In recent times I have watched through squinty eyes, needing to see, but not wanting to, the plight of millions of displaced persons throughout the world who are fleeing war and brutal living conditions. Aghast and feeling extremely useless, I have spent much time wondering what I can do to help? While I would love to be brave enough to take in a refugee, I don’t think I can, not with a child at home.

I can and have supported financially and I regularly give to a London based charity that supports the homeless. But when it comes to sending money abroad…I can’t help wondering how much of what I give would actually reach those who need it? I don’t think that’s a reason not to give, but I feel there must be more. I have an incredibly inspiring friend who not only donates huge funds so that she can support several Syrian refugee families but also spends her holidays from a high-powered job, pulling in boats full of traumatised and exhausted migrants off the coast of Lesbos. I admire her greatly and I wish I could do what she does, but I can’t. And while I think that sounds a bit cheap, it’s also true. Not everyone can sacrifice that much time, or spare that much money. But there must be something and that’s what I’m looking for.

In my quest for a helping role I have discovered the world of design is not standing passively by and maybe there is a meaningful way in which designers can get involved in the discourse around the major issues affecting our world today.

The Design Museum has just placed The IKEA Foundation’s Flat Pack Refugee Shelter outside South Kensington Tube Station, just around the corner from the Design Museum’s new home (opening 24th November). It is the first time it has been exhibited in the UK and will soon move to the Designs of the Year Exhibition alongside projects such as Nike’s running shoes made from plastic recycled from the sea. The flat pack emergency shelter was designed in 2013 as an alternative to tents for the millions of refugees worldwide. According to the Foundation CEO Per Heggenes, The Better Shelter Cabin is modularised so it can build one structure or be joined to others to make larger units which could be used as health stations. According to the Dezeen Hot List, IKEA is the brand that architects and designers are most interested in, not Apple or Nike and this owes in no small part to the success of the Better Shelter project.

Agrishelter, courtesy of What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge

Also is the latest challenge from society focussed organisation What Design Can Do. The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge has just announced 5 winners from the 631 global entries to the competition, with winners being awarded funding to develop and prototype their ideas. The projects are all collaborations working across various media and design disciplines. The selected teams have devised schemes which include ‘Makers Unite’, a project connecting refugees and locals in the making of products starting with the up-cycling of life vests and boats. The competition winners ‘Agrishelter’ also promote collaboration between refugees and locals to build natural housing and green spaces in unused urban lots, using local materials. The entirely biodegradable green spaces promote positive ecological environments and provide a utopian alternative to refugee camps on city borders.

Large organisations, charities and NGOs are all aware of the importance of creative thinking when tackling global problems and there is a focus in recent years on the function of design in democratising the human experience around the world, with basic human dignity at it’s core.

So, in short, there may be ways to use my skills and help others. I just need to find out exactly how to get involved. So if you need anyone?

References: (account from a volunteer at Lesvos)