PGCE Education (Secondary) graduate Mary Stretch was the winner of the Alumni Voluntary Service Award at our 2023 Vice Chancellor's Outstanding Alumni Awards. She is the founder of Calais Light, a charity dedicated to supporting refugees and asylum seekers in France and in the UK.
Calais Light organises regular weekend-only convoys to France for people concerned about the plight of refugees in Calais. The charity arranges and books everything from logistics to car-sharing to make it easy for ordinary people to work with Calais refugee charities, providing food and humanitarian aid to refugees living rough in scrubland, without sanitation or shelter. Calais Light has sourced £230,000 of brand-new clothes from brands like Puma, Boohoo and VANS to ‘honour’ UK refugees. They recently launched Calais Light UK, and volunteers here will partner with UK refugee charities, boosting their ability to properly support asylum seekers in bridging hotels in Essex, Kent and London.
Mary was one of the first Black people in BBC radio and television; she joined the BBC as a bet, after being told she couldn't unless she was a journalist or had journalistic experience. She took this as a challenge and applied for the role of Senior Current Affairs producer at Radio 4, convincing them during the selection process that she was the right person for the job, and she was hired to start Radio 4's new food programme which is still running over 30 years later.
She went on to launch other programmes like Studio B15, which had notable guests including Muhammad Ali, Paul Weller and other celebrities in the 1980s. After excelling in radio, Mary became a news reporter for BBC nationwide.
She became a presenter, producer and reporter on BBC Two's Ebony, and later one of the first four reporters on BBC's Breakfast Time. She spent a total of 11 years at the BBC and being one of the few Black people, she was lonely and terrified. Mary had no training from the BBC in the different roles she performed, and was faced with a lot of challenging situations, working based on her instincts. This taught her resilience, which she applied to her businesses and which has helped her become a successful entrepreneur.
Mary resigned from the BBC after 11 years and reinvented herself as a marketing recruitment consultant.
After getting divorced, Mary found herself as a single mother of a two-year-old. She had a vision to start her own business, Hutton House Recruitment, which she ran from home. Hutton House Recruitment was a specialist marketing recruitment consultancy, working with big international businesses like Unilever, Puma, Primark, Lacoste, Disney and many more.
Due to her strong feeling for refugees, Mary started Calais Light while still running Hutton House Recruitment. Calais Light partners with other charities and organisations to support thousands of refugees in France, and now here in the UK.