The long wait is over. The £1m makeover of Blackpool Carers Centre – Beaverbrooks House – has finally been revealed to 3.9 million people watching BBC DIY SOS.
CLICK HERE to watch the programme.
The programme pushed Blackpool to the fore of raising awareness of young carers across the country and further afield – and set social media alight as others shared the charity’s joy and tears and praised the centre for producing such role models.
Former young carers champions Amy Gunniss and Camilla Ball, now specialist support workers, were effectively anchor women for the charity, ambassadors for the hundreds of young carers represented in the resort.
Twins Chloe and Eloise Bradley, seven, were filmed going about their daily chores, and chatting about looking after “poorly” mum Francie, who has MS. Francine also spoke candidly to presenter Nick Knowles about her own hopes and fears.
Sisters Tyanna and Gracey Cartwright, 11 and 10, also moved millions to tears as they talked of looking after mum, Suzanne Cartwright – a former nurse who lives with debilitating osteoporosis. Their world has been rocked by dad Shaun’s cancer too. Nick was visibly moved after he asked the girls why none of their ‘three wishes’ related to themselves. “Other people need them more,” they said. Their three wishes – for everyone who is ill to be better, mum not to be disabled and world peace – was widely shared on social media.
The one hour long Big build special for BBC Children in Need set donation hotlines buzzing as hearts were touched by young carers talking of their responsibilities at home.
It also gives the resort charity a much higher profile – and a great new base from which to grow the service and reach more ‘hidden’ carers/
The new HQ, on Newton Drive, was donated to the charity by Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust last year. Two late Victorian mansions – as Nick described them – had been knocked into one property over the years and become an NHS centre for children’s development services.
Some of the volunteers who rallied to the DIY SOS appeal for trades talked of how their own children had passed through Blenheim House.
Rhionna Herbert’s son was diagnosed with severe autism there. Sam Smith’s daughter Jessica, now doing incredibly well in a new school, and still supported by her sisters, young carers, had also passed through the service.
And James Shelliker, who undertook a 12 hour carers’ carvathon for Children in Need and the carers’ centre on Children in Need Day, also spoke of his son had language therapy there. “He hasn’t shut up since,” he told Nick. James was one of hundreds of volunteers who turned up – and as a chainsaw sculptor he fashioned benches and beautiful woodland creatures to take pride of place in a fantastic acre of garden cleared by the voluntary task force and redesigned by landscape architect Laurence Mitchell.
Designer Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, creative curator of Blackpool Illuminations, led on the design with bold décor and bright primary colours delighting viewers and young carers – indeed all carers using the centre – alike.
For all the aesthetics and beautiful touches, the designs are functional throughout, with some 13 or so spaces created within the building to offer different themes, activities, or places to escape.
The Word Wall designed by Laurence using young carers’ own words is particularly effective right in the thick of things but providing a chill out retreat.
Nick hails the project one of the most ambitious and heartfelt the team has ever taken on in almost 20 years. “The building itself was on a vast scale but we built a massive club in there. It’s got amazing artwork, hair salon, nail bar – and when you’re a teenager that’s a big deal.”
The transformation of the former Blenheim House into Beaverbrooks House redefined Big Build for the team but they still had time to throw in some light touches – such as super sparks Billy Byrne accidentally blacking out Blackpool Tower while testing the circuits at Beaverbrooks House.
While the house had been ransacked by thieves, outside near impenetrable brambles and trees jostling for branch room left more than an acre of neglected garden virtually out of bounds.
With many more supporters donating materials, resources and expertise, the garden has been transformed into a carers’ Eden by the vision of another landscape architect Laurence, who travelled from Devon to take part in the build.
Two summer houses donated and installed by Solid Sheds have pride of place along with a animal adorned metal fire pit, James’ woodland creatures, soft play facilities and an amphitheatre which has already been the setting of a teddy bears’ picnic, Halloween party and Children in Need activities.
Inside, the building now resembles an exclusive ‘boutique’ youth club – thank to the vision of Llewelyn Bowen and his determination that young carers should access the very best in celebration of their strength and resilience.
Exclusive as it may look, in reality it’s a truly inclusive charity.
Highly distinctive touches include Laurence’s beautiful Blackpool attraction-themed carpeting and curtains – complete with Swarovski crystal. A Word Wall based on the words of young carers has also been created as a retreat from cares. Young carers also assisted with art for cushions. Outside there’s a ‘stick of rock’ from Blackpool Illuminations.
Laurence, who visited Beaverbrooks House privately after the build, explained: “For me the most important thing was creating an interior that would capture the imaginations of the young carers. I drew upon design stimuli from around the world to produce an interior which bursts with colour, contemporary art, energy and creativity. I hope these selfless children and young people with caring responsibilities are able to enjoy this space and, within it, find the inspiration to reach their full potential.”
Remarkable art by some very familiar names now adorns the walls including a sequence of gulls by Blackpool screen print artist Robin Ross which has proved a real talking point and many other local artists including David Southwell, Oi Doris and Julie Southward-Robinson.
Yellow plantation blinds create the impression of sunshine even on the darkest winter day within the youth club/art room. The kitchen looks like it’s stepped from the pages of Good Housekeeping. There’s also a Beaverbrooks boutique proper shop – complete with Llewelyn Bowen shirts on a rack – which doubles as a food bank hopefully with sustained support from the business community.
And there are therapy , treatment – hair, nails, massage, counselling and quiet rooms.
Visiting BBC Lancashire breakfast show presenter Graham Liver was treated to a taste of what’s to come by the team at Icher who helped massage his aches and pains away after he sustained a knee injury during his 100 miles Liver’s Lie-In bed push from Pudsey to Bare. The breakfast show came from the centre on the very morning of the DIY SOS show on strict condition the makeover remained under wraps. Graham later broadcast his own tour of Beaverbrooks House directly after the DIY SOS show had ended.
Other media visitors included Amy Holmes and photographer Dan Martino from The Gazette on the night – and the That’s Lancashire team. Radio Wave also broadcast updates. The resort’s radio station has supported the charity since the very beginning because of its enduring link with station founder John Barnett, how High Sheriff of Lancashire, and patron of the carers charity. Presenter Hayley Kay is the charity’s ambassador. Coverage of the project has appeared on national TV, magazines and other publications.
The programme was watched at Beaverbrooks House by carers, staff, trustees, volunteers, friends and supporters – including some who had been at the centre since 5am to welcome BBC Lancashire.
The young carers on the screens, throughout Beaverbrooks House, were greeted with cheers and applause – and the evening was joyful, tearful and emotional, but above all thankful for the changes wrought and the enduring commitment of young carers.
VIP visitors included Paula Cruise, Project Coordinator for the Commitment to Carers programme for NHS England, and Jen Kenward, Experience of Care Lead for NHS England, and a nurse and carer herself.
NHS England Experience of Care Lead Paul Jebb, chairman of trustees for Blackpool Carers Centre, later joined Camilla and Amy to pay tribute to DIY SOS volunteers who had got together at Blackpool Cricket Clubhouse to watch the show and celebrate. A very special cake was taken along too.
Michelle Smith, CEO of Blackpool Carers Centre, says the DIY SOS makeover is ‘the beginning of an exciting new chapter’ for the charity – but also marks a sea change in terms of awareness for young carers and associated support groups and charities across the country.
“My hope is the social dividend from this delivers to other carers centres too. We owe so much to Children in Need’s support already. But this goes beyond anything we could have imagined. We have been astonished by the kindness and generosity of the team, indeed all who have donated materials and volunteers.
“And I owe a great debt of gratitude to my team, too. They have all given so much and shown so many patience and flexibility.”
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.