All of us will experience the pain of losing a loved one. It's especially difficult for young people, who may need a safe space to talk to a professional about how they're feeling.
Treetops Hospice in Derbyshire — a project funded by BBC's Children in Need 2023 — offers counselling for children coping with bereavement. But, with most of the hospice patients being terminally ill, these kids need somewhere more suitable to discuss their problems.
Enter Nick Knowles and the DIY SOS team, who take up the mammoth challenge to create a bespoke new building with counseling rooms, complementary therapy space and a multifunctional communal area providing vital support to kids who need it.
Here Nick reveals how the project is helping youngsters rebuild their lives…
What can you tell us about the charity at the heart of this Big Build for Children in Need?
"Treetops Hospice is an amazing charity in Derbyshire that does wonderful work counseling bereaved young people, who may have lost a sibling or parent. Treetops had held the counseling sessions within the main hospice but, with people receiving end-of-life care, it’s not the ideal environment for these kids, who need somewhere to process their grief. So we were asked if we’d build something just for them that was more welcoming."
What facilities did this Big Build need to have?
"Getting started with any counseling is often the most difficult thing. If your first reaction to a place is that it makes you uncomfortable, you won't start to open up. One woman, who lost her mum aged 13, revealed that in her counseling sessions, she had to sit on ‘what felt like a school chair’. So she told us to make sure any seats we put in are ones you can curl up on, like a sofa, because that's how these kids want to feel: protected."
What challenges did you face on the project?
"Trying to complete a build of this size in 10 days is always challenging. At one point, we had to move 500 bags of gravel for pathways, weighing 50 kilos each, across the site. We formed a chain of 100 people and it was my job to lift each bag off the pallet and hand it to the first person. But it was a ridiculous thing to do at the age of 61 - by the time I'd finished, I could barely move!"
This Big Build is in collaboration with BBC Radio 2. How do the DJs get involved?
"Breakfast host Owain Wyn Evans turned up to do painting and decorating wearing a tweed suit - NOT what you'd expect! Scott Mills and I filmed a fun opening for the show at Radio 2 In The Park, with the pair of us running through the crowd with Pudsey in a buggy to get him to the stage. That was a bad idea. People were literally throwing themselves at Pudsey - one woman even tried to rugby-tackle him to the ground! Also, popstar Sophie Ellis-Bextor did a kitchen disco for us - cue LOTS of bad dad dancing!"
During this cost of living crisis, are you humbled by those who volunteered to help with the build?
"We're living in difficult times; people are struggling to pay their bills and the cost of building materials has soared. Despite that, 150 volunteers came to help with the build, with suppliers giving us all the materials we needed. Everybody suffers loss of a loved one at some stage, so there was a great deal of empathy for these young people."
What does this Big Build mean to these kids? And why is it as important as ever to donate to Children in Need?
"To have a space and the opportunity to process their grief means that these kids can find somewhere for their anger, which often comes with loss, re-engage with their schoolwork and re-engage with their hopes and dreams. Things are tough for everybody but every £1 you give Children in Need enables organisations like Treetops to continue offering counselling services to hundreds of bereaved children for years to come."
For info on how to donate, visit bbcchildreninneed.co.uk
Catch DIY SOS on Thursday, November 16 at 9 pm on BBC1.