Right now, over 85 million people around the world have been made homeless by natural disaster and conflict. ShelterBox is a charity working to change this.

ShelterBox Visitor Centre logoBy Keith Thomas, Chief Executive, Petersham Group Ltd.

ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and tools for families robbed of their homes by catastrophic events. These range from the recent Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean to floods in Bangladesh and the ongoing war in Syria.

Based in Cornwall, in the South West of the UK but working all over the world, ShelterBox delivers thousands of ShelterBoxes and ShelterKits annually, designed to enable families to start re-building their lives and their homes. A ShelterBox includes everything that a family of 5 requires in order to survive in the aftermath of a disaster. Inside their distinctive and sturdy green boxes you’ll find family-sized tents, as well as all of the items that help transform shelter into a home. Such items include cooking sets, solar lights and activity sets for children.

ShelterBox Visitor Centre relief tentsShelterBox relocates

When ShelterBox decided to move into new premises in the historic city of Truro in order to better co-ordinate their emergency relief operations, they realised that a 500m2 space on the ground floor presented them with a great opportunity to showcase their work and values, both to their existing supporters and also to those who were curious to learn more about what this charity does.

ShelterBox Visitor Centre the decision to deployThey realised, as our own research has previously confirmed, that an hour-long immersion into a visitor attraction such as the ShelterBox Disaster Relief Visitor Centre has an impact on visitors that is significantly higher and results in an experience more memorable than any paid-for advertising campaign. Like any successful charity, ShelterBox is reliant on volunteers and donations in order to operate in an increasingly competitive sector. This exposure, as well as the chance to offer visitors an insight into their work, is vital.

However, in a tourist hot spot like Cornwall, there are many attractions competing for the time of tourists and residents – from the Eden Project, Flambards theme park and the Tate St.Ives through to the unique Minack Theatre and the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

ShelterBox is a world-class disaster relief agency. It had no experience of the sector. It quickly realised that professional advice was needed to plan the design, development and operation of the new visitor centre. A chance conversation with ShelterBox COO Michael Johns on the 19.00 Great Western train out of Paddington heading to the West Country led to a meeting in December 2016 to discuss their aims and objectives and subsequently, to us at Petersham Group offering our experience advising on the development and operation of attraction and museums.

ShelterBox Visitor Centre educationAn all new insight into life-saving charity work

We started out with a comprehensive review of their business plan. Together with exhibitions and interpretation specialist Ben Lumby and ShelterBox’s Visitor Centre Manager Lesley-Ann Eaton-Keen we drew up a design brief and interpretation strategy. We then selected a design and fit out team for the new attraction. After inviting a number of pitches from qualified agencies, we selected 20/20 Projects of Falmouth. At the start of February 2017, they started work on a fast track design and build programme. Advising on marketing strategy meanwhile was Nikki Smith, Managing Director at Flamingo Marketing

Opening at the end of July 2017, the ShelterBox Disaster Relief Visitor Centre encourages visitors to find out more about how ShelterBox responds to natural disasters and conflict and lets them discover how they can play a part in helping people across the globe to rebuild their own lives.

The centre gives visitors a unique insight into the always-busy ShelterBox operations centre. It also gives them an opportunity to stand on the packing line and pack their own ShelterBox. With the guidance of experienced volunteers, they can see how ShelterBox sources the latest equipment. They can also learn how the charity uses the fastest delivery methods possible. Visitors can themselves step inside tents and shelters. There they can hear inspiring stories of how ShelterBox helps survivors of worldwide conflict and natural disasters. They can also take part in their own Disaster Challenge with live weather maps and global operations updates.

The Visitor Centre is free to enter, although a donation is encouraged. However, the main objective is to turn the curious or casual visitor into committed supporters of this vital charity. This is a job it has successfully been doing now for several months.

ShelterBox Visitor Centre globe educationImages courtesy of Petersham Group.