Help Refugees

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Help Refugees
Help Refugees logo
Founded2015; 4 years ago (2015)
FoundersLliana Bird, Josie Naughton, Dawn O'Porter, Dani Lawrence
Area served
Currently, Europe and the Middle East

Help Refugees is a UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO) which provides humanitarian aid to, and advocacy for, refugees around the world. In 2016, it became the largest grassroots distributor of aid in Europe.[1]


Early days[edit]

Help Refugees grew "accidentally" out of a social media campaign organised by radio presenter and writer Lliana Bird, TV presenter and writer Dawn O'Porter, and artist management assistant Josie Naughton to help one of Bird's friends collect donations and funds to support refugees in the so-called Jungle camp in Calais.[2]

In August 2015, Bird and Naughton offered to help Bird's former acting teacher, Tom Radcliffe, who was aiming to raise £1,000 and a van-load of donations to drive from the UK to Calais.[2] The two women met with O'Porter and decided to use the hashtag #HelpCalais to raise awareness of the crisis and to help raise funds.[2] They used their social media followings and celebrity contacts to spread the word and were overwhelmed with the response: within days the group had raised enough material donations to warrant finding a storage space, which was donated by Big Yellow Group.[2] Dani Lawrence, who runs an import company with her husband and whose father was a Moroccan refugee, offered to help coordinate getting the donations to Calais.[2] A week after the campaign started, the image of three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi was in the news and donations increased exponentially as people became more aware of the so-called European migrant crisis. Bird's sister, who was volunteering from Tel Aviv as supply manager and had set up an Amazon wish list of items needed in the camp in Calais, recounts, "I keep putting on 100 pairs of boots, 200 sleeping bags, 300 tents, and they keep disappearing" - initially, she thought there was a glitch with the wish list, but "realised that they were disappearing because people were buying them".[2] The Big Yellow Group contacted the campaign organisers to inform them that 7,000 packages had arrived in a day.[2] Six volunteers were sorting the donations, so the women made a callout on social media and more volunteers turn up, which the organisers fed by again asking for the support, and Domino's Pizza and Nando's provided food.[2] The group now had 15 storage rooms.[2]

Bird, Lawrence, Naughton, and O'Porter visited Calais to work out how they could get the donations to the right place to help people there, expecting to find large NGOs like the Red Cross or the UNHCR.[2] No large NGOs were there, but their encounters with people living in the camp and individuals dedicated to supporting those people (like Liz Clegg, a former firefighter from Glastonbury who was organising food and aid and would later establish a women's and children's centre) encouraged them to work with individuals already there to find a solution.[2]

Returning to Calais on 15 September, the women hired a warehouse in which to store donations.[2] In a DIY store while looking for shelving for the warehouse, Lawrence met a stranger from Ireland who had raised £5,000 to be used in Calais buy didn't know what to do with it: they offered to pay for the shelving, which came to £900.[2] As more volunteers arrived to help, Help Refugees began efforts to build temporary shelters at the camp,[2] distribute goods and provide other services that were not being catered for sufficiently, working with local associations where possible. The group were involved in receiving, sorting and distribution of donations; shelter construction; camp census taking.[2] Friends of the founding women moved to France to help, organising volunteers and shelter allocations for refugees, for example.[2] The number of donations and volunteers increased and a larger warehouse was found.

Bird, Lawrence, Naughton, and O'Porter were mostly working from Lawrence's home in London, fitting things around their jobs.[2] Lawrence had effectively given up working on her business and, by January 2016, Naughton quit her job with Coldplay to focus on Help Refugee.[2] Lawrence describes them as "the accidental charity".[2]

Expansion out of France[edit]

In October 2015, there was an increase in migrant arrivals in the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, and disease was breaking out. Help Refugees put out a message asking for doctors to go there and offering to pay for flights and accommodation if they could stay for more than a week. They managed to fund 30 doctors.[2] By June 2016, Help Refugees was supporting 26 projects across Europe.[2]

Since 2015, Help Refugees has helped more than 722,500 people across the world.[3]

Media coverage[edit]

The Guardian chose Help Refugees as one of the partner charities for their 2016 Charity Appeal.[4]

Help Refugees' census of the Calais refugee camp received media coverage across the globe.[5][6][7]

A BBC documentary Calais: The Last Days Of The Jungle featured interviews with several Help Refugees staff and volunteers.[8]

Celebrity endorsements[edit]

Celebrities who have endorsed, advocated, partnered and performed for Help Refugees and their fundraising events include Jude Law, Tom Odell[9] and Pamela Anderson.[10]


In June 2017, Help Refugees partnered with London's V&A for Help Refugees: Our Shared Future, a series of discussions in their Lecture Theatre to launch the 2017 Refugee Week.[11]

Choose Love[edit]

At a fundraiser in November 2015, Help Refugees launched their iconic 'Choose Love' T-shirts, created by British designer Katharine Hamnett.[12] Profits from the T-shirts - now sold by UK online retailer ASOS[13] - are donated to Help Refugees. In 2017, Help Refugees launched series of Choose Love music event fundraisers which has included club nights hosted by electronic music website Resident Advisor.[14]

In November 2017, they launched a Choose Love pop-up shop in Soho, London and accompanying website, where people could purchase essential items for refugees in the guise of Christmas presents.[15] In the run-up to Christmas 2018, a second Choose Love store opened in New York City,[16] while an art work donated by Banksy was on display and available to be won in the London shop.[17]


  1. ^ 'The Advocates: Lliana Bird, Dani Lawrence, Josie Naughton, and Dawn O’Porter (2016) on Foreign Policy
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Andrew Anthony, 'Accidental activists: the British women on the front line of the refugee crisis' (12/06/16) in The Guardian
  3. ^
  4. ^ P. Butler, 'Guardian and Observer 2016 charity appeal raises over £1.75m' (09/01/17) on The Guardian
  5. ^ Harriet Agerholm, 'Refugee crisis: Fears of children vanishing from Calais Jungle as numbers at camp hit record high' (21/07/16) on The Independent
  6. ^ 'Clashes as authorities dismantle Calais 'Jungle'' (29/02/16) on France 24
  7. ^ Elsa Buchanan, 'Calais: Hundreds of Jungle camp population left ahead of the planned eviction, charities warn' (27/10/16) on International Business Times
  8. ^ "What's on TV tonight". The Times. Retrieved 2017-09-11.
  9. ^ Jude Law and Tom Odell head to Calais to raise the plight of refugees, Evening Standard. Retrieved 2017-15-12.
  10. ^ Help Refugees - Providing aid and upholding dignity for refugees, @pamfoundation on Twitter. Retrieved 2017-15-12.
  11. ^ Help Refugees: Our Shared Future, V&A. Retrieved 2017-26-11.
  12. ^ 'Peace And More Line Up For Fundraising Show For Refugees' (04/11/15) on Radio X
  13. ^ What to give the man who has everything this Christmas, The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-26-11.
  14. ^ RA to host Help Refugees fundraiser in London with Midland, Simian Mobile Disco, Resident Advisor. Retrieved 2017-26-11.
  15. ^ Choose Love: the shop where you can spend hundreds and walk away with nothing, The New Statesman. Retrieved 2017-26-11.
  16. ^ L. M. Holson, 'Sleeping Bags and Solar Lamps: Pop-Up Shop Lets You Buy Holiday Gifts for Refugees' (30/11/18) in The New York Times
  17. ^ Katie Baron, 'How Choose Love Made Charity Credible Again: Pop-Up Sales Storm Towards £1.5m, Doubling 2017 Total' (22/10/18) on Forbes

External links[edit]