Welcome to the Jungle

Historically Calais has been renowned as our close neighbor, twenty miles from the British shore, famous for being the principle port between the UK and France.

I have fond memories of Calais as it was often the destination for a weekend away with my Grandparents. The trips were an opportunity for them to visit friends in Dover before filling their car boot with wine and their fuel tank with the cheaper alternatives on the continent.

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Striking a pose after my first trip on the Euro Tunnel – 1999.

I always remember migrants offering to return our trolley in the hypermarkets in a hope that we’d let them keep the small change. Many were housed at the former Euro Tunnel construction warehouse at Sangatte.I can remember groups of migrants hanging around the Tunnel entrances, however since the camps closure in 2002 the subject of ‘Illegal Immigrants’ has died down and until this year it has not hit the headlines.

Like many I’d watched the news unfold from my mobiles news feed and after a friend shared (along with 63,000 others) this post on Facebook ‘What Life is Like in the Calais Migrant ‘Jungle’‘. My friend then asked me if I’d like to visit The Jungle and see what is happening first hand on our doorstep, to meet the people behind the headlines. Having spent time working in Eastern Africa I was interested to see what it was like and particularly intrigued by the businesses that had been set up in the camp.

Exiting from the 25 minutes of darkness on the 22:50 shuttle from Folkstone you could see the rotating blue lights coming through the trains window. I was mesmerized by the high fences and the amount of security which lined the tracks, with vans of the Gendarmerie stationed at every couple of hundred meters.

We’d booked two cheap nights in a hostel, which was ideally located the main market square of the Calais. The room consisted of a double bed and a nice modern bathroom with a wet room, walk in shower. I hope my friends credit card didn’t get cloned, as the dismal reviews on Trip Advisor only give it two stars: Belazur Hotel.

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Sunrise in Calais from our Balcony

The picture above was taken on the Sunday morning as the scene was much different on the Saturday. Farmers and marketers from across the local region had congregated to the square selling a wide variety of products from cheese to plants, fish, bread and fruit. We spent half an hour wondering round before grabbing a croissant from a Patisserie.

Following the market we headed back to our room and packed our back for our trip to the Jungle. We’d purchased three fleeces from the car boot the weekend prior to our trip for a pound and had raided the cupboards to put a few food items in a bag – we were mindful about this and later handed it to the church on the camp, so they could be distributed fairly.

Our walk took us north of the city and took about an hour, passing the entrance to the ferry terminal and through an industrial area. As we drew closer the amount of migrants increased with many carrying large bottles of waters, with other riding bikes, overloaded with items, which looked like an incredible balancing act!

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On arrival an American Aide Worker explained the set up with the camp being split into countries Eritrea, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan being a few that were listed. I was also surprised by the amount of red ‘Dismaland’ hoodies that people were wearing, after Banksy donated timber to help build shelters from his ‘bemusment park’ at Weston-super-Mare.

One of our expectations was that we would be heavily pestered for money and anything we could offer, which in our two hour stay we did not get asked once. We were surprised by the amount of people helping one another and learned a lot from Salomon, who runs St Michaels Church there. He despite it not being a nice place to live, people were friendly and helped one another, however he wouldn’t recommend moving around at night. Which is understandable due to the lack of lights and over 6,000 people living there.

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Solomon, an Ethiopian left Addis Abada last year due to political unrest said he was hoping to join his wife and young daughter who had managed to fly to the UK and had settled near Liverpool. The church had built a small shed which had a number of tent, blankets and sleeping bags within it and this is where we left our fleeces.

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You won’t find Baloo the Bear and Mowgli in the small library, cleverly named after Rudyard Kipling’s classic. Instead you’ll find a small space crammed to the rafters with varying genres with thrillers, atlas’, dictionaries and even a neat line of the Harry Potter series. The door has timetables for various subjects for classes that people can attend, with a guitar carefully positioned in a far corner, for those who are more musical. The library offers laptops with access to the internet via a 4G dongle.

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Jungle Books was set up by a British volunteer, Mary Jones who wanted to create a space for normality ‘This library can lend a semblance of normality to their lives. It’s a place where people can drop in and have a chat, maybe play a bit of music, not only read books’.

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On the business front I witnessed a similar entrepreneurial culture to what I saw whilst working on the Balloon Kenya project. The main streets of the camps were full of wooden structures shops and restaurant, selling shoes, socks, energy drinks – anything they could purchase from the local Lidl. As one Syrian shop keeper told me he buys all his stock from Lidl and Aldi, wheels it back in a trolley and resells it on the camp.

There were many volunteers we spoke to on the camp, a small army of Sikh gentlemen from London had hired a van and made over 5,000 chapatis with a vegetarian filling on the Friday, crossing the channel over night. Despite feeling bad they insisted that we tried one, so we shared it between us.

We spoke at length to a Scottish Doctor, who had been collecting donations in Dumfries before bringing his two teenage children to volunteer during half term, stating they’d learn much more in Calais. The Doctor spoke of the injuries that people were coming to the first aid hut with, many had cut flesh trying to climb barbed wire, others with sprains from falling and he also spoke of an increased level of scabies.

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Pedal Power – charging smart phones.

Despite the media often portraying that hundred of people are trying to make the crossing each night (which I’m sure a large amount are) many that we spoke to had given up trying. Many attempts have resulted in death or injury – people jumping on to trains from bridges or being crushed by lorries. Opting to seek asylum on the continent rather than the UK.

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A group of men enjoying a basketball shot competition

One thing that surprised us was the level of education and strong careers that the people of the camp had come from, many from wealthy backgrounds in their homeland.  Many were eager to find work and restart their lives. Most were happy to talk, anxious to explain they are not looking for a handout or benefits. Many were embarrassed at their circumstances and apologetic for their living conditions.

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A thing that worried me before traveling to France was the safety of my girlfriend, with 65% of the camp being male. However at  no point did she feel endangered or threatened, as many of the people were friendly and really wanted to have a chat.

I haven’t really formed an opinion on what is right and what is wrong and would probably see myself sat on one of the £7m pounds worth of fencing that has been erected over the last few months. The situation is not ideal, but it is far safer than where the people have come from.

 

 

 

 

An Afternoon with Sir Richard

A leather jacket, white shirt, jeans, wavy shoulder length hair and a well maintained beard, if you weren’t aware of Mr Branson he definitely comes across as just a ordinary man, however we all know that the multi billionaire is far from it.

On Friday for ninety minutes, Richard captivated and gripped an audience of 2,000 in Westminster’s Central Hall, many hooking Branson beards to their noses which had been included in the pack provided by the organisers. The pack also included a copy of his book ‘The Virgin Way’.

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I once gave a presentation on ‘Inspirational leaders’, holding up a cut out of Sir Richards head mounted on a wooden spatula, steering away from the traditional Powerpoint presentation. When the opportunity arose to listen to Branson, it is something that I jumped at!

The #BeMoreBranson event had a real flavour of ‘the Virgin Way’ at its core, with the world famous leader discussing how important both Virgin customers and employees are, to both himself and the brand.

‘Virgin – I wanted to create a collection of companies that do ‘fun things’ that can make a difference to people.’

Despite talking in the first person he used ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, it was clear that although he was at the helm of the multinational conglomerate, he remained humble and appreciated that he had not been able to get there alone. In an interview last year, Branson said his employees came before the customers, defying years of business theory.

On the subject of positivity, Branson advised the audience that if you think positively about those who surround you and always look for the positives in what you do, in return you are guaranteed to receive good vibes. Branson reflected this, as positivity radiated from within, impacting those in the audience. Despite being told two extremes by his childhood Headmaster: that he would either be in prison or a millionaire; it is evident that Branson hasn’t let struggles such as dyslexia and failing business like Virgin Cola hold him back, advising that he must have been born under a lucky cloud.

Branson discussed the traits in being a good leader, he stated that they should be good listeners, do not criticise people, find the value in their employees and simply, genuinely like people!

‘If you can successfully run one company well, you can run any company.’

Branson steers away from the ‘you’re fired’ approach, which can be seen in The Apprentice. Again using positivity and opting to help people find strength in their armoury, which may benefit other areas of the business. Branson does so by offering advice on ways for improvement, rather than dismissing them. Branson sees Virgin as an extended family to his own and stated that you would not fire a brother or sister, would you?

Not only is he an inspiring leader, but also a great story teller. The 1973 hit ‘Tubular Bells’ was rejected by many of the leading record producers, however Branson believes that it helped form the foundation to the brand. In regards to inspirations, he spoke of his Mother who made place-mats, amongst varying other hand made ventures, to provide an extra income. Branson enjoys being the David against the Goliath, ‘experiencing a buzz’ out of pulling the coat tails of the market leaders; speaking of the competition between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which is often referred to as the ‘dirty tricks’ campaign. A few years later when British Airways struggled to erect the London Eye, Branson pulled this stunt (see link), firmly with his ‘tongue in cheek’.

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Despite Branson being the grand age of sixty-five, he still has seventeen year old girls ‘throw themselves at him’, however I think most of us would agree that ‘Virgin Dating’ would not stand to compete against the likes of Tinder and Match.com.

On what legacy he says he wishes to leave behind, Branson simply replied ‘to be remembered for making a bigger difference…’

ParkRun, Melton Running Club and Guide Running for the Blind

My local gym has been getting its money’s worth over the last month, as I’ve traded the four walls of the gym for the great outdoors.

I’ve joined the Melton Running Club jumping on their ‘couch to 5km’ programme with the aim of getting beginners up to 3 miles non stop. My starting level of fitness helped and I’m shaving time off my distance each week.

I’ve also started to do the ‘ParkRun’ which is an incentive nationwide to get people to put on their trainers and get outdoors. Across the country at 9am at lots of parks you can do a timed 5km for free. You use a bar code which you print off their website and scan it at the finish time and by the time you’re out of the shower your time is in your email inbox. I’ve been joining around 100 runners at Melton Country Park each week.


This week they were trialling the ‘line run’ the brainchild of a local sports coach and some PhD student. The ‘line’ is a 100m long and has been invented to encourage visually impaired youngsters to build confidence in running. I donned a blind fold and had a go at holding the line and running full pelt which was rather scary! I previously took a car around Donnington Race track blindfolded to raise money for the Guide Dogs charity so it was nice to try something different which benefits those who cannot see too well!

I got speaking to the team who were working on the line and we spoke about somebody I knew that was visually impaired who has taken up running. I have now signed up to be a ‘Guide Runner’. You get paired with someone of a similar running level and use a leash round each other’s hands (well that’s what they called it) and guide them around the track. I’ve signed up for a Sight Loss Awareness & Guide Running Workshop in October. It’s something I’m looking forward too, helping someone enjoy running and motivating each other to run faster!


  

Hello Kitty, Trishaws and River Cruises

Two public buses took us from Kuala Lumpur to the historic city of Malacca in the south of Malaysia. Malacca was recognised as a World Heritage Site, which it proudly boasts all over the city.

We took lunch at an Indian which had surprisingly good food and amazing service – we all got our meals at the same time. Winner, winner, chicken dinner – well buttered chicken to be precise!

We then fought over riding in either a Disneys Frozen trishaw or a Hello Kitty one, we let it go and picked the Frozen clad vehicle. Thankfully for the cities traffic I wasn’t peddling!

 
   Our rider, chauffeur, peddler whatever his title was took us on an hour and a half tour of the city, stopping at the serene kampungs (villages). As one of the oldest trading ports in Southeast Asia the city has many different influences including Indian, Chinese and European.

As night fell Beth and I headed to ‘Fat Boys’ restaurant, a western burger joint with a TGI Fridays feel to it. I was defeated by their ‘Fat Bastard’ it was a definite eyes bigger moment after an Indian at lunch time.


We took to the river for a night cruise which lasted for about 45 minutes, taking in the lights and the murals on the walls of the buildings lining the canal. Following the cruise we picked the tackiest trishaw for our trip home, music blaring, clad in cheap fairy lights.