A big build that made a difference
Seven months on from TV's DIY SOS, sisters Gracey and Tyanna speak out.
It was the moment that melted the hearts of millions.
Two young girls, three wishes, one veteran TV presenter – and 3.9m viewers watching BBC DIY SOS Big Build for Children in Need featuring Blackpool Carers Centre.
Sisters Gracey and Tyanna – who care for mum Suzanne Cartwright, 50, former social worker and specialist dementia worker – captured what caring is all about.
That was back in November. They were 10 and 11 then. Fast forward seven months, with national Carers’ Week starting on Monday, and Gracey, 11, and Tyanna, 12, can’t quite see what ‘all the fuss was about.’
They still care for their mum, who has osteoporosis, at their Marton home. And they have been helping dad Shaun regain his strength after chemotherapy and radiotherapy to combat throat and neck cancer, now in remission.
“Dad gets tired a lot quicker now – but he’s getting better all the time,” says Tyanna.
This is a family which redefines ‘caring’.
The talented young musicians play the flute and clarinet – but don’t usually pull heart strings.
But they do know how to make three wishes count. Their response to genie of the DIY SOS lamp, Nick Knowles, came straight from the heart. To ours.
Even Nick, who can make most cry a river without shedding a drop himself, was visibly moved.
Their wishes ‘to make everyone who is ill better, for mum not to be disabled and world peace’ were utterly selfless.
Nick pointed out they had made no wishes for themselves – why?
“Because other people need them more.”
Nor have they changed their wishes since.
“World peace is even more important,” says Gracey.
Nobody knew what Nick would ask or what their response would be. A pressing family emergency had revised Nick’s schedule. Carers know about such priorities.
The summons came late. Suzanne – sat on a bench on the Prom, watching the girls kick ‘the wrong sort of ball around’, according to Gracey who’s a keen footballer – withdrew to let the girls talk to Nick on their own terms.
“I was astonished,” Suzanne admits. “People asked whether it was rehearsed or scripted or discussed with me. No, it wasn’t. It was a huge surprise. I was so proud of them.”
It was one of the defining moments of a programme which raised £347,486 of the £46.6m raised on the night for Children in Need.
They were stopped on the streets and in stores by people who later recognised them.
“It was well embarrassing,” Gracey recalls.
Praise was heaped on them by staff and pupils at St Nicholas CE Primary and Highfield Academy.
“My favourite teacher told me she was proud of me,” adds Gracey. “That made me feel happy.”
Tyanna says: “At school everyone was talking about it and asking questions.”
Both cringe from the memory of mum telling Laurence Llewelyn Bowen how ‘nice’ he smelled.
Having the press turn up again seven months on – for National Carers’ Week – goes down like a lead balloon with Gracey. If there’s one thing she hates more than talking about herself on telly – it’s watching herself on telly.
“I don’t want to be seen as vain,” she explains. “Mum cried when she saw it. For me, it didn’t feel like me, it was like watching a film I didn’t want to see again. I’d rather watch The Maze Runner.”
Both girls attend singing, drama and dancing at Blackpool based agency Starmaker, and Tyanna has also been accepted by their modelling and casting wing.
Gracey’s crazy about football and plays with the Spirit of Youth Under 12s. She’s been talent spotted a few times but is choosy over kits. Now if Messi was managing Blackpool – or St Annes – Ladies it might be another matter. He’s her hero.
“Why can’t you pick someone who’s good looking?” asks Tyanna.
Gracey comes up with a great displacement activity whenever challenged by her big sister. She assembles her clarinet at speed and plays Frere Jacque. Over and over again.
Suzanne explains: “Gracey’s one of the ‘it’s done now, let’s move’ on people. She’s brilliant at maths and absolutely aced her SATs.”
Gracey hugs her mum and asks to be allowed to play out. Play equipment was installed during the DIY SOS Big Build. The garden, which opens to the public on Saturday, June 17, has plenty of dens and places to explore and play.
Both girls are sat – bathed in pink from the Blackpool Rocks neon overhead – in a chill out area with young carers’ words, their own included, all around. The Word Wall was one of Laurence Llwelyn-Bowen’s ideas. It expresses how the kids feel about the carers centre.
Gracey wrote: “I can have a rest.”
Tyanna put : “Listen to other people’s stories”.
“She’s always thinking of other people,” Suzanne explains.
Tyanna shrugs it off. She’s got her flute to hand but would rather be on the climbing frame outside with Gracey.
“I don’t like leaving mum alone,” she explains. “I used to worry about going to school in case she fell. She’s fallen three times. Daddy’s home which makes me feel better. I hope she doesn’t get too tired here.”
It’s a hint – and a caring one. Both are part of the charity’s DIY SOS dividend, a gift that keeps giving. Volunteer numbers soared after the show, some opting to stay on to help the charity, one volunteer even landing a paid role.
Suzanne, now a volunteer herself, helps with the dementia support group – given her former nursing role – and the new dementia hub.
She’s also at Rocco’s Café a few hours a week, health permitting, the community café open to the public at Beaverbrooks House. She’s joined by others who are carers or indeed cared-for.
“I’d lost confidence,” she says. “Pain does that to you. I still need help. Tyanna puts me in the shower; they undress me at night and put my medication out, and help with so much more. But it shouldn’t stop me helping other people. And it won’t.”
Tyanna also volunteers, helping out at the weekly homework club, which offers a quiet, safe place for young carers to complete their school assignments.
“It’s good to help the other young carers out,” she adds.
And these two young girls who – along with other carers – delivered such an emotionally-charged message to the nation on Children in Need night reckon DIY SOS changed their lives too.
“Mum’s a lot happier now,” says Tyanna. “I still worry about her but not as much as I did.
“She laughs more these days. She gets out of the house more and has new friends and they talk all the time. Mum’s doing stuff that makes her happy – and that makes us happier too.”
Suzanne concludes: “I was nervous of going on DIY SOS because I didn’t want people to see us as that ‘poor family’ or victims.
“We did it for one reason – to show people just what young carers do and why they should be supported and valued.”