Simon and Lesley jokingly call themselves Repair4Calais. She says, “I think it is the mum in me, they are just boys mostly and need some looking after. I noticed how many had torn clothes, jeans that had holes in, pockets falling out and coats with rips in them. It’s not that easy to get good clothes in Calais and often the refugees want to keep the stuff they have but need it mended.
So I made up some sewing kits and we take them out with us. At first I bought all sorts of fancy stuff to put in the kits but over the years have found that all I really need is a needle and spools of black thread. I’m no expert so sewing up tears is about my limit.
I just love doing the mending, the boys come up to me and call me Mum, mama, mummy and ask if I can mend their clothes. They sit down beside me and patiently wait. They are always so polite and respectful it’s a pleasure to help them. It’s nice to have a little chat with them while they wait, they need a bit of looking after as most have left families thousands of miles away. It’s a little bit of time just for them and they walk away with a coat that will last a few more weeks.
One fellow came to me with his anorak, with both sleeves about to fall off. It looked a big job for a needle and thread, so I was getting up to go to the van to get him a new coat, but he stopped me. “I don’t want a new coat, I want this one, it works, and I don’t want to lose it”.
So many coats aren’t that waterproof, or the zip is broken, or they don’t fit that well, so when he’d found a coat he really liked he wanted to keep it. I set about sewing the sleeves back on. It took a while but he walked away with the biggest grin. It just warms my heart sewing for them.
Simon, the other half of Repair4Calais mends bikes. “I’m no expert but can just about change a tyre. Bikes are so valuable here, they mean you can get to distributions, find food, make appointments and get to the shops. The bikes we mend are falling to pieces, held together with a wing and a prayer! There is maybe only one nut holding a wheel on, or the frame is so rusty it’s a miracle it holds the rider. We provide a few tools and some spare parts we have managed to source.
Mostly the refugees fix the bikes themselves, they are incredibly resourceful. The other week I watched a group of young men dismantle a bike and rebuild it from the ground up using whatever they could find and scavenge from other bikes.
I had the idea to start the repair shop as I’m a cyclist myself and always take my bike out, There’s some beautiful countryside to cycle through outside Calais. I’d be devastated if my bike broke but I know I would be able to replace it, but I thought the refugees can’t so how can we help them keep the bikes running?
We’ve been coming to Calais for five years now and usually spend our summers here. We’re not beach people and lazing around on a beach is not for us. So this is ideal, we usually bring our dog too but Brexit caused us to leave him home this summer. I really enjoy helping in Calais, it gives you a real buzz to be useful. I love talking to the refugees, really getting to know them and seeing what amazing people they are. You meet some great volunteers too, a right eclectic bunch usually. I think I am the oldest this year. We started going after a trip with SUTR, it was a way of doing something, not just talking about fighting racism but actually doing something concrete and anti-racist.