What this page contains:
A former Blackburn Day School and Sunday School built in 1834 to nurture young people has been given a new lease of life to continue its legacy, with the help of the BBC DIY SOS programme and BBC Children in Need.
This page will continue to be updated with the latest coverage. See below for media coverage links and for a background report about the whole project. Click here for a reflection piece on the initiative by Rev. Sheelagh Aston.
A big thanks to the BBC for some of the pictures featured on this page.
The Parish Rooms of St Silas Church, Blackburn, once Billinge End School, have now been transformed into a supportive living accommodation for 16-18 year olds in a groundbreaking initiative run by the Blackburn with Darwen charity Nightsafe.
For two weeks in September, and after many months of pre-planning, the DIY SOS team led by presenter Nick Knowles descended on the site, working alongside dozens of volunteer tradespeople; local Vicar Rev. Sheelagh Aston (pictured here with Pudsey Bear) and church/community volunteers to complete the project.
Media interest throughout was huge, including on the BBC (The One Show, Radio Lancashire and North West Tonight); in many local newspapers and on Christian radio stations.
The usual ‘big reveal’ for the TV cameras, an integral part of the DIY SOS format, takes place soon but the final look of the site will be kept a closely-guarded secret until a special edition of the programme airs as part of the Children in Need appeal this November.
Rev. Sheelagh commented recently: “It has been an amazing – and very tiring – experience and I hope the finished accommodation will be a benefit to the local community for many years to come.
“We look forward to continuing our relationship with Nightsafe, as well as our support to the young people who will use the new facility, long after the TV cameras have moved on.”
Rt Rev. Philip North, Bishop of Burnley and The Venerable Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn (pictured) both called in recently to check on progress.
Bishop Philip said: “It is a wonderful project and is a great example of one of our parishes living out the ‘transforming communities’ part of our Diocesan Vision 2026 – looking outwards and serving the people in their immediate area.
“What I also love about this project is the partnership work; Rev. Sheelagh and her team working alongside Nightsafe; other partners like the local council and, of course, the BBC on behalf of the vulnerable and the poor.”
Meanwhile, the build project also had some unexpected added benefits for St Silas Church itself … as generous tradespeople on site have also been doing some maintenance work to the parish grounds during their downtime!
DIY SOS presenter Nick Knowles is pictured below with Rev. Sheelagh Aston from St Silas and the programme airs on November 13 at 8pm.
Work starts ... September 2019
There was also further coverage on BBC Radio Lancashire and BBC One but the links to those reports are no longer available.
Coverage of 'Trades Day' on August 13, 2019 including appeal for local tradesmen to help
There was also extensive coverage on BBC Radio Lancashire - no longer available on BBC Sounds.
Selected coverage of the initial announcement in June 2019:
The story behind the programme
The conversion at the Parish Rooms of St Silas has been chosen as the 2019 BBC Children in Need ‘DIY SOS Big Build’ presented by Nick Knowles.
It will be completed in September 2019 with local firms donating time and materials and televised as a dedicated BBC’s DIY SOS programme in November.
The conversion will be funded by BBC’s Children In Need charity at no cost to Nightsafe or the church. The project will be managed and staffed by Nightsafe, who have 30 years’ experience working with young, single, homeless individuals.
St Silas Church, Priest-in-Charge the Rev Sheelagh Aston takes up the amazing story of how the liaison with the BBC came about saying: “The PCC and I were looking at the Parish Rooms long-term future.
“We wanted it to have a real purpose within the local community and began working with Nightsafe in late 2018 on the idea of converting the premises into supportive accommodation.
Nightsafe receive funding from BBC’s Children in Need and were approached in January by the charity who were looking for potential projects for their annual DIY SOS Big Build.”
Drawings for the conversion have been produced, without charge, by local architects Ivan Wilson Associates, taking into account Nightsafe’s philosophy that their accommodation provides a welcoming, safe and secure home environment for the residents.
The former school will accommodate six young people from Nightsafe’s existing group of users. It will consist of single bedrooms, a communal kitchen and living area.
“They have done a superb job and we are very grateful to Jill Cowgill and her colleagues, Sally and Ellie, for their generous contribution to the project,” said David Kemp, Church Warden.
“Blackburn with Darwen Council is also very supportive of the project as are our neighbours and the Diocese of Blackburn. The build takes into account the need to conserve certain features, something that is incorporated in the detailed plans,” added David.
“So many doors have been opened to us in such a short time and road blocks removed immediately when they have arisen,” Rev Sheelagh explained.
“The whole project demonstrates how churches and secular organisations can work together to benefit those on the margins of society within their midst. As a church it has been humbling to see how God is blessing this initiative.”
"This project forms part of our church’s vision to bear witness to the gospel and bless our community through practical outreach activities.
“We look forward to supporting Nightsafe as they create a safe environment for the young people of this century."
Ronnie Semley, June 2019; updated, July, August, September, October and November 2019