From London with love: Balham mums’ donation drive to bring warm clothing to Calais refugees

Balham parents are reaching out to suffering refugee families by taking warm clothes to the Calais and Dunkirk migrant camps later this month.

Clothes 4 Calais, founded by parents of child at Ravenstone and Chestnut Grove Schools in Balham, decided to take matters into their own hands after failing to find a local action group.

The group is collecting jumpers, jackets, boots and other men’s clothes at their drop-off point tomorrow from 10am-4pm to take over in late January.

Clothes 4 Calais coordinator Naomi Westland said: “Thousands of people are being forced to live in appalling conditions.

“It’s three degrees in Calais today and people there including children are living in tents pitched in mud, surrounded by rats with not enough food and water to go around.”

London to Calais, 3rd CHLOE HILL CREDIT, visit to the Dunkirk camp recently
CHILLY: Conditions in the Dunkirk camp are grim (C) Chloe Hill

Calais dominated the news in late 2015 when refugees fleeing Syria and other war-torn regions faced dangerous journeys through Europe in order to find a safe home.

Ms Westland insisted that Calais is no longer in the headlines because neither the UK government nor the French want to take responsibility for the stagnant situation.

She explained how the group aims to help people in the camps by contributing in a more personal way than sending money.

The six people behind ‘London to Calais’ as this particular expedition has been labelled, include a human rights lawyer, an architect and a GP.

The collection began as a small project but after mosques, churches and cafes spread the word and put up posters, a large van will now be required to take over all the donations.

Helen Swan, another founder of Clothes 4 Calais, explained how the children have been keen to help those less fortunate.

London to Calais, organisers Naomi LEFT and Helen RIGHT
MAGIC MUMS: Naomi and Helen are behind the charity drive

“Our children are so lucky to be safe and warm, and having learnt at school and at home about the worldwide refugee crisis, were keener to do something proactive,” she said.

“They encouraged their classmates to donate and are helping us sort through donations in readiness for our trip next to the Calais camp.”

Ms Westland has received clothing donations and phone calls from all over London, far exceeding initial expectations.

After even receiving donations at work, she found herself having to make two trips home during rush hour carrying a bursting rucksack and several bags.

She said: “Response from people has been really incredible; it makes me go a bit shivery just thinking about it.

“There’s something special about being able to help alleviate such a distressing situation through a small personal gesture, and people have taken the idea and run with it.”

London to Calais, Naomi's room - bursting with donations
GENEROUS GIFTS: Naomi’s living room is stuffed with donations for the camps

There have been charities like Care4Calais involved in helping in the refugee camps, alongside small groups of individuals adding personal touches such as setting up kitchens, running a bookshop and creating makeshift worship areas.

Calais is back in the public eye once again this week, as ex-soldier Rob Lowrie was cleared of smuggling a four-year-old girl from the camp into the UK.

The French government plans to bulldoze part of the Calais migrant camp and move refugees to live in shipping containers at another site.

Ms Westland explained how people have built up communities and support networks in the camp, which are essential in those living conditions, and forcing them to separate only made their misery worse.

The group heads out on January 23 and will accept all donations up to that point, with their main collection day being tomorrow.

Collection takes place at ReStore Base, Larch Close, Balham, 10am-4pm.

Donation queries can be forwarded to Helen Swan, 07834 738873, or Naomi Westland, 07932 995023.

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