How a simple cork stool helps to build a better world

— 01 February 2021

Back in 2016 when we launched our first recycled cork stool, Bob, we pledged to donate 5% of the sales of our stool to Movement On The Ground, an organisation established the previous year to help improve the lives of the vast number of refugees arriving on the tiny Greek island of Lesvos. Lying just 4 miles from the coast of Turkey, this unassuming island found itself at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis.

Five years on and the situation has improved little, if anything, conflict has increased the scale of the crisis, forcing millions from their homes. Overcrowding on Lesvos is a big problem, designed for just 3,000 residents, earlier last year Moria camp became home to over 20,000. Now a global pandemic has added to an already critical situation and, as winter takes hold, bringing freezing temperatures and flooding, life in the refugee camps looks darker than ever. 

“We dream of a world where people forced from their homes have the freedom to choose another place to call home.”

Movement On The Ground takes a radical approach to the refugee situation, looking to transform camps into dignified, stimulating and safe environments. Since the launch of Michael Sodeau’s characterful cork stool we have been planning to develop a second range to increase our support for Movement On The Ground’s aims. That’s where Richard Hutten’s new Michael stool comes in. Using the same recycled material as our Bob stool, Michael has a concave seat made entirely from industrial cork waste. A simple, sustainable product that in some small way contributes to the building of a sustainable future for people on the move.

We spoke to Nathalie Meier of Movement On The Ground to see what the current situation is and how our donations might be able to help.

The asylum procedure or confirmation of registration as a refugee is a tortuous one involving multiple interviews and now, with COVID, there are huge backlogs delaying the process so that some interviews aren’t even scheduled until 2022. This means an individual’s wait in a camp, a life in limbo in poor conditions, will be extended from about 18 months to 3 years.

“All human beings deserve to live in safe enabling and dignified environments. A place where diverse communities can co-exist and thrive.”

Movement On The Ground’s raison d’être is to provide more dignified living conditions in all refugee camps. This means making huge, transferable improvements to the bare basics. Since its inception in 2015, the organisation has provided showers, lamps, heating, electricity and warm clothing to provide protection from winter weather. Sales of our Bob stools have so far helped with the distribution of essential items like warm food and clothing as well as the building of durable shelters where families can gather to share a meal.

In a collaboration with the Cruyff Foundation, Movement On The Ground are creating three football courts, one on Samos and two on Lesvos. Over 40% of camp residents are children, living in really difficult conditions, so providing a safe space for refugee children and children from the host islands to play is vital.

‘Everyone is a guest’

Central to the organisation’s philosophy is the idea that ‘everyone is a guest’. Viewing refugees as guests and the local communities supporting them as hosts helps build trust and strengthen links between residents and their host communities.

“People who are supportive of refugees, who are welcoming, don’t see borders. The local Greek people and organisations are willing to help but they are tired of 5 years of unsustainable solutions. It’s challenging.”

Nathalie explains how in such a dire situation they have to focus on the small wins, providing tarps, tents, digging and levelling ground and getting shelters up on pallets to prevent flooding. The new year may bring fresh challenges, volunteering has ground to a halt due to the pandemic but the ambition and vision at the heart of this incredible organisation is clearer than ever. Movement On The Ground is not only focused on immediate needs but also on creating long term, sustainable solutions.

For 2021 they have big plans, as well as building on basic infrastructure, developing community gardens and improving digital literacy they also plan to establish a centre outside the camp that will provide vocational training for residents. This programme, the ‘Movement Academy’, is designed to help future integration of residents into society and prevent the stagnation of skills and talent that occurs when individuals are given no opportunity to work.

"Without a sustainable human-centred foundation, no pact can make safer the livelihood of these humans on the move." 

Shifting public perception of what it means to be a refugee is a key aim. “Progress can only be made when we take a human centred approach, one that at its very least enables dignified living conditions”. Movement On The Ground also calls for the EU to take an equal and honest share of people stuck on Europe’s borders and develop a transparent and efficient system of processing asylum requests.

In a world seeking sustainable solutions for a better future, it seems fitting that the Michael stool will help build a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis. For every Michael or Bob stool we sell we will donate 5% to Movement On The Ground, helping them to help those who haven’t yet found a place to call home.