How it all began
We are a group of like-minded individuals who are driven by the desire to help refugees and others in need, locally and abroad
If we’re honest, we never thought this would be the start of something so amazing …
The idea behind the initial group, High Wycombe – Donations for Refugees, came from Ann Phipps in September 2015. Ann and her family visited the Calais refugee camp in August after their holiday in France to deliver their camping equipment and other aid to the refugees. After that visit to the Jungle, seeing the desperate plight of the refugees for herself, Ann knew that she had to do much more so she put out a plea for donations on the local High Wycombe Facebook page and within a few days her available storage space at home was full and the appeal was gathering speed rapidly.
With more and more offers of donation coming in, Ann quickly realised that this was going to be more than she could handle at home and desperately needed to find some more space somewhere. Ann also realised that she urgently needed help with this project as it was already more than she could manage alone.
A few days later, the tragic images of a little boy, Aylan, washed up lifeless on a beach in Turkey, began circulating in the media. This devastating image was a wake-up call for so many people, it literally changed the world and within a few days a formidable team began to emerge when Claire, Miranda, Karen, Tony (from our sister group, Jungle Solidarity) and Refi (from WISE Mosque) offered their help.
In the pursuit of storage Refi offered us use of the basement at the Mosque and the members of the Wycombe Quaker House also offered us space on their site, both offers were gratefully accepted. These storage spaces quickly filled up and thankfully, after contacting many people, Claire was offered the disused West Wycombe Garden Centre for a few weeks. At last, our mission to help refugees could begin in earnest!
Donations began to flood in from not only the local community but also from groups across the country; for example a police team drove two vans of donations all the way down to us from Yorkshire! After a few weeks we were able to begin organising for aid to be transported to the refugees in Calais.
Suddenly, this was too big to walk away from but we desperately needed more help as it was just too much for the four of us to manage on our own along with our full time jobs and family lives.
We all started to appeal for volunteers via Facebook, Twitter, friends and family. Thankfully, people began to answer the call and offered their help with sorting, packing, fundraising, eBay sales and transportation of aid.
Out of the blue we were offered the funding for a 40 foot lorry by Tiger Taxis in Wycombe and incredibly what began with one lorry filled with donations, several van and car loads heading out to Calais in October 2015 has led to the most amazing, life-changing journey for everyone involved.
The situation in Calais is just part of a wider migration crisis in Europe, which has largely been caused by the displacement of citizens of from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea and across North Africa.
Sadly, the refugee crisis has been met with a great deal of hostility and misunderstanding from the authorities and public at large. Growing numbers of unaccompanied children and young people are living in increasingly squalid conditions in sprawling makeshift camps across Europe. More than 4,000 people, including children as young as 12 who have fled war, poverty and oppression are living in a refugee camp known locally as ‘The Jungle’. There are further thousands of refugees living in a camp in Dunkirk.
After we returned from Calais we looked around the storage space and quickly realised that there were still enough donations to send a lot more to places in need.
A local resident, Mo, had seen our posts of Facebook and contacted us to offer his services on behalf of a charity called One Nation. This charity are involved in getting donations into Syria to people in besieged towns, women and orphan camps and anywhere else aid is desperately needed.
Two weeks after our trip to Calais we filled a 40 foot container with food, clothing, medicine and equipment and it headed off to Syria.
Was that it?
Nope! Just after the 1st container for Syria left we walked back into the garden centre and promptly ordered another one! The warehouse was still so full of donations that a 2nd container was needed. The 2nd container arrived a week later, was filled in record time by our fantastic volunteers, and also headed off to Syria.
Sadly a few week later we had to vacate the garden centre and the urgent search began again for storage as offers of donations were still coming in hour by hour.
A kind lady called Julia, who had been actively involved in our appeals through the Quaker House, managed to negotiate a lock-up on the BasePoint site in Cressex for us for one month, free of charge. This came at a crucial time for everyone involved as every available inch of space in our houses, cars, workplaces, places of worship was completely full - again!
In the four weeks that we were at BasePoint we were able to send a 40ft container of aid to Greece and also several of the team made food and firewood runs to Calais as well as volunteering in the Jungle as interpreters and medics.
When it was time to hand back the keys to BasePoint we had nowhere to go.
Ann was asked to be a guest on the local Radio station, Awaaz, to talk about our group during which she put out an appeal for storage but nothing was offered and then, just as we were beginning to lose hope that we could continue, Julia, once again, came to the rescue.
Julia had negotiated space for us in a disused school at Cressex Link for three months; once all the paperwork and health & safety checks were done, Ann signed the lease and on 24th December we got the keys and we moved into our new ‘home’, Merryfields, in the New Year.
Merryfields was like a spacestation!! Room upon room, open space upon open space; it was truly a fantastic place for our needs and we again started to promote the group with a passion and the donations again began to arrive at a phenomenal rate.
And now, 15 months later ...
To-date we have :-
- sent SEVENTEEN containers of aid (Greece, Syria, Lebanon) including 4 ambulances to Syria
- working in parnership with UK Action for Refugees group in Cornwall sending containers full of medical aid from HWHO hub to Syria hospitals
- helped the Calais Action team from London with storage of 100+ packed rucksacks and consequently helped them load these onto a container destined for Greece.
- taken food and other aid to the Calais camp and visited the new Dunkirk camp to assess their needs and deliver
some boxes of aid
- taken aid to asylum seekers in the UK
- taken aid to the flood areas in Yorkshire
- sent a pallet of donated hijabs to Greece
- given surplus food donations to One Can Hope and One Can Trust
- taken towels and duvets to Dogs Trust in Saunderton
- taken items to the families refuge in Saunderton
- fund raised to buy food and other urgent donation for refugees in Greece which were purchased by our volunteers when they reached Samos and assessed the needs of the refugees.
- taken surplus donation of bedding and clothing to Wycombe Homeless Connection
- taken donations of toys and baby items to The Dorcas Project in Wycombe and local toy library.
We sadly had to vacate Merryfields and for a time we had nowhere to go but thanks to funding and a volunteer's own money we have been able to rent storage at Big Yellow in Wycombe.
Currently our team are actively making life a little more bearable for the refugees in Paris, Dunkirk, Greece and Syria
When we all started on this journey as individuals; collecting a few donations in our front rooms because we just couldn’t turn away. None of us actively meant to be this heavily involved, but this isn’t something any of us can walk away from now. When you witness and understand the true horror of the lives these poor people have had to endure to get to safety you feel compelled to help in any way you can.
As well as raising money and collecting and delivering aid, we also want to raise awareness. We need to make people understand that young Aylan was one of thousands of children who have died while their family was trying to make the treacherous journey to a better life and that, sadly, there will be many, many more lives lost in this quest.
This problem is increasing every single day. It’s not getting better, and it is not going away. People are now reaching closed borders, unable to move forwards and unable to go back – what is there to go back to? A pile of rubble and fear of torture and sniper fire, wives and daughters kidnapped and used as sex slaves, sons forced to fight and beheaded if they refuse - that’s what. Given a choice a single person would not go back let alone take a family back to that existence.
We saw a peak in public awareness when the images of that poor boy Aylan emerged but sadly now that press reports are few and far between people presume things are improving. They are certainly not. We need more help to sort donations at Big Yellow Storage, 320 London Road, High Wycombe to keep this going - check OPEN TIMES for open days.
We must keep raising money and get help to those in crisis areas which we can’t do without your generosity. Every offer of help and every penny donated is critical. We can’t solve this crisis but we can make life a little easier for the people we reach.
In addition to offering support and assistance to the refugees, we hope to change people’s perception of the refugee crisis from one of hostility and fear to one of concern and compassion.
Every single person who has been involved in our efforts over the past 15 months has stepped out of their own lives and selflessly helped make all of this happen; thank you all again because we couldn’t have done any of this without you.
We never meant to start this, but we’re so glad we did.
Physical donations are constantly required for all of our APPEALS and can be delivered to Big Yellow Storage, 320 London Road, High Wycombe, HP11 1LJ. The storage facility is not manned regularly so please see the CALENDAR for opening times and days.
Money donations are always needed as it’s quicker to send money in a crisis than physical donations and goes much further when spent on the ground in these stricken destinations, please click the link below to donate to our Humanitarian Relief Fund.
High Wycombe Helping Others is a Restricted Fund under the Auspices of Prism the Gift Fund, Charity Number 1099682.
Blogs are our own personal thoughts and just a way to explain our journey and share our experiences