Former teacher Jenny Baldwin discovered her sewing skills were in much demand during a recent visit to Calais
After reading an article in my daily paper back in February I felt God telling me to get out of my comfort zone and volunteer to work in the Calais refugee camp commonly known as ‘The Jungle’.
At the time I did nothing about it because I was frightened how my family would react. So it went on the back burner.
However, at the Baptist Assembly in May there was a chance to find out more about going to visit Calais under the auspices of Peaceful Borders, a small group who want to bring dignity and justice to the people David Cameron referred to as ‘swarms of migrants’. So I made contact and volunteered. I thought I would be teaching in the school or sorting donations. But it didn’t work out that way.
I went with a group of 14 people, including my husband, from Baptist churches in the UK. We were to be there for a week and were allowed to make our base one of the restaurants which had been closed down by the French authorities in early July.
As a throwaway remark to one of the organisers I had said I could sew. The result was that I was able to set up a repair and alteration workshop at the back of the restaurant using a donated sewing machine.
With help from refugees of different nationalities I was able to produce a poster in several languages, which went up on the window.
Nothing happened initially, but soon word got around and ‘customers’ began to arrive. I was asked to shorten trousers, create shorts from long trousers with tatty hems, mend seams and patch holes.
But the greatest challenge came when I was required to create ‘skinny jeans’ out of baggy ones. Their owners wanted to look a little more on trend. With the aid of a biro, they drew a line on the inside to show how skinny they wanted them, and using the few pins I had in my travel sewing kit, I was able to machine a new seam. As the week progressed so the demand grew, lads came back bringing their friends to have jeans altered too.
Jenny with Abby Crawford, another member of the trip, showing the newly altered, skinny jeans
There is no electricity in the camp so in order to run my sewing machine we bought petrol to run a small generator already in the restaurant. As I sewed people would come in and plug their phone chargers into the extension sockets, making the most of the power being on, their phone is the only link they have with friends and family back in their countries of origin.
We heard some heart wrenching stories about why people had made their journeys. Being able to spend time listening and drinking tea was a privilege. And being able to use my sewing skills to make clothes look and fit a little better was a bonus. I hope to go back occasionally to continue the service.
Jenny Baldwin is a member of Brentwood Baptist Church in Essex
The children stranded in Calais - There are 750 unaccompanied children in the Calais Jungle. Surely more can be done to help these most vulnerable of people