DIY SOS: Big Build mostly builds extensions on homes. We have done bigger builds such as a street of houses for veterans in Manchester and centres for charities for Children in Need. Like many across the country, we watched the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in horror. With all our building contacts, we wondered if we could do something to help. It was the start of what was to become the biggest, most complicated and most challenging access-wise project ever.
Housing was too big a task but it turned out in the lower floors of the tower were different community spaces including a gym for the Dale Youth Boxing Club. Dale Youth is a west London success story – it opens its doors to any young person who wants to train. It’s started the careers of George Groves and James de Gale and many national champions. It teaches more than just boxing – manners and discipline are important and keeps kids off the streets and out of gangs.
It also needed a home. They were squatting in a gym in a disused car park that had no heating or showers. Mick and Gary, the two inspiring trainers who are like dads to the people they coach, were only too happy to meet and take up a potential offer of a new club.
Wandering around the area, we found an empty plot and worked out the people who managed it – the Westway Trust. We then pitched them what we were proposing and they suggested a plot under the Westway A 40 flyover and agreed to let us build.
The scale was enormous, more than twice the size of anything we had attempted. Normally we build a home extension. This was two buildings and – in a first – steel construction which meant we had to learn new things. We pumped our contact books and ended up with one of the country’s biggest construction firms on board who took on the role of project manager. We drew plans and a materials list and it just seemed to keep rolling. But it has been far from a smooth ride. There were many days when it looked like the whole thing was going to collapse. We were asking for enormous commitments: £100k+ of steel for example. Carillion happened and we lost some companies. So many ups and downs and sleepless nights.
In the end though, thanks to the enormous generosity of many companies, we built two buildings (the 280 square meter boxing gym was built in just 9 weeks!) through donations worth over £2million. When you start a project this size, you don’t actually know if it will happen but you have to keep plowing on. Television and the DIY SOS brand still have enormous power.
The community around Grenfell is understandably traumatised and access wasn’t always straight forward. We found great characters for this programme in the shape of Gary, Mick and Taz and the incredibly eloquent young people they train. Amazingly with all the coverage of Grenfell, the boxing club hasn’t been in the media much even though it was in the tower. The boxing club helped us tell a different story to other Grenfell coverage. It was also more than just about the fire – an insight into a working class community and also touching on how to prevent gang culture and its associated violence.
The programme has a different tone to be respectful of what had happened – something we decided early on. There is no triumphalism or self-congratulations, no “coming to the rescue”, no big opening clapping, different lower key music, no end summary from Nick – we wanted local people to end the shows.
Another highlight was getting Prince William down to site. He watches the show and has been on it on the Veterans Street build with his brother. He wanted to come down and meet volunteers and members of the community. He allowed us access to film all his conversations which helped the audience see another side to him.
How it met audience / broadcaster / commercial requirements:
The reaction from the audience on social media and elsewhere has been incredible. The show won its slot beating ITV and all other channels. The programme got a high AI of 88 – 91 amongst 16-34 year olds. It did much higher audience figures than slot average for young viewers as well.
It trended number one on Twitter at the time of tx with Nick Knowles and Grenfell also trending at the same time. We had over 220,000 impressions.
Tweets included really positive comments such as
“Your crew, the contractors, the volunteers and the community are legends! You guys produce the most worthwhile TV of any channel. Thank you.”
“Extremely happy tears. One of the most humbling things I’ve ever watched. Utterly amazing.”
“The #GrenefllTower programme on #bbc1 is the reason what we are GREAT Britain. Hats off to you #DIYSOS @bbc these kids are an inspiration.”
Some tweets were more political:
“So basically while @RBKC navel gaze, leave people in hotels and do bugger all to deal with the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy @DIYSOS have managed to build @DaleYouthBoxing a new gym and for the whole local community.”
The newspaper reviews were fantastic:
“A glowing example of TV working for the greater good,” said The Times.
Their reviewer Carol Midgley went on to say
“Rebuilding a boxing club.. produced a precious, enduring result that will benefit people for years to come…At the end everyone was elated and things, so dark for so long around Grenfell, seemed fractionally brighter.”
“Much more than a gesture, it was proof of television’s power to unite people and make Britain a better place,”
wrote the Daily Mail who awarded the show five stars.