women’s charity  There are a number of charities in the UK that support women’s causes. Women’s Aid helps women and children who have been victims of domestic violence and the Refugee Women’s Association provides guidance and training to refugee and asylum seeking women. Internationally there’s the Global Fund for Women, that campaigns for women’s rights around the world and Share and Care Foundation that are empowering women in rural communities in India.   

Sign an online campaign form  Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 37 year old charity worker, was arrested in Iran in 2016 whilst visiting her family. She has not been allowed to see her daughter or a lawyer and her husband believes she was showing signs of the coronavirus. There is an online campaign form for her release.

Watch a film directed by a woman As you’re probably aware there were no female directors nominated for an Oscar. Production companies produce films driven by audience viewership. If we collectively watch more films directed by women and with female protagonists, production companies are more likely to fund them.

Catch up with female friends and family  Make time in the day to contact those that I haven’t spoken to in a long time and see how they are.  

I hope these ideas can help you. If you’ve got any more, I’d love to hear them.

Have a fantastic International Women’s Day!


Sustainable Fashion

Can I go a whole year without buying any new clothes?

At the beginning of January I decided that I wasn’t going to buy any new clothes for a whole year. Instead I would make better use of charity and second hand shops, mend items I already have, and borrow/swap clothes with friends. I’ve got a friend who is also doing this with me.

 My reasons to stop shopping were:

The environmental costs of clothing production 

According to Sustain Your Style the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil. It accounts for 20% of industrial water pollution globally and 8% of greenhouse emissions. The amount of water needed to produce an item of clothing is considerable. It takes 200,00 liters to produce just 1kg of cotton.

The inhumane conditions that face many of the workers in the supply chain 

Many of our garments are produced in countries where workers rights are limited. Workers are often forced to work 16 hour days at a minimum wage. Child labour is particularly an issue. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 152 million victims of child labour, with many working in the fashion supply chain.

Money saving  

Like many millennials I’m trying to save up for a house and the piggy bank didn’t seem to be gaining much weight!  

So far, I’ve done pretty well and haven’t bought a single item of clothing. Although, the fact that all the clothing shops are closed at the moment has played quite a big part! I’ve created a Depop account (App for buying/selling preloved clothes) and have also repaired an old jumper. I’ve also been lucky enough to have been given some pre-loved items by friends.

I have also tried to limit temptation by deleting emails from fashion brands, unsubscribing from their mailing lists and blocking clothing ads on social media. I’m also throwing all clothing catalogues straight into the recycling bin.

I’d love to know if you’re doing anything similar. Rosie

Skolstrejk för klimatet

Last Friday morning I pulled on my over-trousers and wellies in preparation for the Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate (BYS4C) event in College Green. The foul weather didn’t deter the crowds, approximately 15,000 people gathered to hear Greta Thunberg speak.

Like many of the protesters, I travelled on the train to Bristol. It was quite a squeeze, standing room only! There was a real feeling of camaraderie, with people actually speaking to each other. I walked into the city centre with some of the ladies I met on the train, who had previously been protesting against fracking and the Bristol Airport expansion.

When we arrived at College Green it was a sea of protest signs, flags and umbrellas. It was mostly young adults and children but there were also parents, grandparents and quite a few babies gathered to give their support.  The event organisers were blasting out Queen and The Beatles on the PA system. Rather ironically they played Here Comes the Sun.

There were a number of speakers including Mya-Rose Craig, a birdwatcher and equal rights campaigner. Unfortunately the PA system was too quiet and it was difficult to hear what they were saying. Thankfully they resolved these issues before Ms Thunberg came onto the stage.

When Greta arrived, there was a real excitement. She came onto the stage with chants of ‘Greta, Greta’. Her speech was concise but meaningful. She talked about how those in power are not doing enough and are ignoring the climate emergency. She also spoke on how activism is effective referring to the plan to expand Bristol Airport being rejected by councillors in light of the protests. Greta then led the march down Park Street followed by the excitable and rather wet crowd.

Greta is an eloquent speaker. I think her no-nonsense approach is inspiring. Every movement needs a great leader and Greta ticks all the boxes. Seeing all the young people protesting on Friday and witnessing their passion and enthusiasm has made me more optimistic about the future of our planet. It shows that age is not an issue in striving for change.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite protest signs:  

-The World is getting hotter than Harry Styles-

-Strive for a Greta future-

-Are you a fossil fool?-

-Climate change is gert unlush-