Flying high after appeal to help Calais refugees

TRAINERS, walking boots, sandals, plimsolls and brogues, I got up close and personal with a lot of men’s shoes yesterday.

Most were in very good condition – some brand new – a few quite lived-in and a couple were mouldy, but this pair of Converse high-tops made me smile.

As I labelled hundreds of pairs and packed them in boxes according to size at the North-East Solidarity With Calais Refugees sorting day in Hartlepool, I couldn’t help think about the people who’d once worn them and who’d next be putting them on and calling them their own.

I hope the man who inherits these ‘Superman’ Converse ones realises that that’s exactly what he is. Whatever atrocities he has had had to flee, however far he has had to travel and whatever he has had to sacrifice, I know that my worst nightmare won’t even come close.

No one puts their family into a flimsy boat or crams themselves into a lorry without air unless they are beyond desperate. To live to tell the tale is heroic. Yes, I agree that there are lots of people who need help in the North-East but a large amount of the donations amassed at centres across the region – as a direct result of the Calais appeal – will go to local food banks and charities right here.

INSPIRATIONAL: Jenni Yuill co-founded North-East Solidarity With Refugees which has galvanised support for the humanitarian crisis in Calais

INSPIRATIONAL: Jenni Yuill, co-founder of North-East Solidarity With Calais Refugees which has galvanised support for the humanitarian crisis

That’s because only around 10 per cent of refugees at Camp Jungle are women and children and they are already being helped with an influx of aid following the mainstream media’s U-turn on the issue.

Only certain food items can be taken to France so the rest will be given to local food banks and women’s and children’s shoes and clothes will be donated to people at home, taken to France on the next trip or sold to raise money for the campaign which has attracted almost 10,000 supporters on Facebook since it was launched just a month ago by Jenni Yuill from Hartlepool and Shah Lalon Amin from South Shields.

WATERPROOF: Camping equipment ready to go

WATERPROOF: Camping equipment ready to go

HOME: Many of the women's, children's and men's formal shoes will be donated to local refuges

HOME: Many of the women’s, children’s and men’s formal shoes will be donated to local refuges

At 10am yesterday morning a small group of volunteers gulped at the mounds of items waiting to be separated, counted, labelled and boxed at Columba’s Centre in the town but by noon a small army had arrived – as had the bombardment of more donations.

Camping equipment in one corner, toiletries in another, with food, bedding, shoes and blankets all ready and waiting to be delved into. I was surprised – but probably shouldn’t have been – at how fantastic the quality of the donations were, there was a sprinkling of tat but most was top quality, a sure sign of the seriousness people had taken the appeal.

VOLUNTEERS: Naomi Weston and her baby Robyn (Jenni Yuill's niece)

VOLUNTEERS: Naomi Weston and baby Robyn, who was there to support her auntie Jenni

No asked each other why they were there, they didn’t need to. Helpers young and old just cracked on with the job – it looked so unsurmountable at first that it was easier to just get busy than think about the enormous task in hand. It made me feel better about my ironing pile, anyway.


FUNNY: Helpers, some very young, were eager to help label boxes

FUNNY: Helpers, some very young, were eager to label boxes

Pizzas and sweet treats kept the troops happy and soon van load after van load of stuff was being driven to a nearby storage lock up ready to be transported  across the Channel on Friday.

A haulage lorry was filled to the brim with supplies following the successful event in Yarm on Saturday and our sorting day was just one of many across the region that have left organisers feeling overwhelmed.

So I hope the man who’s given the ‘Superman’ shoes likes them and they make him smile. Who needs Kryptonite when you’ve been to hell and back and lived to tell the tale? Survival against the odds is a real superpower and, in my eyes, he is a real Superman.


Facebook  – North-East Solidarity With Calais Refugees

Twitter: @neswcr




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