A COUPLE from Wrexham who left North Wales to travel the world have lost nearly all their possessions after their van was broken into in Italy.

Graphic designer Andy Garside and award winning poet Sophie McKeand, who are both well known figures in the region’s art scene, gave up the rat race last year in favour of driving across the globe in their specially converted van.

But disaster struck last week when thieves broke into their mobile home taking everything from computers, cameras, audio equipment and even the couple’s bikes.

Friends and family in Wrexham and Mold, where the pair used to live, have now rallied around, starting a Crowdfunder appeal to raise enough money for the couple to get back on their feet and continue to work.

“After a few years we realised that neither of us had travelled when we were younger and wanted to see some of the world,” says Andy, 51. “Being self employed and with only renting the house we were in at the time, we decided on selling up and moving into a van.

“We bought an ex delivery van in spring 2017 and spent the following six months converting into a tiny home and office on wheels.

“In the meantime we sold 95 per cent of our possessions, including Sophie’s book collections and my huge record collection because we wanted to fully embrace the minimalist lifestyle. The only items we were left with were things we genuinely needed to live our lives - laptops, cameras, recording equipment (all for work) and mountain bikes and a guitar for our leisure time. We were not embarking on a holiday, but a different way of living and we both need to keep working as we go.”

Andy and Sophie, 42, set off last November, moving into the van with their two dogs before spending a couple of months travelling through France, Spain and Portugal. Sophie, who was the Young People’s Poet Laureate for Wales 2016-2018, returned home for some work commitments over the winter with the couple then heading off to Scotland, Ireland and a six month European trip taking in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

“Sophie had been awarded a Creative Wales Award this year and part of that involved a month long research trip to India,” explained Andy. “She flew out from Milan at the beginning of November and myself and the hounds travelled slowly south down the west coast of Italy following the sunshine.

“I’d planned a few days off work to visit Rome and the day before pulled up at a quiet beach just south of the city. I walked the dogs along the beach for just 20 minutes and when I returned to the van all the doors were open, every single cupboard emptied out and all our important possessions were gone. My wallet, laptop, cameras, our bikes, my guitar, Sophie’s stage audio equipment despite all of these items being locked away in hidden compartments and cupboards. They’d even taken my toiletries bag.”

Seeing the couple’s dream turn into a nightmare has been hard on Andy who had to deal with the Italian Police and the aftermath of the incident on his own.

“It’s the biggest fear of anyone living in a van that something like this happens,” he said. “Because of our minimalist approach to living we only owned things that we genuinely needed.

“Each one of these things we’d worked hard over the years to pay for or sold other emotionally valuable items to pay for.

“Another problem with van life living is that it’s impossible to get proper contents insurance. It’s OK if you have a house, then you can use the contents insurance from that. But we don’t have a house. We have a home, on wheels, but not a house. At that moment it felt like everything we’d planned, everything we’d worked towards had gone.”

After a friend let them park up safely, Andy spent the next 36 hours there cleaning and fixing the van and making calls to family, friends and clients to let them know he was alright. Bank cards and his drivers licence were cancelled and statements were made to the police.

“Sophie flew back from India cutting her trip short to get back to Italy,” said Andy. “We drove north away from the city and found a quiet spot to take time out and assess what has just happened to our lives. A new laptop was ordered via a generous loan from a client, so I can at least keep working because without that we’re heading towards being homeless.

“We also have some incredible family, friends and clients who have stepped up and offered so much support, love and generosity.

“Our good friend Mike Payne, who’s band Mechanical Owl I have played bass for, kindly set up a GoFundMe page to help us out and we have been absolutely blown away by everyone’s generous donations.”

Despite the setback, Andy and Sophie are determined to keeping living on the road.

“This will not stop us travelling,” added Andy. “A friend of mine said: ‘It won’t feel like it yet, but when you get through it and reflect you will see a positive time because the feeling of love and support will last longer than the anger, frustration and sadness’.

“I think he’s right. The fear of it happening again will eventually fade and in time most things like the laptop, cameras and audio equipment will be replaced.

“But, at least both Sophie and I and the dogs are all safe. We still have the van and still have the passion for travel.

“The support and generosity of our global community is what’s helping us through this.”

To donate to Andy and Sophie go to www.gofundme.com and search for Van-Life Robbery Whip-Round