Join our mailing list for latest news and features

  • Interests:

Build Hollywood

Build Hollywood

Build Hollywood

Build Hollywood

Your Space Or Mine

Listening across borders: Conversations From Calais

Our latest Your Space Or Mine collaboration focuses on what began as a DIY poster project initiated by Mathilda, a longstanding Calais volunteer working to support migrants and refugees. We asked what first inspired her?

“I started Conversations From Calais after volunteering there for several organisations and every time I came back to London, I felt the need to share what I saw, heard and experienced. I felt so angry about how displaced communities were being portrayed in the media, especially when arriving in the UK from Northern France. I wanted to find a way to break away from this by remembering, documenting and commemorating all the different conversations I’d had with displaced people I’d met there. I thought this would be the simplest, rawest and most powerful way to share my experience. And slowly the project grew from there.”

The ‘refugee jungle’ in Calais may have been razed to the ground by French authorities in 2016 but there’s still a constant stream of displaced people stranded in the port city, anxiously seeking ways to reach the UK and apply for asylum.

Conversations From Calais bears witness to the multiple challenges facing these refugees and migrants. By recounting and sharing their chats with volunteers so many hitherto invisible, silent voices are recovered. “This ever-growing collection of conversations focuses on capturing the diversity of experiences and avoids creating new stereotypes of refugees as villains, heroic figures or hopeless victims.”

You noticed my cracked
hands from the cold as we were having tea together. You insisted on  giving me some hand cream and told me to take care of my hands. I will never forget the kindness and warmth you showed me in that moment, even after all the hostility you had experienced from the world.

By presenting such humbling testaments as posters on walls in cities around the world Conversations From Calais is imbuing public space with a conscience, the walls are talking and we really should listen to what they have to say. Project founder Mathilda hopes the posters will offer a counter narrative to the reductive, ignorant, often downright bigoted way that refugees and migrants are represented.

“The situation for displaced people in Calais and all over the world is harrowing and these conversations only portray a glimpse of it. A lot of these conversations describe many injustices and we need to be aware of them. Then it’s up to the individual to decide what to do with this information. My hope is for you to feel angry, frustrated, embarrassed and see no other alternative than fighting with us to change this broken system that only treats some humans as humans. I know not everyone will feel this way, and you may choose to ignore it, but you can’t say you didn’t know.”

The project cites lives blighted by poverty, famine, conflict and persecution. Dreams have been shattered, choices curtailed. We learn about the criminal squandering of skills. Imagine knowing nine languages and knowing also that no one wants even to look at you let alone talk to you. What a waste.

In quiet, unsensational tones, we also sense the longed-for relief from exhausting journeys, exposure to the elements, the constant privation and in Calais the agony of limbo. Or worse than simply being forgotten or ignored, these are conversations that sometimes ache with violence and loss endured, intimidation and harassment suffered. People know, governments know, but the care and consideration offered is scant, perfunctory at best, more often it’s prejudiced and unfair.

Stark black texts on white grounds, the sparse design communicates in a matter of fact way the awful precarity experienced by displaced persons. Your Space Or Mine is honoured to offer a helping hand to this project that both sobers and inspires and whose ethos and actions are summed up in a no nonsense, empathic mandate: be kind, be open, be political, be active, be generous.

Amidst the hurt, the Conversations From Calais project catalyses not just awareness but some hope too:


You looked up and said the sky was beautiful today. I replied that yes, it was. In that moment, we were just two people looking up at the sky.


Asked what especially appeals to her about the project’s expanded Your Space Or Mine display, founder Mathilda commented:

“Conversations From Calais started as posters pasted with homemade glue in the streets of Dover, then London and then the rest of the world. The process was a quick, easy and cheap way of getting these conversations read by large numbers of people, without having to go through censorship, curators or publishers. The posters became extensions of our walls, taking over public space and blending in with our cities’ stories. Billboards are the perfect extension of this use of public space, as they inhabit the same spaces but feel bigger in impact because of their size. These conversations cannot be forgotten, they need to be commemorated and for them to be printed the size of a house and put in so many cities around the UK feels like a first step to recognising that we refuse to turn away and forget.”


Your Future Worlds: Syrup Magazine and Eastside document the Hoxton community’s hopes for Hackney’s future

Previous case study

Your Future Worlds: Syrup Magazine and Eastside document the Hoxton community’s hopes for Hackney’s future

The Guardian: 200th Anniversary

Next case study


The Guardian: 200th Anniversary