When Addam Smith’s long-time employee and mate Keith Ellick told him he was having problems with his throat, he told him he should probably see a doctor.
Addam’s never forgotten that conversation, because just months later that sore throat turned out to be cancer. Terminal cancer that had left Keith with potentially less than a year to live.
As his friend broke down while telling him the devastating news, Addam didn’t know what to do.
Both men’s men, they’ve known each other for at least a decade. They’ve shared a lifetime’s worth of hard graft and banter. But emotional conversations about what would happen if one of them suddenly wasn’t going to be around to see their kids grow up were a whole new ball game.
Landscaper Addam would be the first to say he’s not good with words, so he decided to help Keith in the only way he knew how - with actions.
One of the first things his mate had said was: “I haven’t even got money for a funeral”.
So Addam, a father-of-two himself, posted a video message to 12,000 other tradesmen on the Builders Talk Group on Facebook sharing his heartbreak at his friend’s news.
It turns out he wasn’t the only one who wanted to help.
Within hours Addam had received hundreds of sympathetic comments along with ideas to support Keith and his family, including a fundraising site.
With Keith’s blessing, Addam set up the site with a target of £2,000 to help his friend put his affairs in order. But within 24 hours it had already hit £8,000.
As Addam, a former Grenadier Guard, posted regular video updates on Keith’s condition, the fund continued to grow, along with other generous gestures like tickets for Keith to see his favourite footie team Everton play.
Someone also put Keith in touch with charity Team Verrico (www.teamverrico.org), which supports research into new treatments for cancer and provides financial help and support.
When Addam revealed in one video that he planned to landscape Keith’s garden for him, he was suddenly inundated with offers of help.
It occurred to him that rather than just do Keith’s garden, they could do his whole house DIY-SOS-style.
A project that took months in the planning, with materials donated or funded by generous donations, culminated in an emotional week that saw a team of 50 tradesmen from across the country completely revamp Keith’s council-owned house in Lincoln.
Fuelled by bacon butties delivered by wellwishers and their own drive to help one of their own, the tradesmen worked for seven straight days - and sometimes through the night - to transform Keith’s house.
Plumbers, joiners, decorators, tilers, and plasterers travelled from across the UK to get involved - some for a day, some for the whole week - in the heartwarming project.
In just a week they fitted a new kitchen and bathroom, decorated the whole house, laid new flooring throughout and landscaped the front and back garden - even painting the front doorstep ‘Everton’ blue.
When Keith and his family returned, they were speechless - as were many of the guys who had taken part.
“He was in tears, we all were,” said Addam. Keith was blown away. “When I was diagnosed all I was thinking about was my family, my kids, how am I going to provide for them?
“What Addam and these guys have done, and what they’re doing, is amazing. We didn’t think it was possible, that people would do something like that for us.”
Not content to leave it there, the gang decided that having carried out around £30,000 worth of renovations to Keith’s council-owned home, they could help him buy it - securing his family’s future and helping give his loved ones the peace of mind that cancer had robbed them of.
Until then, they’d kept the project under the radar - something carried out by tradesmen for a fellow tradesman that needed their help. But Addam knew he needed more help to raise the £100,000 they needed to buy Keith’s house.
Within a day of sharing his story, the tale of a generous bunch of builders doing what they could to help a fellow tradesman had spread across the world, sparking tens of thousands of pounds in donations to Keith’s fund and an outpouring of admiration for such an act of kindness.
Buoyed by the support they’d received from across the nation, Keith and Sasha got married in what was originally planned to be a simple wedding but - again thanks to the kindness of strangers who wanted to do something, anything, to help them - ended up being a dream wedding.
They special day was attended by many of the builders who had given up their time to transform their home. But the icing on the cake was a surprise Guard of Honour from Keith’s former comrades from the RAF Regiment, many of whom hadn’t seen him since Keith left the forces but got in touch with Addam after reading about his efforts in the press.
The journey isn’t over. The project not only gave a group of strangers a week of camaraderie that most of them - many ex-servicemen - hadn’t seen since their time in the forces, but it showed a solidarity between tradesmen on a scale they’d never seen before. Lasting friendships were forged, memories were made, and the gang were inspired to do even more.
And so the ‘band of builders’ was born. To keep the fundraising going, a range of workwear was created to raise money for the fund to buy Keith’s house and so that like-minded tradesmen across the UK could join the movement and show their support.
Not just for Keith but for the idea that a simple act like re-decorating someone’s home can speak louder than even the most moving of words.
The first stage of the plan is to raise £100,000 to secure Keith’s family’s future so they can stay in the house that has been the subject of so much love and compassion.
But it won’t stop there. Once that aim is achieved the Band of Builders will continue its work, helping other people in their time of need.
Keith’s story has shown exactly what can be achieved when a bunch of people come together out of kindness and compassion and his legacy is the creation of a nationwide effort to help others. They’ve lifted Keith, and they’ll lift many more.
Band of Builders would like to thank Ellen Manning for this write up that encapsulates the journey to date. Ellen can be found at http://www.ellenmanning.co.uk/ and on twitter @ellencmanning