Tavistock businessman Colin Clarke is  on a life-changing mission to raise money to buy a minivan to take Ukrainian refugees from refugee centres to safe homes.

Colin and his co-driver  Polish born Adam Wrobel, who both live in the Tamar Valley, accompanied Darren Tait’s convoy to deliver essentials to a Warsaw refugee camp and were overcome with the need to do more to help.

Colin is now making an impassioned plea to Tavistock and Tamar Valley residents asking for donations to buy a £10,000 17-seat ‘Van for Life’ to transport Ukrainian refugees across Europe to safe homes.

‘The centre was like a concentration camp,’ said Colin, as he described entering the refugee centre. ‘So we want to raise enough money so we can transfer devastated refugees from the overcrowded centres to warm loving homes throughout Europe which have been organised by the centres. They desperately need more vehicles.’

Colin plans to return to the Warsaw centre with the van where he will spend a week helping to transport Ukrainian refugees to familes across Europe who have agreed to shelter them.

Colin’s co-driver Adam said: ‘Private initiatives are needed now. Well-established charities are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, choked by the flood of human misery from the eastern border. They need ordinary people to engage.

‘The idea is simple; a 17-seater ready to carry people 24/7 to any destination in Poland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and possibly even the UK, as long as there is a safe place waiting for them. Free of charge, of course, and with at least one good meal a day.’

Colin, who owns Tavistock Guttering and Fascias, will then leave the van at the refugee centre and hopes that the centre’s volunteers will continue to use it to take Ukrainian families to their new homes.

The idea was born when Colin refused to leave Poland without doing more to help after seeing such distress at the refugee centre. Adam agreed to stay with him and the pair were then asked to transport a refugee family of six (two mothers, three girls and a grandmother), along with their pet cat and dog, to Frankfurt where a German family had agreed to shelter them.

Their journey across Eastern Europe ignited Colin’s passion for his project as he saw how his support transformed the family’s fortunes firsthand.

Colin described how withdrawn, fearful and ‘soulless’ the family were when they first boarded the vehicle.

‘They were silent as they stepped into the Land Rover with desperation and fear in their eyes. I had to compose myself because we had a task to do,’ he said.

It was when they stopped for a McDonalds in order to provide the family ‘with a bit of normality’  that Colin experienced the first of three particularly emotive moments during the journey.

While most of the group took advantage of the stop and visited the toilets,  Colin said he discovered the family’s grandmother alone, sobbing.

He said: ‘I approached the lady and heard a heart-rending sob of pure despair and hopelessness. I don’t normally give my word on anything but I hugged this lady so tight and promised we would get her to safety. That was one of the three moments which I will never forget for the rest of my life.’

Colin was especially touched when he found that someone had placed a large box of chocolates on the Land Rover while the group were in McDonalds.

‘At first, I thought someone had dumped an old pizza box on my bonnet,’ said Colin.  ‘But when I got closer I saw it was a huge box of chocolates with a note from a family who wanted to give their best wishes and thoughts to the refugees.’

Yet, by the time, the group reached their destination and picked up in Frankfurt, the family were smiling and joyous.

Colin said: ‘The joy and overwhelmed look on all of their faces was so incredible. I told one of the girls to be strong and she made a gesture of a strongman with her arm and said these unforgettable words as she pointed to her muscle: “We are strong. We will win. We will win this war.” Coming from this young girl it broke my heart.

‘We were back on the road the next day which was my 67th birthday, the most memorable one of them all.’

So far, Colin has already raised over £1,000 on his Just Giving page alone and hopes that if his idea succeeds he will be able to expand it so that each refugee centre has a ‘Van for Life.’

Tavy Signs have offered to provide the signage for the van free of charge.

Dan Gerry who runs the business with his brother Ben said he was only too happy to help.

People across the world have gathered together in solidarity with Ukraine since Russia invaded the country at the end of February.

Since then over two million people have fled the war-torn country, mostly into Poland which has already invited over 1.5 million Ukrainians into the country.

From this Monday (March 14), British people have been able to open their homes to a Ukrainian refugee family under a new government initiative. Thousands have already applied to be host families.

To donate to Colin’s cause visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/colin-clarke-432.