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Singer Ian Shaw talks about building shelters in Calais and refugee fundraiser shows

Written by
Tristan Parker

Ian Shaw has been a mainstay of London’s jazz and cabaret circuit for decades, but right now his attentions are focused on the other side of the Channel. He's been regularly travelling to and from the refugee camps in Calais to build shelters and help those in need. Now, he’s also organising two fundraising shows – featuring an eclectic cast of comedians, musicians and performers at central London venue the Phoenix Artist Club this week. We caught up with Shaw to find out more.
How often do you go over to Calais?
‘Every week. There’s a group called the Flat-Pack Disaster Shack. We build flat-pack shelters from tarpaulin and wooden pallets. I also helped to build a restaurant, which seats about 150 people. I think a food critic from a national broadsheet is coming to review it.’

The Flat-Pack Disaster Shack at work

What are conditions like?
‘It’s a ridiculous situation. Sanitation is unbelievable, and most of it is just tents built on landfill. But there’s hardly any violence at all – I feel safer there than I do in London.’
What are the biggest challenges at the moment?
‘There’s an outbreak of scabies, so I’m running around chemists in Calais buying up all the scabies spray. It’s all very hands-on, but we all muck in and make sure everyone’s safe and warm.’
Have there been inappropriate items donated?
‘Generally speaking, people’s good nature is what’s apparent, but yes, there are some inappropriate donations – there was a ballet dress, and gold stilettos. And you do get people just emptying out their garages. What’s really needed at the moment are blankets, warm jackets, woolly hats and waterproof trainers.’
Have you played any music there?
‘I did a gig in a makeshift church built out of bin bags and tarpaulin, run by a guy from Ethiopia, who was tortured in prison. It was incredible, music is so powerful in so many cultures.’
Tell us about the shows at the Phoenix Club.
‘It’s going to be a cross-section of music, comedy and performance. Julian Clary’s going to sing a filthy song, Barb Jungr will probably play some Dylan, and then there’s Linda Lewis, whose album I had when I was 12! There’ll be a raffle and auction too, and hopefully we’ll make three or four grand from the shows, all of which will go directly to help Calais. It’s kind of where I live at the moment – I can’t stop going there until something’s done about it. I’m spending Christmas over there – some of the guys there have built me a bedroom extension on to their restaurant.’

Read more about Ian Shaw's fundraiser shows.

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