SEVENTEEN years ago, minister Bernard Cocker founded Christian charity International Aid Trust.

The move followed a trip to the former Soviet Union where he saw images of pain and suffering that "would never leave him".

Since 1991, IAT has developed into a major force for humanitarian good both in the UK and across the globe.

International Aid Trust (IAT) began in an office in Withnell, the village where Rev Cocker lives with his wife Elaine and three of their 11 children and step-children.

The charity and its provision of humanitarian aid has now grown to include thousands of volunteers worldwide.

A 50ft container leaves its new warehouse in Much Hoole near Preston, where the charity moved to for more capacity, every week, full of clothing, food and medicines destined for deprived people.

The aid is largely funded with money generated by the charity's network of 23 shops across the North West, all staffed by unpaid volunteers.

As well as basic life provisions, IAT has set up hospitals and health centres in eastern Europe and Africa, including a maternity ward, a breast cancer centre and an eye hospital, using equipment discarded by the NHS.

"We are an extremely affluent nation, and we use a lot of things quite idly," said Rev Cocker.

"Technical equipment has a shelf life, and it's replaced in five or 10 years, regardless whether it's been used that often.

"We take that equipment and we're saving lives."

"The charity also does a great deal of work in the UK, working with other charities to help the needy, and with the Prison Service on the rehabi-litation of offenders.

The ever-growing list of projects takes in almost every aspect of human suffering - drug and alcohol rehabilitation, holidays for poor children, and an African family sponsorship program.

But although the charity's slogan is "Christian compassion for a hurting world", Rev Cocker is keen to stress that IAT reaches out to those in need, regardless of creed or belief.

He said: "We are a Christian organisation and that underpins our ethos of helping others.

"A Withnell businessman was impressed with what we were doing, he gave us a warehouse, costing thousands of pounds, to store aid.

"He is not a Christian, but he believes in helping others.

"If everyone gave a little bit of themselves, be it their time, work or money, the world would be a much better place."

It may sound like a cliched request, but IAT's work has shown how much can be achieved and how many thousands of lives can be saved by one man's vision.

Rev Cocker said: "Everyone in the UK is a millionaire compared to the deprived people we help, but we are now in a situation where the world is closing in on itself by ignoring what is happ-ening, and it's dreadful.

"You cannot do much on your own, but when you bring together strengths and resources you make life changing differences.

"I came to God late and before I became a Christian in 1991, I also used to just concentrate on my own needs and ignore others - it's easier to look at the TV and see those images of need, and forget them when the picture fades.

"But thousands of people continue to suffer long after things have been on the news."

The charity has hundreds of projects across almost every continent.

It responds to humanitarian crises such as the 2004 Asian tsunami and floods in eastern Europe, but the primary focus is on long term care for the severely deprived and destitute.

Two projects have recently been completed in Sri Lanka, where a great deal of work is done in conjunction with international Rotary clubs.

East Lancashire Rotarians regularly volunteer their support, whether it be packing up aid at the IAT warehouse, or promoting the shoebox scheme in local schools and communities.

Rev and Mrs Cocker recently returned from Sri Lanka after launching a children's home in Bandy Goda last month, which will eventually be home to 100 rescue children, some of whom were orphaned in the tsunami and some who are victims of the Tamil war.

Another project is providing a clean drinking water supply to Leenus Wella, a village badly affected by the tsunami where previously the only water supply was a canal where animals and humans both bathed.

Both projects still require more money and the orphanage needs a sponsor for ongoing running costs.

They are just two out of hundreds of IAT projects at any one time - there are 90 in Odessa, Ukraine, alone.

But Rev Cocker is tireless in his determi-nation to do more.

Rev Cocker, who is 59 "but feels 28", said: "I am always looking at how much there is to do, but sometimes I look back on what we have already achieved, and it's fantastic, we're moving mountains.

"But it just spurs me on to do more, I know that God wants me to do so much more."