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about us

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Our story

Project Play was founded in August 2018 by volunteers working in northern France to support displaced communities sleeping in informal camps. On food distributions, friends Claire and Caia realized there was a stark lack of support and protection available to children and young people living in these informal camps in Dunkirk. They therefore decided to create a project to provide safe spaces and play for the children, with the goal of supporting their all-round well-being. 


Project Play ran its first session in November 2018. To date, we have provided play at twelve different sites: six accommodation centres, a day-centre, a safe house  and four informal camps. Project Play has worked with hundreds of children and run, on average, six sessions every week. We have welcomed and said goodbye to dozens of talented volunteers with a range of skills and expertise. 

the Context

Displaced communities have found themselves on French soil for decades. In October 2016, the famous ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, which at its height was home to over 16,000 displaced people, was dismantled and demolished. There are currently around 900 people living in informal settlements across Calais and Dunkirk. 


The policy of the French and British governments is to prevent formal camps from establishing again in Northern France. They do this through systematic evictions of living spaces and ongoing police harassment and violence. Between August 2018 and June 2019 there were 803 evictions in Calais and Dunkirk. Between 1st November 2017 and 1st of November 2018, associations recorded nearly 1,000 incidents of police violence against displaced people in Calais. Difficult past experiences combined with present-day police aggression and evictions take a large toll on children’s mental health and well-being. 


Children living in informal camps and temporary accommodation centres in northern France are denied their right to an education. They live in inhumane conditions, with no access to state protection or support. They have undergone difficult journeys and now find themselves victim to police harassment and violence in France. For many families, the UK represents a last hope for safety and sanctuary and the only option to give their children a safe future. Many of the children we work with attempt regular crossings to the UK, which of course leads to further distress, disruption and poor health. 

Our service

Our service aims to mitigate the impacts of ongoing trauma and to foster a sense of identity, agency and increased self-worth for the children we support. We do this through providing regular and consistent play sessions, with familiar faces and carefully planned out games and activities. 


Our sessions involve structured activities followed by time for free play. We always begin our session with group circle games, so everyone can participate, get to know each other and feel welcome in our space. 


We follow circle time with group activities, which are usually divided roughly by age group. These activities include arts and crafts, team-building games, construction challenges, sports games, educational sessions and science experiments. Each week the aim and theme of our main activities changes, from Nature to Science, Space to Drama. 


After our main activity, we provide a range of free play options for children of all ages. Our most popular and regular free play options include wooden train sets, duplo, imaginative play sets, colouring and drawing, board games and sports equipment. When children are allowed to choose their play, they are given the opportunity to exercise autonomy and strengthen their identity. 

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the power of play

“Play promotes creativity, imagination, self-confidence, self-efficacy and physical, social, cognitive and emotional strength and skills, and, as a protective process, can enhance adaptive capabilities and resilience”


- “Children’s Right to Play and the Environment”, The International Play Association, (2016), 


Play is essential for any child’s well-being and development. For some of the most at risk children in Europe, it can be a lifeline. Through play, children practice essential life skills; they learn to interact and communicate, to express their emotions and to explore their creativity. Play also simply allows children to create positive memories; a fundamental part of any childhood.


Play helps young people become strong and independent individuals. Through play, children practice the skills for later life; they learn to interact and communicate, to express their emotions, to explore their creativity and to grow their physical abilities. Play helps them figure out what they like and don’t like and what they are good at. With a strong sense of identity and self-belief, children are far more resilient to trauma and adversity. Playing with others teaches children to relate to those around them, to understand themselves and the impact of their actions, as well as how other people’s actions make them feel. The children we work with need a space where they can build this social and emotional awareness, to help them cultivate healthy relationships and process and respond to distress. Imaginative and pretend play lets children try out different roles, reenact real-life scenarios and process fears and anxieties. Through imaginative play, children are offered the space to work through traumatic events in their lives, by re-enacting and reframing these events in play.

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Every child has rights, no matter who they are, where they come from, what language they speak or what their legal status is. These rights are designed to support children to enjoy a safe, healthy childhood that sets them up for their futures. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets forth the rights which all children are entitled to. Both France and the UK have signed and ratified the UNCRC, meaning they have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights within it. Instead, they pursue hostile border policies which prevent children on the move from accessing their rights.

The rights within the UNCRC are indivisible and interdependent - this means that a violation of one right or group of rights impacts the enjoyment of all other rights. For example, the deprivation of the right to play can impact a child's right to mental and physical health, just as the deprivation of the right to an adequate standard of living can impact a child's access to their right to play, to health and to life. 

We advocate for an end to the hostile border policies that prevent the children we work with from accessing their rights. To do this, we target key rights which are particularly relevant in our context - including the right to play, the right to seek asylum, the right to be free from all forms of violence, and the right to adequate standards of living.

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