A church, a library, a youth club, a theatre: how Calais' “Jungle” camp is starting to look like a city

Migrant children learn to read in one of the camp's makeshift classrooms. Image: Getty.

French authorities have given up to 2,000 residents in Calais' migrant camp one week to move. After that, a whole section of the camp – which includes a church, library, school, youth club, legal centre, theatre and many other makeshift social services – will be torn down.

Threats of eviction have become more immediate in recent months, as security concerns around the camp have increased. But this kind of instability has long been part of everyday life in the settlement known as “the Jungle”. It is part slum, part camp; a bubbling cauldron of urban entrepreneurialism and humanitarian efforts, where volatility breeds experimentation. When I made the trip to Calais as a volunteer, I discovered that, in many ways, the Jungle is not dissimilar to a modern-day city: it is fast-growing, entrepreneurial and closely monitored.

Urban opportunities

As conflict continues to drive people from their homes in the Middle East, and border controls tighten across Europe, Calais has become a bottleneck for people seeking to reach the UK. As a result, the population of the Jungle has grown from an estimated 800 people in 2009, to 6,000 in November 2015, echoing the global trend toward increasing urbanisation.

As a result of its growing profile, the Jungle has drawn a large number of volunteers offering aid. This has led to a huge increase in the diversity of services being provided – and the Jungle is now taking on distinctly “urban” characteristics. Perhaps most notably, it is becoming a space for entrepreneurial activity.

There are a growing number of restaurants, cafes, barbers, bathing rooms and other leisure services on offer. Because the Jungle is not formally recognised as a slum or a refugee camp, these activities have not received any “official” aid. Instead, people have begun to make a living via these entrepreneurial activities; this is a distinctly urban process.

Volunteer groups offering aid have proved to be similarly adaptable. One example can be found in the construction of prefabricated shelters for residents: tents are replaced with warmer, sturdier shelters, which are prepared off site and assembled in the camp. The design of these “prefabs” is tweaked along the way, with input from residents. The result is a dynamic process, involving both volunteers and refugees, which can adapt individual dwellings to particular needs.

When I visited, I also saw youth centres, theatres, educational services, playgrounds, immunisation programs, language lessons and even an embroidery class – all being offered by volunteers. The refugees are also bringing their own skills to the table, combining them with material provisions from the volunteers and donations to create their own services and activities.

For example, the “Good Chance Theatre” in Calais provides theatrical, performance and artistic pursuits for the refugees. Over time though, the refugees themselves have been able to begin running workshops and events based on their own cultures, entirely independently from those who established the theatre. All these activities are creating a tangible sense of community.

The uniquely experimental, urban conditions of the Jungle have allowed grass-roots, community-led humanitarianism to flourish. But they have also allowed for the camp to become a testing ground for methods of control and enforcement.

A climate of fear

This is most evident in the container housing, which has been provided by the authorities. Although they offer warm, clean and semi-permanent shelter for refugees, it’s not clear how inhabitants are selected, and it is rumoured that tenure is limited to a few weeks.

The containers are surrounded by wire fences and patrolled by security guards with attack dogs. They contain no community spaces and crucially, a condition of entry is the surrender of biometric data, in the form of a palm print. The camp inhabitants are highly suspicious of these new quarters: they are seen as a stealthy databasing technique, which could potentially hamper the chance to seek asylum in the UK.

What’s more, the police that surround the camp are implementing an experimental type of enforcement. Their use of violence and alleged illegal weapons seems random and indiscriminate. Their constant presence on the perimeter of the camp – in particular, the long line of vans perched on the shoulder of the motorway, overlooking the camp – are a constant reminder of the threat of violence and eviction. And sadly, the ubiquity of these forces has offered no protection against the violence directed by far-right groups toward refugees in the camp.

Police walk across the "buffer zone". Image: Oli Mould.

The sense of vulnerability instilled by such methods is reinforced when residents are evicted to make way for buffer zones. Earlier this year, after sustained attempts by refugees to gain access to vehicles on the motorway, police decided to impose a 100m buffer zone between the motorway’s edge and the camp. People were given roughly four days notice to move any shelters or structures that were occupying the area.

Many volunteer and refugee groups ceased their daily activities and scrambled to move shelters and prefabs to alternative sites. Lorries, low-loading vans, carts, forklift trucks and teams of people were all used to transport assembled prefabs across the camp. Despite these efforts, a church and a mosque in the buffer zone – which police agreed to leave untouched – were bulldozed without warning.

And so, the intense precariousness and instability that pervades the Jungle can be both an opportunity, and a curse. This place shows that people can come together to provide support and services for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. But there is also evidence of authoritarian brutality. The Jungle is a unique urban space, caught between the harsh realities of a geopolitical crisis and the rousing collective will of a humanitarian response. Which one wins out, only time will tell.The Conversation

Oli Mould is a lecturer in human geography at Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.

…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.