Meet your avatar: Nick Knowles
Nick Knowles is a British television presenter, writer and musician who hosts DIY SOS, one of the BBC’s most popular shows. Having developed the idea of DIY SOS, Nick has presented the programme since 2009 and he worked with Kier to deliver the biggest ever DIY SOS Big Build in 2015 to create a new community in Manchester called the Veterans’ Village.
In just over two weeks, Kier helped renovate eight dilapidated homes in Manchester to create four adapted homes for veterans and their families, as well as a Walking With The Wounded advice and therapy centre.
Former administration apprentice Holly Gordon project managed one of the properties in the street. She has a degree in construction and commercial management, through the Kier degree programme. She joined the business in 2007 and completed a two-year HNC in business management. Holly went on to begin the Kier foundation degree and then completed the full programme- all while working full-time and training to be an operational team leader!
See Holly’s story here
Neil was involved with the DIY SOS project from the start and he project managed one of the eight properties we renovated. At one point, the BBC realised they had trade shortages on the ambitious project. Unfortunately, they took the decision to not complete one of the properties that wasn’t going to feature on the programme. Neil was kind enough to take it upon himself to make sure this home was delivered for the veteran family it had been promised to. He and his team of volunteers worked on for an extra week after the SOS crew had gone so that the home could be handed over as promised.
Lamin was serving for the Irish Guards in Afghanistan when he lost an arm and both his legs in a blast. One of the houses we adapted on Canada Street became home for him, his wife and five children.
“You cannot quantify the impact of what it is going to do. It is going to save lives and bring joy to people.”
Said Lamin during the project.
Since moving into his new home, Lamin settled in to his new life in Manchester and secured a job as a security monitor.
Earlier this year, Lamin also picked up a bronze medal at the Invictus Games in Orlando. Organised by Prince Harry, the games feature wounded and medically discharged servicemen and women from around the world who compete against each other in different events.
John served with the Queen’s Royal Lancers and, after leaving the armed forces suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder. One of the houses we adapted on Canada Street became home for him and he’s now receiving help with employment opportunities at the advice and therapy centre on Canada Street that we helped create.
John built a lasting relationship with the DIY SOS and Kier teams during this project and a year after we completed the Veterans Village, John was on hand to help as we embarked on another scheme.
John was one of an army of volunteers who gave their time to help us transform a run-down building in Swansea for local charity The Roots Foundation Wales, creating a centre and accommodation to help young people in care and those leaving care who are now living independently. The project covered 320 square metres and was built from the ground up, making it one of the largest projects undertaken by DIY SOS.
Lance Corporal Simon Flores served for The Rifles in Iraq in 2006 when he lost his leg after a roadside bomb exploded while he was on patrol. He was later honoured for his bravery by being Mentioned in Dispatches – the oldest form of recognising bravery in the UK armed forces.
Prior to moving in to the final home in the Veterans Village, Simon was living in Oldham with his children. The team renovated the last property on the street, knocking two homes into one to accommodate Simon and his three children, with help from ex-service personnel now working at Kier.
Canada Street, in the Newton Heath area of Manchester, had become run down over time with a number of properties on the road being left vacant and falling into a state of disrepair. The empty homes had become a target for theft and vandalism. However, the charity Walking with the Wounded spotted an opportunity to not only revamp these properties but to also provide much-needed homes for veterans.
Manchester City Council, DIY SOS, Kier and Haig Housing all worked together and thought up the idea for a Veterans Village. Soon after, they began working to transform the street into a thriving community.
In just over two weeks in September 2015 we helped renovate eight dilapidated homes for veterans and their families. We also created an advice and therapy centre, along with Walking with the Wounded and even gave all 62 houses on the street a ‘facelift’.
The project was such as success that veterans’ charity Haig Housing appointed Kier to regenerate a further 17 homes on Canada Street and New Street. The renovated properties offer opportunities for veterans to be part of a community, provide secure therapy, training and employment support, and enable them to get on the housing ladder with options including shared equity, discount purchase and rent to buy.
At the time Simon Griffin, project lead, Haig Housing said: “Haig Housing is incredibly happy to appoint Kier to refurbish these further empty homes for veterans and their families. This builds on the success of the first phase which involved many generous contractors, including Kier and as featured on BBC DIY SOS.
“By September 2016, we will have completed eighteen homes in a mix of two, three and four bedrooms, plus an office for continued support and training of veterans in the region. This venture provides a new offer, enabling beneficiaries to enter home ownership through renting, part or full purchase of their home.
A year after this work, we returned to site with DIY SOS to complete the final phase of the project, the very last house on the street. It was being renovated for veteran Lance Corporal Simon Flores and his children, who lost his leg in Iraq.
As part of the DIY SOS team, a team of employees from across Kier – all ex-service personnel or serving Reservists and in one case, both – helped. Dave Bailey, Chris Davis, Dan Hampson, Luke Mazzoni and Tony Washer, whose skills include joinery, bricklaying and painting and decorating, gave their time and played a part in renovating the final house in the Veterans’ Village.
The scheme was a huge success and received nationwide praise. In November 2017, the project was recognised at a leading housing industry event – Inside Housing Development Awards. Haig Housing Trust won the award for Best Regeneration Project (outside London) for its work in transforming the estate and bringing the derelict homes back in to use.
During the first phase of the project in September 2015, the Kier team inducted over 250 people on site and every day there were hundreds of tradespeople giving up their time to help create these new homes for veterans.
The site volunteers often worked late into the evening and over weekends to ensure the houses were ready for John, Lamin and the other veterans at the beginning of October. As the project progressed, more and more people heard about it and wanted to help in whatever way they could, whether that was painting, re-wiring, plastering or providing cakes and ice creams! It was a true community effort to complete the ambitious scheme in the timeframe.
The project received visits on a daily basis from those interested in the project and media outlets and the team even hosted a royal visit during the second week. Princes William and Harry visited site to see first-hand the work that was taking place and lending a hand finishing off some of the homes.
At the completion of the project, the local residents teamed up with students from Manchester College to create two mosaics which are now situated at the end of the street. One mosaic depicts the new street as a way of remembering project whilst the other one commemorates the veterans living in the new community.