Refugee support in Preston: How Beautiful Planet makes a difference for the refugees in Calais
Beautiful Planet, a co-operative cafe in the centre of Preston, is a drop off point for donations to the refugee camp in Calais. In cooperation with the Preston Faith Forum, who were able to provide 6 Transit vans, and two of its regular customers, Beautiful Planet has managed to send 4 shipments of donations to the camp in the last 6 months.
Especially when Beautiful Planet first started collecting donations, at the time when the now famous picture of a 3 year old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, lying lifeless on the beach spread around the world, a lot of donations came in.
According to Brett Lund, Beautiful Planet’s manager, donations have included everything from brand new Wellington boots and warm clothes to tents and sleeping bags. Also a lot of food, perhaps the most important item right now, has been donated.
However, lately Beautiful Planet hasn’t been receiving as many donations as when they just started. Brett said: “Things have calmed down a little bit.”
Nevertheless, Brett seems impressed with the willingness of Preston’s community to help out the refugees in Calais. He said: “People have actually gone out and bought stuff, not just things they had in their houses. Lots of poor people have donated lots of great stuff.”
Brett pointed out that the Facebook group “Preston in support of refugees”, of which he is a co-administrator, has been a great way to create a steady flow of donations. As a matter of fact, after he shared my article about Beautiful Planet collecting donations in the group, that same evening somebody asked where she could drop off some donations. So, just to clarify: donations are still welcome and if you have something to donate you can drop it off directly from 10.30–17.30, Monday to Saturday at the Beautiful Planet cafe on 53a Friargate, Preston. You can leave it with Brett or one of the other volunteers.
Chris Cox, also member of the Facebook Group “Preston in support of Refugees”, has created “Calaid-ipedia”, where donors can find out what is most needed in Calais. This video, that’s also featured on the website, gives an overview of needed items and a tour of the donations warehouse at the same time.
These days, the L’Auberge donations warehouse in Calais has many volunteers to sort out incoming donations, but Brett explained it’s still better to sort out the donations in Preston. He said: “So much junk is donated. It’s better if you sort it here, otherwise you can end up spending a lot of money on petrol and getting across the channel for stuff that’s not really needed.”
Perhaps a good example of this is the snorkel that was donated. Brett said: “With all the people drowning falling off the boats, we don’t know if that was a sense of humour or not.”
Humorous or not, with the gradual demolition of the “Calais jungle” and the hardships refugees have to go through if they want to reach Britain, the idea of swimming becomes a lot less far-fetched.
Brett told me a little about the challenges an acquaintance of his, a Syrian refugee whose name I will not reveal for privacy reasons, faced when trying to reach Britain. Brett said: “I think he’s tried about a 100 times to get across [from Calais to Britain] and he was teargassed about 20 times.”
Another striking story that Brett remembered was one that one of his regular customers told him. His (the customer’s) friend went to the refugee camp in Calais as a volunteer and he found a 6 year old girl, unaccompanied by her parents or caretakers. As it turned out, there were none. Brett said: “Her dad had got blown up in Syria and her mother had drowned on the way across.” Once back from Calais, he (the customer) and his girlfriend talked about adopting the girl. “But while they were seriously thinking about it, the little 6 year old girl died of pneumonia”, Brett said.
Perhaps these are the stories that motivate Brett and Beautiful Planet to help the refugees in Calais for as long as they can and as long as there is someone to help.