What’s it like behind the scenes of a DIY SOS Big Build – when the show goes out for Children in Need? As the Swansea-based Roots Foundation prepare for their big night on the box on November 15 Jacqui Morley reveals (almost) all.
Welcome to Beaverbrooks House – the Blackpool Carers Centre base that 872 volunteers rebuilt last year as the DIY SOS Big Build for BBC Children in Need.
The programme was watched by 3.9m viewers and raised a third of a million pounds for Children in Need.
The build itself was valued at well over £905,275 in terms of equipment, services, donation and sheer hard graft.
It was followed by a second build, up above, the charity’s own, on a first floor just as mangled by metal thieves as that below.
No cameras but still plenty of volunteers mucking in, supporting others working against the clock, installing IT, offices, kitchen, toilets, accessible lift, training room and more. Functional rather than fancy.
Staff worked where they stood or sat amidst the explosion of cushions overlooked by art on walls adorned with limited edition Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Pure Evil and Time Out covers.
Teams for all the different elements of the charity’s operation jostled for elbow room, trying not to intrude on the carers’ space but on hand – even with nowhere to call ‘office’ themselves – when needed.
The kids, the young and young adult carers, had already piled through the doors weeks earlier for the Big Reveal, tears shed by the grownups watching, two of the young stars of the show declaring “can we live here?” (and meaning it). The older carers soon followed.
Back then it looked like the set of a posh interior design magazine with its artful display of exotic foreign recipe books propped up near the barista style coffee making machine which intimidated staff until trained to use it.
Thank heaven for instant coffee. (And the first gin of the evening back home.)
It wasn’t long before Beaverbrooks – named after the charitable trust which had purchased the building for the charity’s use – felt like home.
Not any home we could recognise – unless Laurence Llewelyn Bowen happens to be your personal designer – but the best kind of home, full of love, light, laughter and that most fantastic of DIY SOS gifts, the garden, designed by Laurence Michell (pictured left below) now bare of brambles and budding with young carers scrambling over climbing frames and exploring the “don’tcallthemsheds” – outhouses? – along with an amphitheatre for picnics and a fire pit adorned with creatures and more woodland beasts, crafted by James Shelliker, dappled by shadows cast by the sun on magnificent mature trees.
Magical. The magic is already transforming carers’ lives. Boy, has it been well used, day in, night out, since that evening when carers and cared for, staff, volunteers, families and friends, gathered to watch BBC DIY SOS Big Build for Children in Need where it had all happened – at Beaverbrooks House.
As luck would have it, the TV went on the blink in the Yellow Room, the art room, the large screen just below drawers, handles placed artfully (and distractingly ) across the chest of cherubs by our Laurence. A young carer looked up and giggled. “They look like …” “Don’t say it,” his mum warned.
With a collective sigh we all piled back into the packed main lounge, where a TV was still working – until that played up too.
Chorus of groans. Would it all end in tears for the wrong reasons? Who do you call to fix things at a DIY SOS house? What’s the etiquette when everything’s donated?
Our volunteers were just round the corner, watching the telly at Blackpool Cricket Club. We couldn’t drag them back, could we?
Then the tellies flickered into life to cheers and we all scrambled for seats, wheelchair users putting Ben Hur to shame, cared-for carefully placed to see and be seen (and not hurt).
And that’s when The Gazette’s dashing Dan Martino, photographer extraordinary, leapt pirate-like upon a table in front of the telly and asked us all to assemble before him. No-one was whingeing when they later saw the fantastic front page pictures produced from both venues – house and cricket club house. Apart from the young carer who had clocked the cherub’s “boobies” earlier and told me: “Mummy never lets ME stand on the table.” He’s Italian, I explained.
The TV show started, the press and visiting TV cameras falling back to a respectful distance, and tears are soon in freefall, staff and carers sniffing and snuffling through, punctuated by exclamations of “that’s me!” “that’s you!” and “why did you dye your hair halfway through?” or silence at the touching scenes featuring young carers such as Francine Bradley’s twins or Susanne Cartwright’s daughters Gracey, now 11, and Tyanna, 12.
Reminded of all the games that had been donated, the young carers soon got restive until pizza put paid to the fidgets – along with the promise of DIY SOS cake to follow (I’m still waiting, CEO Michelle Smith).
It felt like home. Home as it should be, the whole family round for the Christmas of Christmasses, even in mid-November.
And like the best of extended families it didn’t go its separate ways when the credits rolled and the requests for donations to Children in Need started.
Here in Blackpool the charity is building upon the social dividend of DIY SOS to ensure that legacy endures. It created unparalleled awareness of young carers, indeed all carers, the length and breadth of the country.
As for the charity, it’s onwards and upwards – funding is always an uphill battle. The charity needs grants as much as ever, more so given the size of the property and the scale of demand that comes with soaring awareness of the role all carers play.
Unpaid carers save the state billions. It’s a debt of gratitude which will never be repaid. Much the same goes for the charity’s debt to DIY SOS.
That generosity of spirit, plumbed deep within the community, and well beyond Blackpool and the Fylde, is within the very fabric of the building.
Drop in some time and hear those walls speak for themselves – the Carers’ Word Wall is the most eloquent.
Today Beaverbrooks House is no longer the set of TV’s longest running and most popular makeover programme but the fully functioning base of an incredibly busy and independent local charity – which has become a beacon for carers across the country.
There are ambitious plans to develop the annexe into a respite lodge for young carers and separate dementia haven too. Both are desperately needed – along with those who dare to dream big enough to make it happen.
Meantime, as carers and staff and young carers’ champions head to Manchester on the big night to join the Children in Need team, others in homes across Blackpool and beyond, including those involved in the resort charity’s makeover, will turn the telly on to watch the Swansea-based Roots Foundation – which offers support to children and young people in care or leaving care – get the Big build treatment for Children in Need 2017 and know that there, thanks to the grace of goodness within so many, went we this time last year.
In these stones, horizons sing.
They are – as Peterborough-based charity Little Miracles advised us last year (after getting the treatment in 2013) – in for “a rollercoaster ride”.
But then – Blackpool is the home of rollercoasters…
Contact CEO Michelle Smith at Blackpool Carers Centre on 01253 393748 to be part of the ongoing story…