Nick Knowles on teaming up with Pudsey for an incredible Children in Need project to help homeless youngsters in Blackburn...
Nick Knowles and the DIY SOS team have long been transforming the homes of families in need across the UK. Few are more deserving, though, of a warm, comfortable place to stay than the homeless youngsters who live on our streets. So, in a special episode for Children in Need, DIY SOS heads to Blackburn, Lancashire, to transform the rundown St Silas Church hall into accommodation and support centre for Nightsafe, a charity that helps young people aged 16 to 24 who are homeless or vulnerably housed.
Nick Knowles, 57, chatted about the ambitious DIY SOS Children in Need build that not only provides much-needed sanctuary but could also save lives…
What was the brief for this build?
“Children in Need asked if we could build some night accommodation for Nightsafe, a charity that looks after homeless young people in and around Blackburn. But we thought we could do better than that! Inside, we built six self-contained flats, a communal area, a huge kitchen and storerooms, too. It was a vast undertaking and it took us two weeks not nine days, which is a bit of a letdown for us! But it was so worthwhile given who we’d be looking after.”
Were you humbled by the people that offered their services?
“We’re always humbled by the people who turn up to help and give us stuff for nothing. We’ll talk to a kitchen manufacturer about needing a £35,000 kitchen and they ask: ‘Will you mention our name in the programme?’ And we say: ‘No’ ‘Will you mention us in the end titles?’ ‘No’. ‘Will we get anything out of it at all?’ ‘No’. Then they go away, think about it and send us a £45,000 kitchen instead! It’s the ultimate altruism. On this show, we have plasters, decorators, plumbers and all sorts; just the most extraordinary group of people coming together to make a change.”
What challenges did you face during this build?
“On the very first day, a few people cancelled, meaning we didn’t have enough builders. So we put out an appeal and builders came from Cornwall, Scotland, South Wales and all over to join in. Also, just the sheer scale of the build caused problems. Sourcing over 4km of timber from local timber yards was really difficult.”
Tell us about some of the young people you met during filming…
“We do speak to some young people who’ve been through Nightsafe, who were homeless. One young lad, Callum, is a plasterer, who actually takes part in the build. Nightsafe got him safely off the streets, got him into education and retraining. Callum told all the builders that he wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for Nightsafe and that they were building something that would save people’s lives. It was hugely emotional.”
What do you fear might happen if a place like this didn’t exist?
“These young people are already being targeted by gangs because they’re vulnerable and there’s nobody looking after them. They’re abused and beaten on the streets and they’re terrified. Without Nightsafe stepping in, as they do, there would be a lot more children falling into crime and sexual exploitation. There will always be a need for places like this but it is worrying when you think the number of young people sleeping rough every night in this country could fill Wembley Stadium! It’s disgraceful.”
What are you most proud of about being involved in this build for Children in Need?
“Everybody thinks DIY SOS is a building show but what it’s doing is gently shining a light on the people who fall through the cracks in our society. And if we can’t start with children, our most vulnerable, then we’ve got things a bit wrong. This transformed church hall already has one person off the streets and there will be more going in any day now. So it’s already making a difference. It’s a proper facility doing genuine good and will continue to do so for years to come.”
DIY SOS: Children in Need Special is on Wednesday November 13 at 8pm on BBC1.