Established some 22 years ago by the Rotary Club of Wirksworth, Aquabox has sent out 105,000 boxes to disaster areas all over the world. Whatever way you look at the numbers, the figures are impressive. To find out a lot more about what they do and how they do it, I travelled to Cromford, a village on the edge of the Peak District in Derbyshire, to find out more.
Aquabox occupies three units on an industrial estate and one unit is stacked from floor to ceiling with the now famous blue boxes, ready to be filled and sent off to wherever they are required. In one unit I was shown an army of volunteers busily assembling Aquafilters, which is the main component of an Aquabox.
In the third unit, the boxes were being packed by another group of volunteers with stocks of products on the surrounding shelves.
Mike Tomlinson and Roger Cassidy, along with John Buckley, sat down with me to tell me all about the project.
Mike, as Chair of Trustees, explained: “The Rotary Club of Wirksworth runs the project and six of my colleagues are trustees. When we first started the project we took ordinary fold flat boxes and made them up along with the water filters for safe drinking water.”
“The filters were basic charcoal ones along with chlorine tablets. It’s only recently we have changed to the Aquafilter from Grifaid.”
If we have a disaster tomorrow we could get on the phone and have all the volunteers we want.”
Mike went on to tell me how the project has developed since 1991: “At one time, we used to ship boxes to clubs to fill to a supplied list. However, quite often we would run into customs problems because of the varying content of the boxes, so we decided to bring the provision and filling of the contents in house. It’s become very much a community project here in the town.”
I had to ask how much a box cost to fill and Roger, the Wirksworth Club President, replied: “A complete box costs £120, and at present our plan is to fill 3,000 per year. The number is dependent on the funds coming in and the volunteers we have to load them.”
“We would like to fill 5,000 a year, but it is a matter of income to fund the fillers and the boxes. We have plenty of volunteers prepared to come in and fill boxes.”
Aquabox, it turns out, is a true community project since they can call on an army of over 80 people to volunteer their time loading the boxes.
Mike went into more detail: “Lots of people want to volunteer and they come each day except Wednesday but we could fill that day if we wanted. If we had a disaster tomorrow we could get on the phone and have all the volunteers we want.”
As Mike says: “You never want to say ‘no’ to a volunteer, but sometimes we have to and we are trying to channel their skills into other areas.”
Roger explained: “One of the guys upstairs has just run off some information on a grant fund we can apply to so he will help us in that way.”
This brought me neatly to the question of funding and I was told: “The project is funded 80% by Rotarians, when we visit conferences and clubs to talk about it. Inner Wheel funds us to the rate of 10% and we are really grateful to Scout Groups and Girl Guides making up the other 10%.”
I could not leave without asking about recent deployments and they are pretty impressive. Recently, a 40ft container was loaded with 500 boxes to go to Eastern Turkey to provide drinking water and alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees.
Their partner on the ground, Hand in Hand for Syria, will distribute the boxes.
The week before, another container was bound for the Philippines, also containing 500 boxes. In all these, two containers will help 5,000 people, by supplying over two million litres of safe drinking water.
This long-term project has fulfilled a local need, with the volunteers helping in their community and an international need helping peoples a lot less fortunate. The Rotary Club of Wirksworth, their friends and their community should be lauded for their efforts with a true humanitarian project.