How this story started in Calais

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August 2015

During the summer of 2015, coming back from a holiday in France, we first saw the blue tarpaulins of the Calais "jungle". A month later and a group of us - inspired by Shernaz in Whitstable - were on the ferry back across to Calais with bread, fruit, bedding and clothing donated from residents in Kent and London. There was very little information on the news at the time. When we arrived we were shocked to find thousands of people displaced by war and conflict being prevented from reaching the UK to claim asylum, stopped at the border just over 25 miles from the Kent coast. 

From the moment Omar Mohammad AKA The Dream shared his poem 'Refugee in the Jungle' with us in Calais, we committed to do what we could to raise awareness of what was happening there. Yet despite the horror, as humans connected there were moments of beauty: people sharing what they did have. A few months later Hollie McNish, a British Poet, Author and Spoken Word Artist read Omar's poem to an audience in London at Amnesty International and has continued to support this work ever since, notably sharing her work at The Welcome Tent launch in Nottingham in August 2017. 

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The experiences we had and the people we met in Calais over the coming months changed our lives. We did what was necessary to support people in that moment - hospital visits, advocacy, translation, clothing distributions, cups of tea, shopping - to try in any way we could to alleviate the trauma of being stuck at the border. During our visits to Calais and then Dunkirk, we prepared, cooked and shared food, music and poetry together with people from all around the world who soon became new friends. From our homes in Kent, just 25 miles away across the English Channel, we were travelling across as regularly as our finances would allow.

 St Margaret's Bay, Kent, looking across to Calais in France, Summer 2016

St Margaret's Bay, Kent, looking across to Calais in France, Summer 2016

Late one evening in early 2016 we got a call from one of our friends who had made it to London. It was not our place to ask the details. Every crossing to reach UK soil often means risking one's own life. We know of people who travelled in the back of freezer lorries and others holding on to the chassis underneath lorries for hours with frostbitten hands. But it is not possible to claim asylum unless you are actually on UK soil, thus people with a legal right under international law to be protected, including many children, were being shut out.

So with this in mind, we hosted a "welcome" weekend at our house for our new friends - as it should be - with great food, dancing, football, a trip to the beach, poetry festival and lots of laughter.

Our friendships grew stronger over the coming months as we learned about each other, attending events together in Kent and London including the annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Summit. Then in the summer of 2016 we were donated an ex-army catering tent by Angelic Feast to continue our work together, raising awareness by challenging injustice and celebrating our shared humanity through food. And this is how The Welcome Tent was born. 

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Who we are 

Emma Barrett Palmer brings over 15 years experience as an innovator for social change and founding Director of humanKINDER.

Sparky is a Chef, Grower and Food Educator at Source 2 Sauce, celebrating the potential of food in kitchens, fields and gardens for over 25 years

Dr Hannah Parathian-Thorn is an Anthropologist at Centro Em Rede De Investigação Antropologia in Portugal and founder of Wild Bread, a sourdough artisan BakeHouse in the UK

Mohammad Omar, Abdulaziz, Zubiar Eshag and Ibrahim Erdy from South Sudan are currently living and working in Newcastle, Stockton, London and Derby. 

Christine Davies first volunteered in Calais in 2015, a retired Potter with a career in creative therapeutic interventions in the UK. 

Bagzad Ismail, is a Kurdish hairstylist and entrepreneur.

The Hadafmand family from Afghanistan have known Emma for 10 years after she was their youth worker when they settled in Gravesend.

We take great inspiration from Ella Matheson, Trustee at the Desmond Tutu Foundation, Tinna C Neilson, Founder of Move The Elephant For Inclusiveness and Ingrid Van Der Wacht from the Dutch Design Foundation.

Photography and documentation during The Welcome Tent journey has been by Emma Barrett Palmer, Jorgen Bundgaard, Duncan Brown, Guki Giunashuili, Emily Parish, Gabriel Gee-Jay Jenny, Hollie McNish and Bagzada. Filming has been by Emma, Sparky and participants: footage is currently being edited in a voluntary capacity by Adam Naldaal, a student based in Aarhus.

Artwork and branding is by Laxmi Hussain and postcard illustrations by User Experience Designer Myriam Weisenfeld