‘DIY SOS’-style makeover marvel for Wheathampstead twins

Belledean Building Daniel Stanton, Smart House Andy Reed, SM Plans Steve Moore, architect Helen Ball

Belledean Building Daniel Stanton, Smart House Andy Reed, SM Plans Steve Moore, architect Helen Ball, mum Nicole Cochrane and father Chris Brooks with twins Caira and Ayala Brooks, five and their friend outside the newly converted house - Credit: Archant

The mum of premature twins whose house was completely refurbished for free has described how she was “lost for words” at the surprise.

Nicole Cochrane, of Marford Road in Wheathampstead, is mother to four-year-old twins, Caira and Ayala, who were born at 25 weeks and suffered severe bleeds to the brain within 24 hours of being born.

Both girls were born with large holes in their hearts and Ayala was then diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy when she was nine months old.

Nicole said: “She can’t feed herself or hold a toy in her hand but she is so clever and has taught herself to drive a power chair using just her head.

“We have a chalet bungalow which is quite a decent size but it was a maze to get from her bedroom to the rest of the house through all the mess.

“To make things more accessible for her I started fundraising by doing things like shellac nails.”

Wheathampstead mum Helen Ball, who runs HMB Building Design and Interiors in the village, met Nicole at various local mums’ events where she was treating people’s nails and was inspired by the family’s story.

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Nicole said: “I told her that I wanted to knock down the main wall downstairs but I only had a little bit of money.

“I would have even knocked it down myself with a sledgehammer but she said let me get some people in to see how much it would cost.”

But when Helen - whose children Cian, nine, and Katie, five, attend St Helen’s Church of England with the twins - came back with some drawings, Nicole admits she was worried to see how expensive the refurbishment would be.

But she was amazed when Helen finally revealed that the whole thing would be done for free - with only a small payment for material costs required.

Three structural walls were removed to create a large open plan ground floor room, a new ramp was installed leading up to the front door and a fully-integrated kitchen was fitted.

A new entrance hallway with a sliding door was put in, as well as new electrics, flooring, decoration, heating and plumbing throughout.

Nicole said: “I was just lost for words. It’s the kind of thing that happens on TV and you think to yourself there aren’t really people that kind in the world who would do something like this for someone else.”

Helen said: “Nicole and I hit it off instantly and she mentioned she was trying to find a builder who could do some alterations, so I offered to see if I could help.”

On visiting Nicole and partner Chris’s home, she said she “could see straight away how small changes would have a huge impact”.

She went on: “I decided to email all of the engineers, builders, kitchen suppliers, electricians, flooring contractors, plumbers and decorators that I work with regularly, without Nicole knowing, asking them if they would be willing to help for free.

“Their response was overwhelming and positive!”

The team behind the transformation included St Albans engineer, Steve Moore, Radlett builder Dan Stanton who provided the general labour, plasterer, plumber and joiner and Matt Thomas, from Harpenden, who designed, supplied and fitted the kitchen.

Paul Elkington from Stevenage supplied, rewired and fitted the new fuse boards and smoke alarms, Anne Ball and Andy Reed from Digswell were behind the flooring and decoration, Wheathampstead plumber Jason Price provided the granite worktop through Luna Stone in Welwyn Garden City and the paint was supplied by JD Paints, also from Welwyn Garden City.

To find out more about Ayala’s journey visit www.justgiving.com/ayalabeaubrooks