Community hub given amazing makeover on DIY SOS Big Build

Emotional Nick Knowles breaks down in tears after the DIY SOS: The Big Build team transformed a rundown playground and youth centre into a state-of-the-art facility as a ‘lifeline’ for local children

  • Nick Knowles broke down during the reveal of a youth hub and playground on DIY SOS: The Big Build
  • The team was in Southmead, Bristol, to renovate a community ‘oasis’ that had fallen into disrepair
  • They built a new youth club, sports ground and music recording studio in just over a week 

Nick Knowles broke down in tears as he unveiled his latest DIY SOS: The Big Build makeover to a children’s charity. 

Nick and his team were on hand to transform The Ranch, an adventure playground and youth hub in Southmead, north Bristol. Around one third of the children in Southmead live in low income families and the playground serves as a ‘lifeline’ for the community. 

Subsidy cuts left The Ranch in the hands of a small charity but they struggled to raise the funds needed to maintain and renovate it.

The sports pitch was dangerous, the youth club wasn’t fit for purpose, the green space was overgrown, and the adventure playground was full of hidden hazards. 

But in the course of just nine days, the DIY SOS: The Big Build team, with the help of volunteers, created a new adventure playground, built a state-of-the-art youth centre and installed a modern recording studio in what was once a neglected storage container. 

Disrepair: Nick and his team were on hand to transform The Ranch, an adventure playground and youth hub in Southmead, north Bristol that was struggling after subsidy cuts left it in the hands of a small charity

New lease of life: Over the course of just nine days the team transformed the centre, pictured, and adjoining playground

State-of-the-art: DIY SOS: The Big Build installed a recording studio that can be rented out to generate income for The Ranch

Knowles struggled to fight back tears as he revealed the recording studio with leader James and his team members, Nat and Lil.

‘This is what the youth needs,’ one of the team members said. ‘We can’t thank you enough… It’s everything we wanted for the kids.’ 

The Ranch provides a place for children and families to gather, play and eat. It was previously open six days a week but can now only open for three days due to budget cuts.

Youth leader James runs the organisation after experiencing first hand the impact youth workers can have on a child’s life. 

‘I’m a product of youth work,’ he told Nick. ‘I dropped out of school at 15 years old and it was a youth worker who came into my life and introduced me to different options.

‘They showed me the different options that are available. For me, it was always something I wanted to do.

Emotional: Nick Knowles broke down in tears as he unveiled his latest DIY SOS: The Big Build makeover to a children’s charity

Invaluable: The Ranch team spoke about how having the music studio will provide a valuable outlet for the children

‘I’m not going to pretend it’s all good news, we see the negative cycle. But that’s why there needs to be a positive intervention. I like to think that being in the youth centre, that will help them make positive change in their life.’

The playground is a vital link to helps build brighter futures for the children and young people who visit.

‘The earlier you can start working with a child or young person and put positive role models around them and give them a safe place to spend their time, they have got so much more of a chance to have a good productive life and adolescence,’ James explained.

For Lil, the site is a passion. She said: ‘Some of the children who come to the ranch live in flats and don’t even have a garden It’s so important for them to be outside and be in nature. 

‘I’m very lucky because I lived in the Forest of Dean. for us to have that on our doorstep at the ranch, we’re so blessed. That’s what makes me happy  working there.’

Asked for his hopes for the project, James said: ‘This space needs to be somewhere where anyone can come in and  feel it’s for them. A lot of what we do is preventative maintenance, so we will come in and respond if something breaks rather than making improvements to make the site better.’

Before: The adventure playground at The Ranch, one of the oldest in Britain, was full of hidden hazards and broken parts

After: The team created a new In the adventure playground, there were two new swings, a death slide and a new trampoline

Office before: The team kept The Ranch running from a rundown building with no insulation that wasn’t fit for purpose

Kitchen after: DIY SOS: The Big Build gave The Ranch a new kitchen complete with large fridges and a new hob, pictured

Dangerous: The surface of the sports ground meant it could become covered in mud and other debris, rendering it useless

All-weather play: The team laid a new surface that would be durable in all weather and added equipment and markings

The DIY SOS: The Big Build team had just nine days, with adventure guru Simon, Tarmac supremo Andy and landscape gardener Luke to help out.

Andy said: ‘You’re not just correcting one problem for one family, this is used by hundreds of families.’

The plans for the project saw the sports pitch being resurfaced before a rusty shipping container was transformed into a sound room and music studio.

Opposite that, the main area was given a new office space, kitchen and upgraded showers with new flooring. 

In the adventure playground, there were two new swings, a death slide and a new trampoline. A sweeping new hill leads down to an adventure area with access to a firepit, with benches to chill on.

The team ran into problems during the build, with supply shortages and the scale of the project proving problematic.     

One builder said: ‘We were told possibly come for three days to get the decking down – but we’ve got five here today and seven here today. I think it’s going to take us about seven days. But we will give it our all and get this done.’

Rundown: The charity was struggling to find the funds needed to maintain The Ranch and improve areas like this one

Struggling to stay afloat: The adventure playground previously had areas that were falling apart and dangerous to enter

Another team member said: ‘Everyone is working really hard, it’s not from lack of will and effort  but perhaps we could do with a few more people and things going on. If things don’t arrive, it just compresses and compresses until we get to a critical point where we have to say, “we can’t do it, we haven’t got time”… Seriously, it’s quite serious.’

However it wasn’t long before the project was back on track and Knowles was able to unveil the enormous makeover to James and the team. 

One of the volunteers, a community police officer, said of the importance of the project: ‘Give them somewhere where they can feel safe.

‘Give them somewhere that’s lit. You have got somewhere like this for them. Somewhere safe that they know and can make new friends.

‘It can make all the difference. It costs less money in the long run than all the repair work you have to do with damage and various other things.’

Space to learn: The team added an outdoor classroom at the bottom of the site, allowing the children to learn in nature

The great outdoors: The slope to the bottom of the site was landscaped and now leads to a new pond where kids can relax

Community hub: There is a new youth centre with a seating area, storage and games where kids can go in wet weather

Facilities like the sports ground and the music studio were designed to be rented out to provide funds for the organisation, allowing it to open for free to children at other times of the week.

Thanking the volunteers at the end of the project, James said: ‘What you’ve done, is you’ve brought something world-class, incredible, to a community that has just had bad news, negative stories, for the last couple of years. 

‘This is a positive thing that you guys have made happen. We know it’s not an easy time to take time off work, to turn down paid work, to come here and do this, and it’s blown our minds. 

‘For me, music and sport are the two things that will change young people’s lives. You have given us world-class facilities to make those things happen. 

‘You’ll always be welcome. We can’t thank you enough.’ 

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