Nick Knowles: ‘Harry and Wills ribbed me for looking too clean on DIY SOS’

Nick Knowles talks to What’s on TV about the special DIY SOS: Homes for Veterans (BBC1, Wednesday, October 14) project that was given a royal helping hand!

What can you reveal about the DIY SOS Veterans Special?
“It’s a special two-parter where we do up a derelict street in Manchester. During the programme not only will you see veterans in new homes, but you’ll also see the rebuilding of a community. We look at what it means to be a veteran scarred with physical and mental injuries, and build offices were they can be retrained in new skills. It’s quite an undertaking and far beyond anything we’ve ever done before.”

What big challenges have you faced during the project?
“The struggle was involving everyone, from construction giants and the council, to the NHS and local police in order to make it work. In the end we convinced them all it was good idea. The build also ran over from 12 days to 15!”

Why did you pick Canada Street in Manchester?
“We looked at different places around the country, but strongly believed we could turn this street around. It was considered one of Manchester’s worst and now it’s tree-lined and beautiful. The families already living there were desperate for something to be done – they’d problems with vermin, break-ins and one of its 26 derelict houses was used as a cannabis farm. It’s very different now.”

Why do veterans need this help?
“They have complex problems and not enough support that leds to lost jobs, families separating and homelessness. We’ll meet veterans like dad-of-five Lamin. He was blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device while in the Irish Guards and lost both legs and an arm. We try to give him a house to suit his and his family’s needs.”

Tell us about your royal helpers…
“Harry and Wills helped us for a few hours! They’re proper-down-to-earth lads and don’t stand on ceremony. Wills helped me paint a kitchen and didn’t leave until it was finished, while Harry helped lay slabs for a terrace. They’re great fun. There was plenty of banter – they took the mick out of each other and told me I must not be doing any work because I looked too clean! It’s wonderful to get their support.”

Did you have a big reveal at the end of the project?
“We did and it was massively emotional for everyone. I think everyone walked away feeling they’d achieved something for people who need it. The volunteers came from all over the country and some slept in their cars because they believe our veterans deserve better than they’re getting at the moment. We hope this is a template that will be followed by other councils. There’s no reason why this can’t be repeated elsewhere!”

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