BBC's DIY SOS has been running on prime time TV in the UK for 15 years and is now broadcast around the world, but no build has ever been on as big a scale as the one we just did for BBC Children in Need. We had always thought the ultimate build, in the short space of time allocated by the format, would be to build a house from the ground up but we knew it would stretch things to the limit. When we were asked by BBC Children in Need to look at a site for the Little Miracles charity in Peterborough, we questioned how feasible the build was. The building alone would be three times the floor area of the largest house we had ever renovated and then there was the landscaping of two acres of woodland to consider too!
Normally the DIY SOS team has nine days to transform an existing two or three bedroom house and add on something like an extension in that time but this would be on a totally different scale. We realised that completely recreating a brand new centre for Little Miracles would be our biggest ever challenge. We started talking to people we knew in the construction industry who, one by one, company by company, took it as a huge challenge to attempt the impossible.
The 'BBC Children in Need Big Build' quickly became known as the 'Million Pound Build' in the office. The main contractor quoted us a budget of £1million and informed us that a job of this size and detail would take nine months to complete. It would involve knocking down the concrete shed that had no facilities or disabled access and rebuilding it from the ground up, creating a 250 square meter state of the art new facility. In addition we would have to landscape two acres of woodland, and create wheelchair accessible adventure trails and play areas. We had a tiny budget of a few thousand pounds and nine days to complete the job. Thankfully, the designer's interior designer Nina Campbell wanted to develop the interior, and multi international gold medal winning Chris Beardshaw offered to design the landscape, so we knew it would look stunning. Above all, we had a blind faith that it would work out somehow.
The Peterborough building community, along with the Army, Fire Brigade, Air Force, landscape volunteers and extra builders from as far afield as Aberdeen, Derby and Bristol pulled it off thanks to their incredible generosity and by working incredibly long hours every day.
So why Little Miracles? Three and a half years ago, a lady called Michelle was refused access to the last bus home with her disabled children because one was on oxygen and the canister was considered too dangerous to be on board. After sitting in tears on the bus refusing to get off, a woman next to her told her, "it will be alright." That one moment of kindness from a stranger made Michelle determined to give other parents the support they need. She decided to set up a support group for parents of children with disabilities and life-limiting illnesses, offering advice, counselling and respite. Three and a half years on, she now looks after over 800 families who simply have nowhere else to go. The volunteers in the construction industry knew this, as did the army of gardeners, landscapers, technicians and er... Army personnel who made her dream a reality.
The people who gave up days of work for us or supplied materials or furniture, kitchens or play equipment, only received one reward for their generosity - to see the faces of those families who will benefit from the brand new facility once the build was completed. That made all those involved in creating the new Little Miracles centre proud to have run themselves ragged to build it.
It was too big, too ambitious and too close to not being finished, but the legacy those volunteers have left Peterborough will give desperately needed respite and support to the lives of so many and become a hub not only for Little Miracles but formany other groups in the area.
People are much better than even they themselves believe they can be and are capable of making'Little Miracles'.
DIY SOS: The Million Pound Build For Children in Need
TX: Wednesday 13 November, BBC One, 8-9pm