Police Aid Convoy volunteers celebrate 20th anniversary

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SEEING a smile slowly spread across the face of a poverty placed child makes the hours standing in a cold warehouse sorting and packing worthwhile for the many volunteers working for the National Police Aid Convoy (NPAC) charity.

This year sees the 20th anniversary of the aid organisation, which was set up in 1993 by a team of officers from Nottinghamshire Police including then Inspector David Scott.

It was set up in the hope of helping people in the war-torn Balkans during the conflict, which ravaged the region during the 1990’s.

But two decades later it has given aid to thousands of refugees, poverty-stricken families and orphans in many countries around the world and continues to give humanitarian aid where needed.

“It was during year two of the Balkans conflict when appeals were made for help for people living in refugee camps in Yugoslavia that we first came up with the idea,” explained David Scott, who has since retired from the force. “It was about using our influence as police officers and our contacts together with powers of persuasion to negotiate good shipping and transport links that made our scheme successful.

“It was amazing looking back now how we achieved 55 vehicles filled with aid complete with 125 volunteers for that first convoy,” explained the 57 year-old chairman. “This was during a time of no mobile phones, email or the internet.

“We went where we were needed most and used local contacts to get us to the areas, trying our best to avoid the battlezones.”

Since the Balkans, NPAC has delivered much-needed aid to Russia, Albania, Zambia. Pakistan, Ghana, Rwanda and Bulgaria to name a few. The charity has also expanded from its Mansfield base and now boasts warehouses in Nottingham, Harrogate and Newark.

Their warehouses store all kinds of items from hospital beds to pushbikes, IV drip stands to clothing, toys to school kits. Items are collected using door to door collection systems, clothing banks and through school and hospital links.

David added: “We are basically a huge recycling organisation. One person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure. We have made successful contacts in schools and hospitals and when they are replacing equipment like beds or desks, instead of them finding their way onto landfill, we recover them and make them good for export to places that need them.

“We have been able to set up clinics and schools in Africa through these methods enabling and equipping youngsters with the tools to learn and be educated or families to get healthcare.”

Despite keeping costs to a minimum and negotiating discounted distribution and local companies helping and donating trucks as well as free warehouse rent by using empty units, the costs are huge.

“Our running costs are about £50k a year in administration to pay for our two employees and building maintenance,” explains David. “Freight costs are about £250k. A container to Ghana is £1,600 but to ship to Zambia it is £6k because it has to sail around Africa to get to the port which serves the area we are helping.

“One container though can serve 36 village schools so the need and good outweighs the cost.”

Donations and volunteers are what the charity is built upon and what keeps the cogs turning. But it is the people in need, the recipients of their efforts that keep the team motivated who are individuals from all walks of life and of all ages.

“People who help want to do it and we have a wonderful group of volunteers,” added David. “Many of our volunteers have been to the areas and helped distribute the aid too and when you have been out there and seen the good we are doing it keeps you motivated.”

Many schools and groups from scouts and guides to youngsters on Duke of Edinburgh schemes as well companies on team-building exercises and youth offenders have helped at the warehouses.

The charity has a strict criteria for deciding who they help and where, but the basic principles that have stayed with them throughout is based on need not want and once that need has been met they move to another area led by the World Health Organisation.

“It is hard to imagine that 20 years ago when we travelled on that first convoy that we would be where we are today,” added David. “But it is testament to the dedication over the years of our volunteers and the companies and individuals who continue to support our efforts. To them we are very grateful.”

If you would like to donate goods including bikes, books, clothes, shoes, musical instruments, school and medical supplies or would like to become a volunteer contact NPAC at www.npac.org.uk or call local rate number 0844 8701999.