Our family's 10,000 mile journey
Life in the UK had been hectic and all-consuming, but since our experiences in Calais between 2015-2016 we were reminded of the bigger picture. We continued to do what we could to support people in Northern France and also support the growing protest and solidarity movement welcoming people to the UK.
As a last project before leaving Social Innovation Lab at Kent County Council, I coordinated a project called Reframing Migration in February 2016 in collaboration with university partners in the UK, Italy and Brazil via the Design as Social Innovation Network. At a workshop in London we shared our experiences from Calais, listening to music from The Calais Sessions and heard first-hand how Indefinite Detention is still widely experienced by people seeking refuge in the UK. The government's silence on Calais and the human rights abuses that are self-evident, reasons compelling me to leave my job after this project.
The Brexshit decision was announced later that year in June 2016 while Sparky and I were working with Brighton based La Choza at The Commons in Glastonbury. This was the final push for our family to really start preparations to leave the UK, while at the same time embarking on a humanitarian journey with The Welcome Tent as the purpose we needed to become "vanlifers" with our 5 year old and dog in tow. We acknowledged our position of privilege to still be able to do this easily with a British Passport, compared to many who are being prevented from free movement across borders. We wanted to go public with the project and test out some ideas, so together with new friends from Sudan, Kurdistan, Afghanistan and unaccompanied asylum seeking young people supported by Kent Refugee Action Network, we organised a trial event at Hythe Life Food Festival in the UK in August 2016.
Chef Sparky @source2sauce coordinated four cooking "showtimes" and tastings over the two day event which featured 12 different dishes and 15 guest cooks from 7 different countries. The dishes were made by sourcing produce and ingredients from Hythe and the surrounding Kent countryside to support local Kentish communities, farmers and business. Throughout the two days we shared photos and stories from our experiences in Calais.
During the following six months I undertook a piece of research work to better understand the role of social workers in "Reframing Migration" in Scotland in collaboration with IRISS in Glasgow. This led to our involvement in a social work conference in the North East, where we co-facilitated discussion between social work students and our friends from Sudan who had now been placed in accommodation in Stockton. This was the first time these students had met a "real life refugee".
In March 2017 we met Palestinian Michel Moushabeck at London Book Fair, founder of US based Interlink Publishing and publisher of Soup for Syria. We shared our idea about taking The Welcome Tent on the road and it was at this point the "recipes of HOPE" journey around Europe became a reality.
We managed to get together again on May Day 2017 with our new friends now living around the UK, before our journey preparations reached a crescendo that summer. Spx was finishing work and converting the van; Felix finishing school; we needed to move out of our house on the farm; we needed to move into our van; we needed to get rid of a load of our stuff; we needed to put a load more of our stuff into storage, we needed to fix the tent etc etc. And then we were mad enough to buy an old horse-box that needed a full renovation to make a mobile kitchen to tow behind our van. So after leaving our house we parked up in a field just down the road and spent a couple of weeks with some of our amazing friends getting ourselves ready.
Yet our plans to complete the mobile kitchen trailer were halted when the trailer brakes engaged on a really steep hill ironically near Rockingham Speedway. This did mean we could spend a few extra days with our friends in Corby and with their help replaced the trailer hitch. With the trailer fixed, we continued to Suffolk to collect our Ebay winter tyres, stopping at Fen Farm Dairy in Bungay with a claim of the best raw milk butter in the UK and Suffolk Aviation Museum. It became increasingly obvious that towing a horsebox was not straightforward as the reality of living in a Transporter van became a reality. Our journey continued to St.Albans where Hannah's parents Pam and Bob shared the recipe of HOPE for Mauritian bhajis accompanied by a game of Carrom; then on to Kings Langley to prepare for the Into the Wild Festival with the team at Real Remedies. Their chakra-aligned herbal tea blends and tinctures were something else: we had a great evening of taste and blending experimentation with their new mixologist LiilaMaya to create seven new recipes for vegan chakra energy balls.
Yet just twenty minutes after leaving, our van's turbo collapsed on the M25 and we arrived back in Kent at 3.30 am in the morning. The next day we took the van to the VW garage and were gutted to receive a quote for £4,500 to get the van back on the road.
But with luck on our side, our friends at Real Remedies saved us by offering to buy our horsebox so we could fix the van (at a highly discounted rate from a man with a flying machine).