ShelterBox’s new Visitor Centre in Truro is a great trip for a Cornish rainy day. Step inside and you’ll find a mix of education and activities that really make you think about what happens when people lose everything. It’s a fun half-day out… with a conscience.
ShelterBox has existed as a disaster relief charity since 2000 when it was founded in Helston. They exist to provide temporary shelter and life saving supplies to displaced families who have lost everything due to conflict or natural disaster. Their aim is to help 1 million people a year by 2020 and the Visitor Centre is part of a drive to help more people to understand just what goes into providing, transporting, distributing and delivering that aid.
As I enter the Visitor Centre I’m confronted by a wall of green ShelterBoxes, emblazoned with the types of situation the charity responds to. I turn to see a globe and a set of clocks that explain where the charity is currently operating and where they’ve gone in the past. There’s also and area that explains the complexity of the Decision to Deploy – or how the team decide where to respond and how.
Kids will love packing the boxes in a packing line that replicates the charity’s Helston warehouse and if you want you can follow your own Disaster Challenge and find out in more detail how ShelterBox responded to a particular disaster.
I’ve chosen the North Korean Typhoon of 2012/13. It’s one of a series of potential disaster routes through the centre and is a great way for older kids in particular to really get into the amazing work ShelterBox do. My card tells me how ShelterBox responded to the most powerful storm to strike Korea in a decade with winds gusting up to 116mph — and people facing a freezing winter. ShelterBox dispatched 69 ShelterBoxes, 964 tents and 250 tarpaulins. My first job is to find North Korea on the globe and then I pack a cold climate ShelterBox, guided by a green hat and glove icon printed on some of the kit.
Stepping though the large curtain that is designed to look like the hold of an aircraft I then learn more about the different ways ShelterBoxes are delivered to remote regions – by helicopter, by tuk tuk, by animal and by sheer determination and man-power. There are two tents to explore in this area and stepping inside the cold climate tent I can see the stove that provides heat and a place to cook and the heavier interior lining. There’s a video where Head of Operations Alf Evans talks about his experiences in North Korea.
There’s a real chance to stop and think here. I read a lot of the information and then lie on the floor in the schoolroom trying to fathom how my own family would cope if we lost everything – it’s a sobering thought. I complete a luggage tag detailing what home means to me and tie it to the net where lots of other visitors have done the same.
Then I grab a solar light and take a look around a shelterkit – an amazing new(ish) creation by ShelterBox who send a tarpaulin-based kit that can be used with local building materials such as logs, bamboo etc to either build a new house or replace a section of an old one. They’re different to the tents because they allow people to replace different sections like the roof and walls with more robust material as and when they can.
I learn about the tuk tuk driver who sold his tent once he could afford a new place to live and used the profits to buy a tuk tuk and launch a new family business. The stories of the people who help and the families being helped are inspiring and humbling. I think about how it would have been as a child to lose the certainty and security of school — and what it must be like when someone brings it back (ShelterBox has school kits that include bright yellow bags, colouring books and a tent – enough to get lessons back up and running and return some sense of normality to communities destroyed by conflict and natural disaster).
Looking for a longer day out with the kids? Follow the ShelterBox teddy trail through Truro and find nine knitted bears in various shops and cafes before heading to the Visitor Centre to locate the tenth bear and be rewarded with a free picnic blanket so you can host your own teddy bear’s picnic. You’ll even be entered into a draw to win your own teddy.
Collect a trail card from the Tourist Information Centre on Boscawen Street.