Saffron Walden duo head off on mercy mission to help refugees in Calais

Fran and Karen

Fran and Karen - Credit: Archant

Two young women from Saffron Walden set off to drive to Calais yesterday, (Wednesday) taking boxes of warm clothes and £300 to buy food for refugees stranded in France.

Karen and Fran

Karen and Fran - Credit: Archant

Karen van Hees, 26, and Fran Baker, 27, both former pupils at Saffron Walden County High School, have taken a week’s holiday from their jobs to stay at a hostel near the camp which has become known as The Jungle.

The clothes and the cash have been donated by customers at the Courtyard Café in Saffron Walden where Karen is a tea room assistant.

The donors include pupils at Helena Romanes School in Great Dunmow who have given children’s books.

Karen said: “I put up a notice in the shop a week ago and people have been so generous. We have been given loads of coats and socks and shoes. People out there also need food and as soon as we get out there, we will do a supermarket shop for them.”

She added: “They need clothes out there and there is a lot of good will but, we’ve been told that some of the donations from other places have been really strange, people have given them wedding dresses and high heels.”

Karen and Fran, who works for a media agency in London, were inspired by another volunteer.

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Karen said: “We were at my mum’s house when her friend Glenys was there. She had just come back from Calais and was describing the conditions.

“Fran and I looked at each other. It’s something we have both wanted to do. All I know is that there are cold, tired and hungry people on our doorstep that I can do something for. I know a lot of people feel the same, they are desperate to do something to help but they can’t just take time off work.”

Fran said: “This is not a recognised refugee camp so there is no official help, they are entirely reliant on volunteers. But that means there is nothing to stop you getting in a car and going there. Kitchens have been set up to make sure that people get at least one hot meal a day and shelters so they are not sleeping on the cold, wet ground. This is 50 miles from London, not far away and these people have run away from the things we’re being scared of in the press. They are doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, they are there just because of the place where they were born.”

Karen and Fran headed for Dover yesterday (Wednesday) in Karen’s grandmother’s Ford Focus piled high with bags and boxes. They will join a volunteer group called L’Auberge des Migrants (Help the Refugees).

For a list of items needed in Calais see: