"We spend our lives taking, and it was great to give back to society. The people at SPIN really appreciated it"
The sales boss at Stockport-based bus and coach hire firm Belle Vue Manchester and his pal are the toast of a charity after they sprang into action to save its hostel for homeless men from closure.
Manchester charity Supporting People in Need had provided dormitory accommodation for rough sleepers at a former Baptist Church since opening its doors in 2014. In addition to shelter and food, the charity provides training and support to help its residents rebuild their lives.
When the pandemic struck, SPIN was told by Manchester City Council officials each resident had to have their own living space due to the need for social distancing.
The charity’s operations manager Tom Herstell, whose father and uncle founded SPIN, said the organisation was told that council funding would cease unless it could comply. That would have forced the closure of the hostel, which is called The Well.
That’s when Belle Vue’s Damian Ditchfield, 53, stepped in with his friend Ken Jackson, 70, a retired building site manager and qualified joiner.
The kind-hearted duo voluntarily set about converting the open space in the church hall into 19 separate timber-framed bedrooms, enabling SPIN to survive with a clean bill of health.
Ken called on building trade contacts who gave materials free of charge for the seven-week project.
Damian, who was on furlough leave from his job, made a 50-mile round trip to The Well every day from his home in West Yorkshire.
He said: “Ken is good friends with Diane Lawler, who was working at The Well as a manager, and he had done a couple of jobs for her in the past. It was following a conversation between them that the mission was launched.
“When Ken heard about the charity’s plight, he didn’t want to ignore it. His previous experience meant he had the expertise to do the work and I offered my support so he was assured of meeting the deadline set by the council.
“We did all the joinery and plastering and were very grateful to Irmass Co timber merchants in Trafford Park and P&L Joinery in Stockport for supplying materials at no cost.
“Without their generosity, the project would have been unaffordable for SPIN.
“A qualified electrician took care of the electrics, and we did everything else. As well as the new bedrooms, we also built a new food storage area and offices with a mezzanine floor which is used as a training area.
“It was an absolute pleasure to be involved. It was good for my soul. We spend our lives taking, and it was great to give back to society. The people at SPIN really appreciated it.
“Ken is one of my closest friends and he’s got such a big heart and generous approach to life. He’ll help out with anything and I was only too pleased to work with him to assist with a good cause.”
Tom said: “We had 12 to a dormitory before Covid-19 struck and were told we would not receive any further funding from the council if we couldn’t offer single bedrooms.
“We weren’t expecting to be able to do the work. Damian and Ken have truly saved the charity and we really appreciate their efforts. It was a fantastic gesture by them and we are grateful to everyone who donated materials.”
SPIN is now accepting donations for Christmas of items including men’s clothes, tinned food and toiletries.
Phil Hitchen, managing director at Belle Vue Manchester, said: “It came as no surprise that Damian spent his time on furlough helping on this project.
“It’s a great charity which helps take people off the streets and get them back on the straight and narrow.
“Damian is so empathetic and gives so much to others. He’s a remarkable person with a fantastic spirit who brings so much joy and love to the people he knows.”
Damian is also a part-time DJ and during lockdown has raised hundreds of pounds for FareShare by streaming gigs on Facebook in return for donations to the charity.
His gigs have been enjoyed by families and housemates across the UK, in Europe and as far away as Australia.
Damian is pictured, right, with Ken Jackson during their project at The Well.