A School for Dunkirk

By Brighton Shelter Build / Hummingbird / Brighton Bridge

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Thanks to all the amazing support the project has received, we've finished building the very much needed family centre for the refugees of Dunkirk. Thank you to everyone that has helped to make this happen!

Living conditions in the old Grande Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk were at humanitarian crisis point but thankfully Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Dunkirk Town Council have built a new site to rehouse 1500 refugees. 300 heated shelters, toilets, showers and a new medical centre are already onsite but there is no funding left for the essential communal and safe spaces that refugees rely upon and have become integral to life in Grande Synthe.

Due to all of the generous donations that we have received so far, we have now finished building the brand new children's centre. We have been totally inspired and have been researching how we can bring sustainable education spaces to other European refugee camps. Any surplus donations from this project will be redirected into sister projects.

The family centre we have just finished includes 2 large classrooms and a baby and toddler soft room, the rooms are currently in use and the education teams are over the moon with the quality of this new and much needed facility for the approximately 200 children on the site, some of whom are unaccompanied minors.

The education team onsite (Dunkirk Kids Welfare) continue to do amazing work and a rising number of the children attend sessions on a daily basis. This directly contributes towards the safety and stability of these children many of whom are particularly vulnerable. There's a full statement from Dunkirk Kids Welfare regarding the new school at the bottom of this page.

The plans for the new centre had full approval from both MSF and the Dunkirk Council and should remain and continue to benefit the lives of the refugee families in Dunkirk for a very long time.

We hope you believe in this project as much as we do. If you share our passion we invite you to DONATE, FUNDRAISE and SHARE THIS PROJECT and be part of making a massive difference to the lives of the refugee families in Dunkirk.

Our original fundraising video.

Here's the original sketch of what the new buildings were likely to look like.

Who are ‘We’?

A School for Dunkirk project is a joint initiative from three Brighton based, not for profit, grass roots, voluntary run organisations.

BRIGHTON SHELTER BUILD PROJECT are a collective of carpenters, builders and creatives that have been mainly building residential shelters in Calais over the past 3 months. Their work has also included build/aid days in the Dunkirk camp and their most recent project is to rebuild and maintain the structures in the very small Tattingham camp 20kms south of Calais. Here is a video from one of their recent projects in Calais.

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT work in partnership with other organisations and charities to promote a coordinated response to the refugee crisis. Our volunteers work to keep people warm, dry and healthy through aid, soup kitchens, medical support, the provision of safe spaces and building projects.

Our building project supports an active network of over 200 volunteer builders and handy people with a wide range of skills. To date our builders in partnership with The L’Auberge Builders, Brighton Build Project, Aid Box Convoy, Un toit pour l’hiver and Brighton Bridge have erected a variety of purpose built shelters. These include an information centre/clinic and a library/cinema. Members of our build team have pioneered the use of SIPS (Structural Insulated Panels System) to build low cost pre-insulated, simple to construct shelters.

BRIGHTON BRIDGE. Richard O'Brien and Lee Bennett began visiting Dunkirk in November 2015 and have made regular trips ever since. With the help of some amazing volunteers and carpenters we've been able to deliver essential aid, build family shelters, and create a medical shelter for Calais. It is a crucial time for the current residents of the Dunkirk camp and Brighton Bridge is confident that alongside our partner organisations, we can build something that we can all be proud of.


Our little school, or 'maktab' as we refer to it in camp, has become a very important place for the children and their families. The conditions in camp are so dangerous for them that their development is highly likely to be severely stunted during their time there. Physical development is very closely linked to brain development and we really wanted to provide somewhere warm, safe and dry for the children to crawl, toddle, jump, dance and play in a way that will allow them to flourish despite the dreadful circumstances they are in. We firmly believe in learning through imaginative play and in allowing the children to develop at their own pace, providing opportunities for them to engage in activities that promote development and that they can access of their own accord, with gentle guidance from experienced educators.

The children have made such wonderful progress already. Many have changed from withdrawn or aggressive little beings, children that displayed obvious signs of acute trauma, to ones that engage in play alongside others and have developed positive relationships with adults and peers. The babies and younger children can move about freely and safely in maktab and are able to smile and laugh during mum and toddler sing-a-long sessions. The older children love the arts and crafts activities which give them a chance to express themselves, or playing imaginatively with dressing up, role play and small-world toys. Books play a central role in Maktab and we have storybooks in Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi so that the children can access the wonderful benefits of story time in their own language. We also have wordless picture books, as well as beautiful books donated by publishers and from International Book Giving Day. Philosophical Storyplay will play a large role on the new site, led by our very experienced Sara.

Whilst we make no claims to be able to 'fix' these vulnerable little people we firmly believe that providing what DKW has to offer, we can give them the very best chance to behave just as children should. We hope to be able to assist the children in being able to, even momentarily, leave the distressing things they have seen and the terror they have experienced behind.

It is vital that we continue to develop and grow to meet the needs of the families in camp. Whilst great progress has been made, it is a constant battle to keep our building weather proofed- leaking ceilings, rotten flooring and even the roof blowing off in a storm are just some of the recent problems we have had to deal with! Space is limited and organising and storing resources is problematic. We desperately want to offer the children a safe outdoor space but at the moment it is not possible. When we relocate we are hoping to carry on with our DKW ethos but in a larger and more secure site, where the parents have more opportunity to play alongside their children.

We have come such a long way in such a short amount of time- imagine what the children can become given the opportunity to continue talking, expressing, playing and learning as they have already begun to do....

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Team Members

Darren Hougham