Tusting Talks… To David Fox-Pitt

This week, we speak to David Fox-Pitt MBE, who has been enthusing and inspiring people for over thirty years. As the founder of WildFox Events Ltd., he’s not only been creating ambitious, world-renowned adventure challenges, raising over £40 million for charity, but he’s also the energy behind scores of micro adventures and local projects in Scotland, as well as further afield. Most recently, David has been working with a charity he co-founded, Siobhan’s Trust, and leading their efforts in Ukraine.

If the name sounds familiar, this is the same guy we followed when he cycled the gruelling pilgrimage that is the Lands End to John ‘O Groats entire-length-of-the-UK route. On a Penny Farthing.
Read about that wild charitable mission here.

Can you talk about what you’ve been working on with Siobhan’s Trust this last year?

We set up Siobhan’s Trust three years ago after my late Aunt passed away, and it was founded to commemorate her in a positive way, working in the inner city of Dundee. Then along came covid. Whilst supporting various charities in Dundee, we also then delivered over 6000 grocery grab-bags to exhausted, hard-working NHS staff in their hospital car parks, which was basically just me in a Tesco’s delivery van during the height of covid. We wanted to be proactive and act quickly, which is different from the bigger organisations.

We were teaching various charities how to use our pizza ovens to help at events, when the horrendous war came in Ukraine, and we realised we had to be out on the border. We had the Wildfox Events Unimog and trailer, our Land Rover and another trailer carrying the pizza oven, and we just packed up with a huge number of groceries, resources and food from the generous community of Scotland. Within three days we set off, and we got there on the 4th March to set up on the busiest border between Ukraine and Poland, and started serving food and drink 24/7 to those in need.

It was exhausting, but so rewarding to help mostly women and children crossing the border to safety, who were often traumatised and injured. These amazing people were queuing for hours on the other side of the border, so we set up another trailer on the Ukrainian side. In -10ºC, we were serving pizza, teas, coffees, playing music and just trying to help and lift morale and their spirits after all they had been through – to show we cared.  We also started travelling to the refugees, doing “pizza day trips” to reach villages further into Ukraine.

We were able to top up supplies in a local supermarket and provide the comforting food and smiles they needed along with sanitary products, hygiene products, dog and cat food and we received an outpouring of generosity and love to be able to help in Ukraine.

After about four months based near the border, we moved completely into Ukraine, right up to the east, where they are far more desperate for support after the Russians have been pushed out. We now have three teams: a team in Lviv, that deals with the 9.5 million displaced men, women and children in the east; a team in Zaporizhia, where we have a van run by a lovely couple of Ukrainians and oversees volunteers; and then a roaming team based at Kharkiv – I tend to join that team when I go out, and we target the front-line towns.

Kherson was probably our riskiest trip, as we were in artillery range with 50 to 60 rockets flying over daily, with a couple of very close calls. When a rocket landed only 100 yards from us, we had to agree that, as a charity, it was too risky for us to go within artillery range. But it gave us an insight into what horrors the locals put up with on a daily basis with the haunting sound of the sirens. We try to turn the music up, and the show carries on – this has become their daily life, and so we aim not to be rattled by it either – they really appreciate that.

Now, 11 months into the operation, we are feeding up to 5000 people a day – everyone gets a pizza and, where possible, a hot drink. We also work with TASH, a wonderful Scottish charity, and together we have used over 40 articulated trucks of goods, medical aid and supplies that we have been able to distribute through trusted networks.

What do the Ukranians think of your kilt?

They love it! When we first went out, wearing a bit of our national dress just seemed like a fun-spirited move, but it turned out that the ‘Mad Scotsman’ look worked very well – it amuses and reassures the Ukranians (they love “Shotlandiya”) but also affords us some protection, because we’re never going to be mistaken for Russians (or troops of any sort) in these clothes. Eventually, we had a special ‘Ukranian Tartan’ made for us back home, in the Ukranian colours, so that we could show our support in a pretty unique way. And, before you ask what I wear under it…. the answer is a hell of a lot of thermals at the moment!

How important is is that people hear of your work in Ukraine?

It’s vital. Part of our mission – besides lifting people’s spirits – is to ensure people do not forget what is happening out there because the need for support is greater than ever, it is not lessening. I’ve been very fortunate to be asked to talk about what we are doing by quite a number of journalists, and it’s made a massive difference to what we can do – it’s how we’ve attracted some really wonderful donations, in cash and in kind, including thousands of pizzas from some global pizza brands.

Before Christmas, we took two Members of Parliament – Ian Duncan Smith and Judith Cummins – out to visit the front line, which was exciting. They were the first MPs to go anywhere south of Kyiv, and travelled to 3km from the front line to see some of the desecrated villages, to really get an understanding of the horrors of Russia’s military operations. Last week in the House of Commons, Ian spoke about his trip and his experience with Siobhan’s Trust and why we should be doing more. Following that debate, other European countries have followed the UK’s lead in releasing tanks to Ukraine.

What has been keeping you motivated with all your efforts out in Ukraine?

Well every time you go there and you serve, you realise how important it is to be able to put a smile on someone’s face. Until you’re out there it’s hard to understand and convey the importance, it is incredibly emotional. The Ukrainians understand that we are out there, sharing the risk in their hour of need. By being there, we show support and love, and to them that is the most important thing, it renews hope.

So, every time I attend, I get reinvigorated, and it keeps me going. We see it with volunteers who come out and are deeply moved – they often come back again and again, and recommend volunteering to their friends. That’s wonderful as we desperately need that flow of volunteers to help the cause.

Of course, none of this would also be possible without the full-time ground team of Tom Hughes, Harry Scrymgeour, Audrey McAlpine, Kevin Fisher and two local Ukrainian’s, Olua and Nina. We’re a great team and we support each other.

During your adventures and charity work, what always comes along with you in your bags?

I’ve got a Tusting backpack with me at the moment, which I feel proud to carry around with me and comes with me to Ukraine. I got it some years ago for my Penny Farthing trip from Land End to John O’ Groats; it fits everything I need and doesn’t get in the way. These days, amongst other stuff, it houses my diary and thank you cards, which are so important for everyone who donates. We have had over £2 million given to us for our Ukraine work, and everyone, where possible, receives a thank you card. The durability of the bag is also so reassuring, I had to walk 7km across the Ukraine border, in -10ºC snowy weather, to host the MPs as the roads were blocked, but the bag didn’t mind that at all.

How can people get involved with Siobhan’s Trust and support?

Please head to Siobhan’s Trust website, and they can donate and find out how to volunteer. Volunteering is very popular and powerful, along with people hosting events to raise money for the cause. We care about people and giving, and it’s important we do what we can.

And we really need to keep up the awareness, so even mentioning us by word of mouth is so important to help us to help them.

It is so important to keep the story prevalent and fresh in people’s minds; what I see is that Ukrainians are terrified the West will forget about them. But we will remain in Ukraine for as long as it takes, and we stay committed; it is a real honour to serve these people. We must be resolute and united, so part of our mission – besides lifting people’s spirits – is to ensure people do not forget what is happening. It is exhausting, and nerves have been frayed, but for those of us at Siobhan’s Trust, we feel this is the most important thing we could be doing in the world at the moment.

Follow David on Instagram and Siobhan’s Trust to stay up to date with their work.

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