We arrived at the warehouse on 5th May 2017.
We walked through the back streets of the Calais industrial zone with the four other volunteers from Sylvie’s and arrived at two tall, evergreen hedges with a high metal gate tucked into the middle. Fabio pushed open the gate and we all walked into the vast concrete courtyard space. Beyond the courtyard was the enormous, solid, oblong shape of the warehouse with a small square mouth opening in the centre. I looked around at the ramshackle buildings that formed the office spaces in the courtyard. One that stood out was made of wood panels of assorted size and shape, all painted bright yellow, seemingly for a sense of joyful overall cohesion. There were welcome signs written in colourful chalk on various blackboards. Mismatched tables and chairs collected in large groups – as if in conversation – were dotted around outside the offices. Plastic stools, canvas deck chairs, swiveling office chairs, long wooden benches, regal old upholstered armchairs, the lot. All out in all weathers. This place reminded me of some of my kitchens from university days in London. I felt at home already.
I was welcomed into one of the offices by Sarah – a gorgeous French ball of laughter – and was asked to read a form. It was to clarify I was in control of my person and anything that happened to me during the time working here was completely my responsibility. I asked Sarah with an eyebrow – what could possibly happen to me? She just smiled and told me to sign.
She walked with me into the warehouse and I tried to digest this overwhelming first impression while listening to what she was saying. This space was HUGE.
To the right was the inbuilt toilet block, the tea and coffee area with a long wooden table, offering breakfast pastries. Behind this was the infamous warehouse Charity Shop, full of ridiculous donations and mad-wonderous delights. I glimpsed full-length blue ball gowns, wet suits and multicoloured silk shirts. Straight in front of me was another square mouth opening into an adjoining warehouse behind. Sarah told me this was where all the donations were processed and housed until distributed. To the left of me was a large white inbuilt box that formed a changing room. Further right, flanking the walls and jutting into the space, were high stacked metal shelves holding huge quantities of rice, pulses, packaged foods and spices. At the very furthest left end of warehouse was the hub of the Refugee Community Kitchen. People were already gathering together around the metal prep tables, dressed in chefs blacks and gently bobbing to the loud bassy music that was thumping through the kitchen speakers.
Lots of people were walking around, getting tea and coffee, hugging, talking, joking, rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
I felt like I was at a festival. A kind of festival I had never been to before.