November has been our busiest month for construction here in Calais. We have a fully functioning workshop at our warehouse where our volunteers (some skilled joiners and set builders, some keen DIYers) build both timber frames for our self-build project and full, solid walled structures as well.
The self-build project is a vital element to our shelter building plans: we provide groups of refugees with a full ‘kit’ in order to build their own home. In this kit they receive: pre-prepared side frames, timber, pallets, plastic (for the walls), insulation material, nails and a hammer and saw. Our self-build team spend the day driving between the workshop (to collect materials) and the camp (to distribute them to residents). The team keeps a running list of people who request materials to build their own shelters. They also work closely with community leaders within the camp. We distribute between 15 and 40 of these shelters a day.
The pre-fabricated build project involves us preparing the the solid-walls, floor and ceilings of the structures in our workshop and then transporting these to the camp, for quick assembly by a team of volunteers. We keep a running list of families, women and other vulnerable people to ensure that these go to the people who need them most, and those who are in most cases, less capable of building for themselves. That said, we rely on help from the residents in the camp who lend lots of hands throughout the build process. Often, the heavy elements of the shelters have to be carried some distance from the drop-off points to the spots where they will be built. One of the most important things about this process is that we build for / with people
in the locations where they want to live. We do not choose locations with the best access or the most level terrain. We believe that, in the already incredibly challenging circumstances that the people are obliged to live in, in the camp, they must have the power to at least choose where they want to live, within a community where they feel most comfortable. We build and between 2 and 6 of these solid shelters per day, depending on how many volunteers we have, and are now joining forces with Medecins Sans Frontieres, who will be producing an additional 6 solid shelters per day, in their Calais workshop. They are delivering the elements to our teams of volunteer builders in camp.
As is probably evident from this overview of how our building project runs (and remembering we are the only organisation on the ground in Calais doing anything like this), we rely enormously on volunteers who come to work with us. We particularly need people who have some carpentry / joinery skills, this directly results in more shelters built – skilled builders and carpenters interested in volunteering should email Calaisbuild@gmail.com.
The other thing we need is a very large supply of materials, in order to keep production levels high and this has become very expensive. As a couple of examples, we use over 100kilos of 110mm nails a week and at least 120 pallets a day for the self-builds. There are also certain materials like high quality tarpaulin (must be woven and marquee thickness in order to withstand the elements.) and reasonably priced insulation (we have found that carpet underlay works really well) which are difficult to find in France.
Because we have had the only workshop dedicated to supporting the camp, purchase large volumes of materials and produce such high volumes of shelters, independent people and projects in the camp also rely on our resources. We supplied the information centre (info for refugees) with materials for their structure, we also built the distribution centres which service the camp, as well as a refugee-run school and health centre, to name a few.
Images: Volunteers working in Calais by Tanya @ Help Refugees.