It was important for me to see the Calais camp first hand

Actor Jack Gouldbourne is playing a child refugee in new play ”Cargo”. He headed to Calais to discover the experience of refugees first hand

The refugee camp in Calais
The refugee camp in Calais
© Jack Gouldbourne

Cargo by Tess-Berry Hart is an original thriller influenced by the refugee crisis, set in a cargo container with a group of refugees searching for safety. As an actor playing a child refugee in Cargo, I knew it was vital that I should go to the camp in Calais in order to gain real experience and connections with refugees. I didn't want to be a tourist so I went to volunteer to help prepare food and sort aid.

On first entering the camp, I felt intensely emotional – fear for myself entering the unknown, excitement at the opportunity to help, and seeing the problem for myself first-hand. From media coverage, I thought I would be entering a war zone, but instead I discovered rows of shacks, small shops, and people going about the business of living. I discovered the frighteningly mundane nature of life for those who live there. People run businesses, teach classes and somehow have built a life surrounded by chaos.

Jack Gouldbourne
Jack Gouldbourne
© David Gill

I find it really hard to do justice to their plight, as I genuinely cannot imagine exactly how they must have felt on their journeys. When I went to teach lessons at the camp library, called Jungle Books, I got to know a young boy (around 15) called Akram. I found his situation heart-breaking. He had been repeatedly rejected for asylum and was separated from his family. It was amazing meeting him and his classmates and we were able to find similarities between us as people. It meant I could build a character who is a lot more authentic. I still keep in contact with Akram regularly and hope to meet with him again when I am next in Calais.

Even though going out to Calais has made the challenge of relating to and playing a young refugee more daunting, I’m glad that I went. It will continue to inform the process throughout rehearsal and performance. I knew I had to go as an actor but I also really wanted to go as a person to help. I hope to continue going and doing what I can until everyone is somewhere they can consider home.

By Jack Gouldbourne

Cargo runs at the Arcola Theatre from 6 July to 6 August.