Some inspiring stories of why volunteers wanted to help rebuild our Carers Centre
Laurence Mitchell, landscape architect from Devon, masterminded garden transformation, Laurence carved an Eden for carers of all ages out of thick near impenetrable brambles and trees. Put a holiday and anniversary celebrations on hold as the project ran into delays – and returned from Devon for the extended project and the Big Reveal. “It really mattered to me,” he admits. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” Laurence has written his own book detailing the makeover of the garden. He had great support from volunteers and specialist staff from Myerscough College.
Nick Knowles, TV presenter: “This is one of the most challenging projects the team has ever taken on. It’s been one of the most rewarding too. I’ve met fantastic young people, strong, resilient, who just need a hand, and others more than willing to help.”
Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, designer: “My early life was overshadowed by my mother’s illness and I remember the crushing anxiety. I never wanted pity and these young people don’t either. Blackpool matters to me, deeply, and Beaverbrooks House does too. We have made it beautiful but it is also functional and I hope it will be used and enjoyed for many years to come.”
Billy Byrne, DIY SOS resident ‘sparks’: It’s about the children, isn’t it, sausage? It’s magic what’s happened. It really touches the heart. You leave a bit of yourself behind at every build. It’s about making things a bit better for carers because they have got a much bigger job on their hands than we have.”
Sue Flint, former specialist nursery officer at Blenheim House: “I’m so pleased the house wasn’t demolished. As Blenheim House it was the site of a great multi disciplinary team, health, education, paediatrics, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, more. It was a happy place of work, for all that families were dealing with so many difficulties, and I hope Blackpool Carers are happy here. I was so moved to see that Laurence Llewelyn Bowen had incorporated the name Blenheim in the wallpaper in one room.”
Clare Laird, of TX Maxx: “The whole team have been thrilled to contribute to the carers centre. We knew Laurence (Llewelyn Bowen) wanted nice things but also quirky things. It was a privilege to take part and to see it – wow, it’s astonishing.”
Debra Godfrey-Brown, owner of the Crafty Squirrel photography: “I started on day one and ended up in the gardens. Bramble clearing. I thought we’d never get through it all but look at it now. Transformed. I’d love to come back, maybe run a few photography workshops here. There’s no shortage of inspiration. I’m a big fan of the art too.”
Ian ‘Muttley’ Clare, works for the MoD, a community governor at Anchorsholme Academy: “I did the veterans’ build in Manchester and knew quite a few of the other people who helped here. You just muck in. Hard work and long days, anything from 8.30am through to 10pm, longer for some. I used to wonder if some of the lads actually went back to digs. I’m a school governor and I believe in giving children the best possible start. But you look at this place now and the possibilities are endless. I’d love to organise a concert here with the Blackpool Music Service.”
Ezra Watson, at 16, has already packed a lot into life – including work in commercials, theatre, even drama, having played the son of resort star John Simm in a three part crime drama Prey. But as the youngest volunteer on site Ezra’s work ethic, personality and punctuality impressed civil engineer contractor Stuart Pulfer so much he offered the lad an apprenticeship – along with two other tradesmen! Ezra, who has his own reasons for wanting to be part of the build, admits: “I never thought I’d come here to help and leave with a totally different future before me. I got offered three apprenticeships, joiner, general builder groundwork and civil engineering. I want to stick with the acting but to be given such a chance to learn a trade too is fantastic.”
Lynn Summers, community champion Tesco Blackpool Extra: “We jumped at the chance to help out here. We came and painted and we also donated goods. Blackpool’s got a big heart and a great community spirit. We’re glad to do our bit.”
(pic outside) Neighbours Norma Green and Carol McGlynn: “We live locally and have watched the transformation of the house from start to finish – and are so pleased that it wasn’t just demolished for apartments. It’s quite a landmark and it looks lovely.”
Jonathan Wilson, 22: “I did brambles, brambles and more brambles. They got through two pairs of gloves – I can still feel them! The garden is now a garden again and there’s so much light, too. It’s a zillion times better. I love this place.”
Gill Singer: “What’s happened here is like extreme landscaping – when you look at how it was. It’s so peaceful and beautiful now. My favourite work was on the stumperies – building wildlife havens out of turf, twigs and stones and fallen trees that you can’t move because they weigh half a ton. I wanted to add little fairy doors to them but was told no!”
Kyle Cooper, 20: “I did it because I have my own handyman business, I love gardening, it was for charity, I believe in giving something back, and five years ago I lost my brother to cancer. The gardens are everything to me – they are totally transformed.”
Anthony Tapp and partner Annette Walker work in property maintenance in Sheffield – and returned after the main build finished to assist the staff with the renovations upstairs, starting out from home at 5am to make the round trip to Blackpool. “It’s such a good cause it was a privilege to take part,” says Annette.
Artist Dave Southwell creates incredibly intricate artwork, including accurate portraiture, out of words – entitled, appropriately enough, Look Closely Art. His portraits of key members of the DIY SOS squad were well received and he even produced another, of the late great Sir Terry Wogan, to mark BBC Children in Need. It’s all done by hand. “You get the occasional mistake but that’s part of the originality!” he adds. On a similar theme Beaverbrooks House also features some of the typewriter art of acclaimed artist Oi Doris!
Former DJ turned screen print artist Robin Ross was directly commissioned by Laurence Llewelyn Bowen to provide art – and his Warhol-like ‘Stephen Seagulls’ sequence has also proved a talking point in the art room. Robin, who created and curates the annual street art/graffiti festival in Blackpool, says: “It was a delight to be involved. It’s also a great gallery in its own right.” Robin has a New York show in March and is artist in residence in Lisbon in June.
Julie Robinson-Southward’s scenes add tranquillity to the ‘quiet’ room and there’s some fabulous Dr Who themed art on display too – along with some offerings from some very familiar big name artists or galleries brokered by Llewelyn Bowen. Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, Pure Evil, My Dog Sighs and Banksy ring any bells? There’s even John Ditchfield glass in one of the therapy rooms…
Chainsaw sculptor James Shelliker of Acorncraft has a ready response when people ask – as they nearly always do – ‘how long did it take you to carve that owl?’ “About 1000 owls…” He’s honed woodcraft to perfection and beautiful woodland creatures now emerge from the mellow mists of autumn and woodland of Beaverbrooks House. Hares, owls, deer, and more. And bird feeders, along with bird boxes above, crafted out of a single piece of tree. One of his creations was filmed on time lapse by the DIY SOS TV crew. “This is a real wildlife haven so it’s nice to honour that,” says James, who’s since donated work in support of Cash Quest for Carers, and also did an eight hour carvathon in support of the resort charity and BBC Children in Need.
Helina Johnson, mum of Luca and Sienna, 10 and 6, admits she looks an unlikely general labourer. “But that’s what I became when I volunteered. I didn’t want to stuck doing teas and coffees all the time so I ended up sanding, wallpapering and I became the queen of the noggins… tapping them into RSJs. I never used to speak like this, but I loved every minute and it made me realise just how much more I can do.” For the record, an RSJ is a rolled steel joist, a steel beam usually used for support, and noggins are used to provide a fixing to strengthen structures.
Simon Geraghty, of Bispham based SK Electricals: “It was just good to get involved in something that is so much bigger than each and every one of us – a really shared experience of something great. And it was nice because we are local, and helping a local charity. A lot came from all over the place but there were lots of locals involved too. The house looks brilliant – my favourite area is the yellow room – and it’s a fantastic legacy for carers.”
Railway conductor Margaret ‘Muscles’ Shaw of Blackpool: “I started off in the garden but did everything in the end. I was a general dogsbody because I’m quite strong. I really wanted to help provide something worthwhile for young carers because they don’t get the help they should. “
Carl Vidoretti of Lytham based Maintenance Solutions: “I wanted to help the young carers. A lot of these kids don’t see themselves as carers but they are taking on so much they deserve somewhere like Beaverbrooks House. It’s very special way of saying look, you’re doing a brilliant job and we know that, and we care too. I’m Blackpool born and bred and people slag off the place but 350 people turned up for this build…”
Thomas Rankin, structural engineer at Squires Gate-based Hermolle Associates: “We’ve been involved from the very start, came to the very first site meeting with DIY SOS. The amount of hard work that has gone into it has been astonishing – in such a tight turn round time. It’s been fantastic to be part of it from start to finish I think Blackpool should be really proud of the result. It shows what’s possible when you all pull together.”
Diana Febland – “I’m just amazed at what’s been achieved in such a short time. It’s a privilege for Febland to have been involved but I think the real credit goes to all the volunteers who transformed the building. The art is astonishing and the gardens are beautiful.” Diana has also pledged further support to the charity via her own art. Febland was one of many big name local companies to support the project.
Will Chelsom of Chelsom Lighting: “It was our pleasure. We know it’s a great cause.”
Marilyn Soper of Sopers Bespoke provided some of the beautiful pattern fabric blinds for the project and also produced the spectacular Blackpool theme curtains bespoke to Laurence Llewelyn Bowen’s design – and matching the carpets in reception. “Laurence wanted the curtains to puddle on the floor but we thought of all those young carers running around and stood our ground – we managed to win that one. We’re delighted with how they look, and the Swarovski crystals work really well.”
Allan Sinclair supplier of the 2 Sky Ceilings for the project: “The company started nine years ago distributing specialist ceilings. We’re based near Bath in Somerset. The ceilings help patients recover more quickly in hospitals, care homes and they’ve helped people with dementia too. We felt it was time to help those who have selflessly helped others and deserve to have a relaxing break. It was a pleasure to see many people give up personal free time to help create such a major project on time and hopefully exceeding expectations. My Pudsey ears and t shirt will be worn with pride and affection at being part of this project.”
For a full list of everyone who helped on the Big Build, please visit ‘Our DIY SOS Supporters’ page.
We now have an unbelievable space from which to deliver our services and make ‘A Better Life for Carers’, however we still need to fundraise to provide a programme of respite activities for our carers, so Donations are always welcome.
We are also looking for businesses or organisations that can help us with the maintenance and upkeep of the building to ensure it is kept looking its best for years to come. Please contact Kay Soper on 01253 393748 or email kay.soper@blackpoolcarers – thank you.