DIY SOS is tough enough at the best of times – let alone during the middle of a global pandemic.
But the hard-working team refused to be beaten and managed to put together one of their most challenging builds ever amid the UK’s lockdown restrictions.
With their last build in February, the team didn’t think they would be able to complete any new projects until next year, but they found a way.
Usually an army of volunteers descends on a house or building to tear it apart, which would be impossible with the current social-distancing measures.
However, turning a tiny, ramshackle, flooded old bus shelter into a eco-friendly, state-of-the-art surfboard-shaped centre was the perfect project to tackle in these testing times.
It proved to be a logistical nightmare, which required expert planning, different wristbands and even bubbles for toilets.
The challenge was to help Surfability UK, a world-leading, fully inclusive surf school that helps children with even the most severe disabilities take part, build a new home that could cater to the needs of the kids.
Children with additional needs were forced to change in car parks and use sodden equipment stored in a damp room that would flood.
After hearing of their plight, presenter Nick Knowles told producers this was a charity in need.
DIY SOS builds always take an immense effort usually go down to the wire, but there was added pressure this time with “super challenging” Covid-19 regulations.
“To renovate a place is really difficult for us under the [COVID-19] rules because to get enough people, we usually get 100 people in a building to take it apart very quickly and we can’t do that but what we can do is build from scratch,” Nick told Radio Times.
“So we basically went from a hole in the ground to a finished building in 9 days. Something that normally would take a building firm six months to do so it’s amazing in it’s own respect, but to do it under COVID regulations was super challenging.
“Sort of like a human jigsaw, we had to put together where people came and did their work and left and immediately a new set went in and everybody was ready to go the moment they could step in and do the work. And as usual we ran it pretty close to the wire, we were still doing things at like 6 o’clock in the morning on the day that we revealed it.”
To comply with Government guidelines, the team had four massive dining tents set up with only one person per table.
There were also multiple tea tents and a massive sign in area where everybody had to have their temperature taken.
Everyone working on the site was spit into different teams that formed bubbles, so they would use the same toilets and go to lunch at the same time.
DIY SOS legend Julian Perryman explained how the system worked in a video on the DIY SOS Twitter page.
“Look at all this. This is what it akes to set up a DIY SOS big build with Covid restrictions. It’s massive,” said Jules.
“Not one, not two, not three, but four dining tents with one person per table so we could socially-distance the dining.
“Multiple tea tents and a massive sign in area where everybody had to have their temperature taken and given a coloured wrist band
“So the colour coded wristbands are to indicate your time slot for lunch and the colour coding to the loos. So we’re in our own little purple bubble.”
While it was all change on the set, there were also differences for some of the DIY SOS team.
Like many of us, Nick Knowles has admitted he put weight on during lockdown, so the show will also be filled with extra moment to help viewers fell better abut themselves.
We start the show with me looking hairy, bearded and very fat. Because during lockdown. I put on weight during lockdown, because I was doing a lot of writing and not being able to travel much, and had a small injury which meant I couldn’t do the training that lots of other thing were doing,” he told The Metro.
“People are feeling self conscious about weight that they might have put on, or the fact that their hair has grown long, all those things. I thought, actually it’s not a bad way to start, to actually just fess up at the start, saying, “It doesn’t matter, you get through it however you get through it”.
“There’s lots of little layers and things that we put in to try and make people feel okay with it all, and try and give people that sort of positivity.”
The DIY SOS project came about when Nick met Ben Clifford at last year’s Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain after he won a Community Partner award.
The Surfability team were in desperate need of help, as they were forced to work out of a tiny bus shelter that would often flood.
“We had no facilities. When we started in 2013 we worked out of a car or a van, then finally had an out-of-use bus shelter,” explains Ben Clifford, who is the brains behind the surf school.
“We had to constantly bail out water from the flooding. There were no lights. Wetsuits were likely to stay wet because we had no heating or ventilation.
“Parents had to bring their own tables to change their children. It’s been really tough. Sometimes you do feel like giving up, you have low moments, but we carried on.”
After volunteering over a decade ago at a one-off surf camp for kids with autism, Ben was inspired to set up the sure school.
“I selfishly volunteered because I thought it would be a nice weekend in Devon. I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would have on me,” says the father-of-three.
“It was incredible. I just thought what a shame this was a one-off event and not something that happens all the time. It all grew from there. We now help around 500 kids.”
Ben, who is manager of the Welsh Parasurfing team, has also been able to deliver surf-based activities with a Children In Need grant of £120,000 over three years as well as the DIY SOS build.
At the end of the episode, viewers will see smiling kids surfing on the adapted boards as their proud parents watch from the beach with tears of joy.
Zipping across the waves, one little boy says: “It feels like I’m flying!”
Seven-year-old Jeremiah, who was born with three missing limbs, certainly feels that excitement as he charges into the sea at full pelt and leaps onto a surfboard, laughing that his mum is “screaming her head off”.
While nine-year-old Rowan, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour at 10 weeks old, takes to the water in another heart-swelling moment.
Ben says it is these daily “wow” moments that make his job extra special, despite the challenges.
“This is a dream come true. It’s going to help so many people. I don’t think that inclusion should be an exceptional thing. Here, everyone can be safe and dignified and smash their barriers,” says Ben.
Nick adds: “It really does show what can happen if people pull together and work together and believe in each other.”
*DIY SOS Children In Need special airs tonight on BBC One at 8pm