TOM Williams, the founder of Legs4Africa, has been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the King’s New Year Honours. The prestigious award recognises the Bristol charity worker’s dedication to helping thousands of Africans suffering with limb loss to walk again thanks to a unique prosthetic leg recycling initiative.
Legs4Africa collects unwanted prosthetic limbs from limb centres and individual donors in the UK and abroad to save them from going to landfill. They are then broken down into their components to recycle them and match them with amputees in sub-Saharan Africa. Since being founded in 2013, the charity has helped thousands of individuals walk again, rescuing over 14,000 prosthetic legs and delivering them to projects across Africa while providing ongoing mental health and well-being support to change people’s lives.
Tom’s recognition in this year’s New Year’s honours acknowledges not only his selfless dedication to helping others but also his commitment to helping reduce the environmental impact of no longer needed prosthetics going to landfill.
Tom started Legs4Africa after visiting the Gambia in 2013 to deliver a custom-made prosthetic leg for a friend’s father. Whilst there, he realised there must be many more unused prosthetic limbs in the UK that could be recycled and repurposed rather than simply going to landfill when they were no longer needed.
He was shocked to discover that almost 1 in 200 people suffer from limb loss in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, a single prosthetic leg costs close to £800, which makes it extremely difficult for individuals to obtain prosthetic legs in the African region.
When he realised in the UK alone, around 2,000 prosthetic legs go to landfill each year, he realised there must be more that could be done to not only help those in need but to reduce unnecessary wastage.
Since starting 10 years ago Legs4Africa has now shipped more than 14,000 prosthetic limbs and works with seven grassroots organisations across Africa. Through its incredible partnerships, the charity supports projects to help individuals rebuild their lives following limb loss.
Reflecting upon the prestigious award and the difference the charity has made in the last decade, Tom said:
“Receiving an OBE is a real honour and reflects the hard work and dedication of the whole Legs4Africa team over the past decade. When I first started out on this journey, I could never have imagined we would be here today, having helped to make a difference to thousands of people, saved unnecessary landfill waste and met so many amazing people.
“For me, it is so important that Legs4Africa is about much more than providing a prosthetic leg. The environmental impact of rescuing the components from landfill is huge, but so is the difference a new leg can have for an individual. It is the first step in their journey, and we want to support them as they come to terms with their new path. That is why we are growing our outreach and peer support networks, providing dedicated mental health teams, social programs and specialist rehabilitation sports activities.
“Our work is helping to open up the conversation around limb loss and provides ongoing support and opportunities to those facing challenging times.
“I cannot thank everyone who has supported us so far enough, and I can’t wait to see how the project evolves and grows over the next 10 years.”
Legs4Africa work with local mobility centres across the UK and rescues high-quality prosthetic legs with minimal environmental impact. By 2025 the charity hopes to increase the number of limb fitting centres it works with across Europe, Canada and the USA, to recycle unused and returned prosthetics.
The charity also works with seven organisations across Africa that support disabled communities through grassroots initiatives and mental rehabilitation services. Inadequate infrastructure, negative stigmas and poor social conditions in Africa make day-to-day life more difficult for amputees.
Through key collaborations with like-minded organisations, Legs4Africa has continuously raised its voice for amputees by leading mental rehabilitation services in the remotest of African regions and is at the forefront of funding several life-changing programmes that help amputees lead independent lives without any financial or social constraints. From supporting ongoing work opportunities to social and mobility support, each of the programs provides hope and guidance to those mitigating life with limb loss.
Last year the team trained four new peer counsellors who are helping to change the narrative surrounding limb loss while preparing amputees emotionally and physically to steer through their new phase. Each peer counsellor draws on their own disability-related experiences to support amputees recover from stigma and assist them in developing hope and improve their lives.
The latest festive campaign ‘Step into Christmas’ raised £20,000 pounds in a week, with donations coming from across the world. This will now go to boost mental rehabilitation services in the remotest regions of Northern Ghana.
Ambassadors for the charity include Paralympian Julie Rogers and TV presenter Alex Brooker.
The 2023 New Year Honours is the first list overseen by King Charles and others to receive awards alongside Tom includes England women’s captain Leah Williamson and heptathlete and TV presenter Denise Lewis.
For more information on the work Legs4Africa is doing to help change people’s lives in sub-Saharan Africa or to donate unwanted prosthetic limbs to save them from landfill please visit: www.legs4africa.org.