It is five AM, the onshore breeze is biting and even the seagulls which frequent the harbour seem despondent. Two figures, yawning and wrapped up against the early spring weather, climb into a bright yellow van. The doors clunk shut, the van sways a little before its bright eyes illuminate the carpark and, with the cautiousness of someone new to van driving, slips into the oncoming morning.
This is the UK’s answer to the A Team, though with less catch phrases, more coffee and a soundtrack by The Fisherman’s Friends. Their mission, these two bleary eyed soldiers of fortune, legs, and they will stop at nothing… Hang on, they’re a bit lost… No, there they go, they will stop at nothing to get those limbs… You’ve heard of head hunters right? these are the leg hunters, and their collegtion has just begun.
The van, a vivid yellow vehicle emblazoned with the iconic Legs4Africa symbol and the invitation to join the hashtag twitter campane, has been donated by ServiceMaster, a company in the business of restoration, from furniture to fire damaged homes, and now reaching across Europe and into Africa to restore the mobility and lives of its amputees.
The man behind the wheel is Tom Williams, he is the leader, fearless, brave and would be smoking a huge cuban cigar if he smoked and it wasn’t against European legislation in a business vehicle. His beautiful partner in this quest; Alison Preston, currently planning the route with the skill of a general going to war though she will soon be taking control of this mighty yellow beast.
Their first stop is Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, and the first of several hospitals which will add to their macabre haul. These limbs were thought to be useless, to be discarded, to be cast away, that was until the L4A team showed up, now these legs will be going on a journey further and more exciting than most prosthetics will ever see.
Tom jerks awake as Alison pulls into the carpark of Ottobock UK Europe’s biggest manufacturer of prosthetic limbs. This is the big one, these are the people that can breathe life into the legs that are being accumulated. Like a bright yellow van needs caring for so too do these legs, they need fitting, oiling, parts replacing and these are the people who know how to do it… For want of mixing cult metaphors, the L4A team have come to the Jedi masters of prostetic legs.
“With their help,” Tom is saying as they walk toward the reception in the unexpectedly warm April sun, “We can make sure that the legs are both fitted properly and serviced so that they can be used safely and for longer.
Alison nods and wonders why Tom always seems to speak in sound bites.
Tom calls ahead to pick up points and local radio as the L4A team van wends its way through the beautiful english countryside visiting private donors and hospitals such as Royal Stoke University ,Hospital, Royal Berkshire Hospital, businesses like Limbcare UK, and academic institutions such as Prosthetics And Orthotics, University Of Salford,all of which giving generously and keen to turn what would otherwise be discarded limbs into something that will change peoples lives.
Night is falling as Alison pilots the bright yellow van into the countries capital. They have a pick up, a lady is donating her recently deceased father’s legs along with some stump socks. By the buttery light of the street lamps Tom, Alison and Danielle transfer the booty from the boot of a car to the back of the van. Danielle’s generous donation leaves her sad, memories of her dad evoked by the limbs, she finds comfort in the knowledge that they will go on to help someone else, a fitting testament to her dad.
By midnight the dynamic duo are exhausted, yet satisfied, a good days work and as they settle to sleep they are tucked in by a great sense of achievement born of the knowledge that they are doing something truly good.
The following day starts much as the last, yawns and coffee…
In Cambridge the van briefly stops at the local radio station to have a chat…. Watch interview here before powering on up the country to yet more hospitals.
The end of the collegtion is drawing near, a good thing because both Alison and Tom are reaching exhaustion point after this nearly 1000 mile round trip.
Kathy, a former donor greets them with her usual warmth. Having given 70 legs in the past she has not let them down, 40 legs for the back of the L4A team van including six wheelchairs and close to 100 crutches. Her passion for helping others both in her community and further afield is infectious but far too soon Tom is having to tug away a reluctant Alison who seems to have found a kindred spirit in the proactive and kind Kathy..
As the two collegtors turn for home and as the westering sun dips toward the horizon they share a unique moment, a time of reflection not only upon what they are achieving but the people that they are meeting on this journey. Kind people, generous people, people with stories of relatives and people with hopes for the future. As Alison turns off the motorway with a sigh of relief she says simply: “Humans at their best.“
Tom just nods. .
By midnight they are back home, their brief but busy road trip complete. The van, much heavier than upon its departure, pulls up, the lights blink out and the engine dies. With the closing of the terrace houses front door the street becomes silent. The bright yellow van, unobserved, flashes its lights into the night, yawns widely and settles down to sleep… She’s earned it.
Watch the video here