The ShelterBox founding story

Read how it all started...

In 2000, the idea for ShelterBox was hit upon by the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard in Cornwall, when Rotary encouraged members to come up with projects to mark the Millennium.

The Helston-Lizard club was an established group of around 40 people, who had been involved in a variety of charitable activities, both at home and abroad.

The idea was sparked by watching the news and wanting to do more after seeing that people seemed to be left with nothing after disaster. The club loved the idea of helping in a practical way to make a tangible difference.

ShelterBox was launched by the club that same year. The initial hope was to help 8 to 10 families a year, with each box containing a family-sized tent, sleeping bags, water purifying tablets, trenching tool and pots and pans.

Rotarians gathered around a box

In the first year, this group of passionate volunteers took the idea and developed it into something more.

They investigated the emergency items people need and worked to understand transport and logistics. They spoke to manufacturers and found a sturdy box. They visited the Rotary International Conference to drum up support and float the idea more widely.

In the first year, Rotary Clubs alone donated £88,000. The faith shown by the Rotary community led to the first-ever response supporting families affected by the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India.

ShelterBox became a registered charity in 2003, with the trustees and board members all belonging to the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard.

Men unloading shelterboxes in India
Boxes being unloaded in India, following the devastating earthquake in Gujarat.

Fairly early on the club realised that this project was going somewhere and was quickly growing. Our motivation was always to provide emergency shelter and essential items to help people to preserve dignity after disaster.

We were keen to learn and develop every time we helped people in a new disaster. We always wanted to try new suggestions. As a result, the kit and the way we worked changed over time.

James Kingston, Past President of Helston Lizard Rotary Club
Aid distributions in the Philippines, 2019
Rotary supporting aid distributions in the Philippines after Tropical Storm Usman, 2019

In 2012, with Rotary members around the world rallying behind a shared vision, the partnership between ShelterBox and Rotary was formally recognised when ShelterBox became Rotary’s official project partner in disaster relief.

ShelterBox has grown to become a respected humanitarian organisation providing emergency shelter, essential items, and support to over 1.5 million people. And with fundraising teams in 15 countries – all founded by Rotary members.

Rotary remains at the heart of ShelterBox.

Clubs and members around the world support by raising vital funds and awareness at home, and local Rotary contacts also provide essential assistance in countries affected by disasters.

ShelterBox was built on a firm understanding of the value of collaboration. Today ShelterBox continues to go further and reach more people by working with a range of influential partners including the International Federation of Red Cross and the International Organisation for Migration.

women gathered around in a circle talking
Our Rotary contacts were instrumental in supporting our response in Bangladesh, 2019

Today in 2020, the need for emergency shelter is more urgent than ever, with 104 million people living without shelter after disaster.

We must do more. And thanks to the support of people like you, we are as determined as our founding Helston-Lizard Rotary members to do just that.

Explore more


Celebrating 20 Years of ShelterBox

Read on to see how it all began and take a look at what you’ve helped us achieve.

Rotary International

Working in partnership to make a difference worldwide

Historic disaster responses

Since 2000, we have responded to a number of major disasters that shook whole countries and their people. Have a look at some of the most memorable ShelterBox disaster responses.

Our history

Explore a timeline of our biggest responses and defining moments over the last 20 years

20 Years of Shelter gallery

Explore the gallery of images from some of the most memorable responses in our 20-year history.

QUIZ: 20 years of ShelterBox

Take the quiz to learn about some of the most memorable responses in our history.