Who we are
Aid Box Community (ABC) is a Bristol-based humanitarian organisation set up by group of ordinary people in response to the continuing refugee crisis. We come from all walks of life, and all have different jobs and interests. But we’ve come together to pool our time, energy, skills and whatever money we can give for a cause that we simply couldn’t ignore. With the backing of four fabulous trustees, we're getting things done.
As part of our work, we've opened a central base for our work called the ABC Hub, which includes a free shop. You can find us at 5-7 Waverley Road, Redland, Bristol BS6 6ES.
Why we do what we do
The world is facing one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of our generation. Millions of people are being forced to flee their homelands in search of safety from war, extreme poverty and government oppression.
Europe has seen a huge influx of desperate people and is struggling to offer a sufficient response. Where governments and large NGOs fail to tackle the situation, the crisis grows. Camps and pockets of people emerge across Europe with little or no support other than that provided by individuals and small independent organisations who can’t turn their backs.
For those who arrive in the UK, it can take over a year to be granted asylum. Only around 40% of asylum seekers are permitted to stay. Others face deportation, and are often held in deportation centres - some for years. Many of the 40% who do get asylum end up homeless and destitute due to the lack of support in finding work and housing. These people are often suffering from PTSD, depression and isolation.
A bit of ABC history
In September 2015, a photo of a small boy on a beach shook the world. The boy was 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, and he’d been washed ashore in Turkey, having drowned during his family’s attempt to flee devastation and violence in Syria.
That tragedy, one among so many, highlighted the horror and desperation of the crisis.
In Bristol, a small group of friends began mobilising their resources towards doing something to help. We’d seen and read about the horrendous conditions in refugee camps in northern France and decided on a single mission - to deliver tents, sleeping bags and 300 aid boxes containing complete survival kits to a small forgotten refugee camp in Dunkirk.
Our first aid box convoy arrived in Dunkirk in October 2014. The camp was situated on marsh land on the edge of a suburban housing estate. It was rat-infested, waterlogged due to non-existent drainage or sanitation, and at its peak there were thought to be 4000 people living in the most squalid conditions, bordering on starvation.
Children played amongst rubbish and human waste. A handful of self-funded individual volunteers, small organisations and MSF workers struggled to feed people, provide medical care and offer shelter to the continual arrival of refugees.
With our first load of aid only scratching the surface of what was needed, we had no choice but to keep collecting donations and raising funds to buy essential supplies. Emotional, logistical and personal support for people living in the camp was desperately lacking so we made a commitment to keeping a team on the ground. We remained on the ground until the camps eventual closure in the spring of 2016.
Winter was even more dire. The French authorities, who didn’t want to officially recognise the camp, would not allow building materials on site, so tents and blankets had to be smuggled through an armed police blockade. Families slept on wet blankets with nothing but a thin sheet of nylon between them and the elements. They were constantly cold, soaked and hungry. At one point 80% of those tested were suffering from hyperthermia. Truck loads of food, clothing, tents and blankets were a lifeline from good people across Europe.
What ABC has achieved so far
Since ABC began, we have mobilised over 300 volunteers from Bristol and the south of England. These kind-hearted people have given their time to either work on the camp or help with the collection and delivery of over 1000 aid boxes and hundreds of van loads of emergency aid to the camp.
We coordinated a team of volunteers on the ground in the camp every day for 8 months as well as a team of builders, who built communal kitchens. Working closely alongside MSF and other volunteer groups from across Europe, we helped to keep over 7000 people alive over the winter months.
In the past year we have raised approx £90,000 - all through crowdfunding. This money has been spent directly on aid and the delivery of aid to the camps.
Importantly, we have raised the profile of the refugee crisis in northern France using TV, radio and social media.
Miraculously, in all the time were involved in the camp, no-one died. Above all, this was testament to the resilience and community of the people of the camp. Living in the camps, we met journalists, teachers, interpreters, mothers, fathers, kids. We were greeted with smiles and endless offers of tea. Our lives were forever changed by these amazing people no different from us whom, if our fates were reversed, would be doing the same things to help keep us alive.
The camp was moved in March to a site with better sanitation and facilities. People were provided with wooden huts to live in and had access to a reliable clean water supply. Though still far from an ideal situation, people’s immediate needs were being met. So on March 22nd 2016 we withdrew our team from the camp.
The situation in France is constantly changing. The Calais “Jungle” has been closed. Thousands of refugees have been moved on from the streets of Paris. The Dunkirk camp capacity is constantly being reduced. Refugees are being dispersed to smaller centres across France. Yet the root cause of the problem is unchanged, and people continue to land on European shores.
What’s next for ABC?
We remain committed to raising funds and supporting those who have been forced to leave their homes and are stranded in inhumane living conditions in camps or on the streets across Europe.
We are also dedicated to supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol, who despite landing in the UK are destitute and in need of food, aid and help to become independent and integrate into the Bristol community. Many people have been given their right to remain in the UK but now find themselves homeless, alone and unable to access jobs or housing.
The Aid Box Community Hub is where we will continue to collect, sort and deliver life saving aid to send to displaced people in France and where we will run a 'Free Shop' where destitute asylum seekers and refugees can access free goods such as toiletries, basic household items, clothes and food.
'At Borderlands, we are really excited to be working with Aid Box Community. Their work will make a great difference to our ability to meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol by providing us with much needed resources. It is difficult to express just how useful their offer to store and deliver resources, for which we have no room, will prove. Furthermore, their free shop will provide direct support to many of our members, delivered in a dignified and humanising way, we anticipate making many referrals to this service. We are glad to be working in partnership with ABC, and have every confidence in their plans.' - Steve Owen, Borderlands Refugee Charity
'Aid Box Community have been at the forefront of providing practical aid to refugees in Europe. Their ability to mobilise large numbers of supporters, gather food, clothes, tents and funds has undoubtedly saved many lives, increased the awareness of the crisis facing those seeking sanctuary in Europe and given hope to thousands. We are pleased to work with ABC in Bristol. The community hub will provide a way to coordinate the goodwill of the people of Bristol and match it up with the needs of asylum seekers in Bristol.' - Andrew McCarthy, Bristol Refugee Rights
'I have followed the work of the inspirational Aid Box Convoy over the past year and i am hugely impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the organisation. They support both refugees on the ground and volunteers, providing a vital link between those in need and those who ant to help. The development of the Free Shop in Bristol and the outreach in Paris is evidence of the way ABC can respond to a changing environment.' - Julie Ward, MEP
'ABC has identified a big gap in services, for the type of Community Hub which it is now establishing. I can confidently say that this work will complement current services in a very significant way.' - Caroline Beatty, Bristol City of Sanctuary