'Bribing border guards with police helmets': Mansfield charity's 25 years transforming lives abroad

The latest container being filled for Zambia.
The latest container being filled for Zambia.

Bribing customs with a police helmet and travelling to war-torn countries is what a Mansfield charity has been doing for the past 25 years.

The National Police Aid Convoy (NPAC) was started by a group of thirty people in the police and medical professions at Mansfield’s old police station in 1993.

The former President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda visited The Nottinghamshire Police Aid Convoy warehouse in Forest Town on Wednesday to thank the team for their continued support. Dr Kaunda, front is pictured with David Scott, left, Chairman of the Notts Police Aid Convoy watched by Mansfield Mayor Tony Egginton, centre and aid volunteers in 2009.

The former President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda visited The Nottinghamshire Police Aid Convoy warehouse in Forest Town on Wednesday to thank the team for their continued support. Dr Kaunda, front is pictured with David Scott, left, Chairman of the Notts Police Aid Convoy watched by Mansfield Mayor Tony Egginton, centre and aid volunteers in 2009.

The group wanted to help aid countries after the outbreak of the war in Yugoslavia.

Leader David Scott, who was the chief inspector at the time, he said the group "are not heroes” but it is undeniable that they have helped thousands of people since they started.

He said: “It was the last great war in Europe, everyone wanted to do something. We all saw the horrible pictures, which were similar to the ones you see of Syria today.”

The brutal civil war took place in the 1990s and resulted in Yugoslavia breaking up into several different countries, including Croatia and Bosnia.

NPAC award presented to The Chad in recognition of 25 years of support, Chairman Dave Scott presents a certificate to Head of Content Jon Ball

NPAC award presented to The Chad in recognition of 25 years of support, Chairman Dave Scott presents a certificate to Head of Content Jon Ball

It is estimated 100,000 people died and it made 300,000 ordinary people into refugees.

The Red Cross, who were unable to gain access to the countries in need at the time, asked the group, a “little Mansfield charity”, to step in.

The first convoys went to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia - driving nine articulated lorries twice a year for four years from Mansfield across Europe - an effort which your Chad helped collect for.

The journeys were eventful and full of peculiar anecdotes.

The Notts police aid convoy arrives in Mansfield along with Tony Egginton on board the 16 seater bike in 2009.

The Notts police aid convoy arrives in Mansfield along with Tony Egginton on board the 16 seater bike in 2009.

David said they “bluffed and bribed” their way through the borders, giving customs officers old police hats - a technique they use to this day.

He said: “There isn’t a customs officer on earth that doesn’t melt worked if you give them a police helmet.

“It worked all the way through the war and it still works now.”

Today the group still travels to places ordinary holidaymakers advised to avoid, aiding countries like Somalia and Syria to name just two that are constantly in the news.

Joan Green making sure everything makes it into the container.

Joan Green making sure everything makes it into the container.

Delivering much-needed medical and educational equipment to rural villages, they completely fill 40ft shipping containers.

David who is now 62-years-old said: “When it started, I never dreamed we would be aiding villages in remote Africa.

“We do thirty missions a year - one every two weeks.

“It’s a big adventure and a wonderful thing to do.

“We sent five lorries to Syria last year, into the refugee camps.

“We've also driven 31 ambulances into Pakistan.

The latest container to Zambia being filled.

The latest container to Zambia being filled.

But he insists: “We are not heroes, that’s not the point.”

From that small meeting in 1993, now hundreds of people from all walks of life volunteer to help across the UK.

For the latest mission, 16 volunteers are travelling to Zambia and Malawi on Monday, June 16.

One of the containers, filled to the brim with everything a school could need, was packed on Thursday, April 12, and will take weeks to sail to its destination, travelling around the Cape of Good Hope.

NPAC is also known to send money to the villages they are helping beforehand, to build schools ready for the containers to supply and have provided the children at special schools with wheelchairs.

Volunteers have ranged from 13 to 83 years old, usually staying 10 to 14 days.

David, who still goes out twice a year, said: “Thousands of people trust us because of our name because no one is paid which is the lovely thing about it."

The group works hand in hand with other charities to send anything from prosthetic legs to school books.

NPAC also “drops everything” when a disaster happens and have travelled to the Caribbean in the past to help after hurricanes.

The charity has said it built its success by “networking, guts and the integrity” to get the equipment to were it needs to go.

Now the charity also needs your help to carry on sending educational and medical equipment.

Do you have anything spare?

If you can help you can reach them on 0844 8701 999 or email on enqs@npac.org.uk

The helpful shop
One of the main ways NPAC can afford to travel to rural areas to supply aid is by sales made in their donation reception centre and charity shop.

Based out of a building which was formally the Pit Head Baths for Mansfield (Crown Farm) Colliery, on Long Stoop Way.

Used furniture, ornaments and antiques, tools, and books, CDs and DVDs are sold at the site which funds the charities travel to countries where they supply aid.

The shop is open Saturdays between 9.30am and 3.30pm, and donations are received at almost any other time by arrangement.