The second series of DIY SOS: The Big Build Ireland has showcased the community spirit and generosity of Ireland’s construction industry. The popular show saw members of Collen Construction’s team answer the call to help rebuild people’s lives by rebuilding their homes. Build projects took place in New Ross, Meath, Santry on Dublin’s northside and Waterford city.
Liam Flynn and Anthony Darby from Collen Construction, alongside specialist carpenters Dan Kenny and Nicky McMahon, were among the new faces to join the DIY SOS build team. They were supported by designers Aoife Rhattigan of Restless.Design, Kerry Hiddleston of Hiddleston Interior Design, garden designer Peter Donegan as well as Health and Safety officer Helena Ryan on each of the nine-day projects.
“I was extremely proud and privileged to represent Collen Construction and be part of this production for RTÉ,” says site manager Anthony Darby. “To be able to help a local family whose lives have been impacted by a significant misfortune has been a very rewarding and humbling experience both personally and professionally for me.”
His thoughts were echoed by Collen colleague and team leader Liam Flynn who described it as an ‘unbelievable experience’. Presented by Baz Ashmawy, each of the four episodes featured an amazing group of volunteers, national and local suppliers who worked tirelessly to help those in need of a home renovation.
“The main team moves from project to project and then it’s brand new tradespeople from the local area who join,” Flynn says. “But what often ends up happening is that you get people from the first project who come to all four. It’s brilliant.” Episode one in New Ross was a particularly challenging build starting in an empty field, gifted to Johnny Alyward by his elderly, bachelor uncle John.
Diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, the father-of-two lives with wife Lynn and two young sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum and for whom Lynn acts as a full-time carer. “New Ross was the big build,” says Liam Flynn. “It was a brand new house that included 2am in the mornings laying paving with floodlights. It was during the heatwave so there was great atmosphere out in the middle of the countryside. When you look back it was a great project.”
Site manager Anthony says time is always the biggest challenge on each build. “To deliver a new home from start to finish in just nine days was extremely challenging,” he adds. “With the vast demand for materials in the construction industry not to mention lead in times, it made the idea of delivering a build in nine days unrealistic,” he adds.
But says Flynn there was no shortage of goodwill to get the job done. “We’ve done some fantastic buildings and the support from suppliers … if you wanted something it would be down there on site in 20 minutes,” he says. The second episode featured the Santry build and a home renovation for the Costello family. Mother-of-four Laura Costello was left partially paralysed following a rare event while giving birth to her fourth baby in June 2020.
Following a year in the NRH she has been making steady progress but the family home needed significant adaptation to facilitate wheelchair use and other complex occupational needs. “In Santry we put an extension onto the first floor, a cantilever, with three days enabling works before the nine day build began,” says Flynn. “We also put a lift in the house. Laura’s big thing was that she wanted to be able to go upstairs to say goodnight to her kids and put them into bed. It’s unreal when you see the videos of her doing that now.”
Anthony Darby adds: “To be honest, to see each family leave their home on day one and return on day nine to a home that was completely transformed to suit their needs, and to see their reaction was hugely rewarding for me. It certainly made the long days and long nights worthwhile. From all the suppliers and volunteers coming together as one, anything was possible.”
The Parsons family in Longwood, Co. Meath featured in episode three, where the build team set about building a much-needed extension to cater for their sons’ needs. Youngest son Josh (6) has been diagnosed with Smith-Magennis Syndrome, a severe developmental disorder, while older brother Ryan (9) has autism. Mum Jen also has multiple health issues, which resulted in the family making the difficult decision that dad Glen would retire from his 21-year career with the Defence Forces to be at home as a full-time carer.
The final episode was filmed in Waterford City and featured mum-of-three and nurse Laura Sheridan, who was recently diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the immune system. Her twin boys were also found to have a form of autism requiring constant supervision and care. The Collen team took part in the builds between June and November of last year having been put forward for the lifechanging TV project by Kirby Group.
“The process starts six or seven weeks out, ordering windows, securing materials,” says Liam Flynn. “A lot of the suppliers are all voluntary so we make up schedules and lists for those people. Then we crunch it all into nine days, so you’re micromanaging it down to the hour. That’s probably the most daunting part.
“The volunteers, the people involved are very good, it’s unreal. For once on a project there’s no mention of money,” he jokes. “It’s brilliant and goes to show what you can do with good trades people.”
Site Manager Anthony Darby adds: “I cannot speak highly enough of the sheer willingness and drive from all the volunteers to take time out from their day jobs and time away from their families, to ensure the builds were completed to the highest quality and on time. Regardless of what trade or background, we were all in this together and the solidarity approach was inspirational.”
Additional reporting by Pádraig Belton. Photos: Luke W Cleary – Photographer and Collen Business Development and Marketing Executive Orlagh Sweeny (Longford & New Ross)