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Hot tubs, playparks and vegetable gardens: How Northern Ireland people are embracing lockdown DIY

Three people tell Stephanie Bell how they have used their home confinement, creativity and improvisation to work on some DIY projects — with impressive results

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Park life: Kaitlyn McCoubrey with daughter Gracie

Park life: Kaitlyn McCoubrey with daughter Gracie

Before she created her play park

Before she created her play park

And after

And after

Hot stuff: Lee Paul Brackenbury

Hot stuff: Lee Paul Brackenbury

Enjoying his garden with son CJ

Enjoying his garden with son CJ

Dympna and Benjamin Hannon

Dympna and Benjamin Hannon

Before: Dympna and Benjamin Hannon's lawn

Before: Dympna and Benjamin Hannon's lawn

Dympna and Benjamin created rows of vegetable plots where the lawn used to be

Dympna and Benjamin created rows of vegetable plots where the lawn used to be

Park life: Kaitlyn McCoubrey with daughter Gracie

When Kaitlyn McCoubrey couldn't bring her daughter Gracie on her daily outing to the play park beside their Belfast home she decided instead to bring the park to Gracie.

In what is an incredible transformation, 25-year-old Kaitlyn has single-handedly turned an unloved, disused and badly neglected backyard into a pretty oasis of calm for herself and her 18-month-old daughter.

Kaitlyn, a single mother who works as a special needs classroom assistant, has been at home since the schools closed.

Keeping herself occupied as well as a lively toddler was becoming a bit of a challenge.

Mum and daughter especially missed their daily trips to the park beside their home.

Kaitlyn has been living in her semi-detached home since her daughter was born and has been concentrating on getting the inside of her home how she liked it but hadn't got round to the garden.

"We live a stone's throw from a park and when they closed it I thought 'why not bring the park to us'?," she says.

"The backyard hadn't been touched since I moved in and was in an awful state.

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Before she created her play park

Before she created her play park

Before she created her play park

"I only ever went into it to put something in the bin or hang washing out. It wasn't a place you would want to sit in or spend any time in.

"So I decided to try and make it a nice space with a wee play area for Gracie.

"After she was born I did suffer a bit of depression and anxiety and I also knew I needed something to do to pass the time and doing this has been really good for my mental health," she says.

Her first job was to powerhose the area and then paint the blackened walls of the yard. Covering up the concrete ground area to make it safer for Gracie to play was easily solved by buying rolls of fake grass.

With current rules for outings limited to exercise and essential shopping trips only, Kaitlyn bought the grass and paint in B&M while shopping for groceries.

Her accessories which bring the space to life are also from B&M.

"I bought the paint while I was buying food and the same with the fake grass," she says.

"I used the time when Gracie went down for her daily nap to first power hose the walls to get rid of the moss and dirt and then painted them white.

"I laid the grass myself and there is nothing under it but so far it has stayed in place.

"My brother got me some of the signs I have put up and the rest of the bits and bobs were bought in B&M.

"I'm delighted with the results. I put pictures up on Facebook and couldn't believe the amount of lovely comments and people asking me how I did it and where I bought everything."

With Kaitlyn doing all the work herself, transforming her back garden cost around £200 for materials.

Finished last week just in time for the current spell of sunny weather, mum and daughter have been enjoying lots of quality time in their bright new space.

"Gracie is out in it first thing in the morning playing and even has her breakfast outside," Kaitlyn adds.

"She is really happy and I am enjoying being outside with her.

"When this all blows over I can't wait to have my friends round for a barbecue. I wouldn't have dreamt of inviting them before and thanks to lockdown now I have a lovely back garden."

A self-confessed DIY novice, Lee Paul Brackenbury surprised himself by creating a brand new deck in his garden from discarded pallets.

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Hot stuff: Lee Paul Brackenbury

Hot stuff: Lee Paul Brackenbury

Hot stuff: Lee Paul Brackenbury


The Tyrone man, who works as an analyst for NIE, has transformed his family's outdoor space by creating the new feature which is now home to a hot tub.

In a joint effort aided by his son CJ (11) and stepson Carter (14), the boys have created a focal point for relaxing and enjoying their garden.

Lee Paul (45), who lives in Stewartstown with his partner Leanne (40), who works in customer care for NIE, says he has never tackled a project like it and wouldn't have dreamt of it if the current situation meant he wasn't forced to stay at home. "Lockdown is hard as I am used to being out and about all the time," he says.

"This never would have happened if I hadn't been locked down at home.

"My partner Leanne's parents live next door and they got a lot of renovation work done and had about 20 pallets lying in their yard.

"Leanne was looking on YouTube and saw ideas for using pallets. Then she sent a video to me from work of the deck. In normal circumstances it would never have got done but being at home I decided to give it a go."

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Enjoying his garden with son CJ

Enjoying his garden with son CJ

Enjoying his garden with son CJ

The project which was completed on Tuesday of this week took two weeks to complete.

Two full days alone were spent by the trio simply dragging the heavy wooden pallets from next door into their back garden.

Lee Paul explains: "I laid the pallets out first to see what it would look like and got about 200 splinters in the process, some of which I still have! I needed to level it out for the hot tub but I don't have a spirit level so I used other bits of wood underneath the pallets to get it straight.

"The boys helped me to paint it but we didn't think it looked right at the sides so we stapled fake grass to it. For someone who is not a big DIY-er I thought it didn't look too bad. Leanne was able to go to B&M and buy lights and plants and the fake grass. She spent around £200 but the deck itself cost nothing."

Now, with the sun shining and Leanne's finishing touches, the family have a designated area to sit and relax and enjoy the good weather while confined to home.

A mother and son in Lurgan have spent lockdown transforming their garden into a self-sufficient space supplying all their fruit and vegetables.

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Dympna and Benjamin Hannon

Dympna and Benjamin Hannon

Dympna and Benjamin Hannon


Where there used to be a green lawn at the back of their semi at Gawley's Gate on the shores of Lough Neagh, Dympna and Benjamin Hannon have created rows of vegetable beds where they plan to grow an abundance of produce.

It's all part of Benjamin's plan to become self-sufficient in preparation for a situation just like now, when he might not be able to work.

The 25-year-old structural engineering technician explains: "For a couple of years now I have been thinking that we should become more self-sufficient but with working we've never had the time to do anything about it until now.

"I went through a period of unemployment which was tough and I just thought, in the event of anything like that happening again it would be good to be self-sufficient."

Benjamin's mum Dympna (49), who is a pain specialist and has had to close her clinic because of the current crisis, was more than willing to give up her garden to growing food.

"Lockdown was the perfect time for us to go ahead with this as we had been talking about it for so long," she says.

"Since Christmas I have been ordering seeds but Benjamin works in Belfast and plays football on a Saturday so we weren't sure when we would get the chance to do it. I think if it hadn't been for lockdown we would never have got it sorted. We are delighted with it. It is amazing how many vegetables you can grow in a small plot."

The mother and son were relieved to discover their local building yard was still open so that they could order the materials they needed to create their raised beds. Dympna bought a power drill with a Christmas gift voucher and Benjamin set to work with it, attaching planks of wood to section off the beds.

But before work on the beds could begin, they faced the back-breaking job of moving a stepping stone path from the middle of the lawn and digging out the sods under the new beds.

"We have cleaned down the fences and repainted them, made a compost bin, created an area at the bottom of the garden for wild flowers to attract bees and we have even made our own organic nettle feed from plants picked along the shores of Lough Neagh beside us," Dympna says.

"Our garden is only 28ft by 26ft but we will get loads from our small plot. We are also doing a potager garden which means we will be mixing vegetables, herbs and edible flowers."

While they had seeds to get their planting started ordered before the Covid-19 crisis, they are struggling to buy fruit trees which may have to wait until lockdown is lifted.

"We've been following Huw Richards' videos online about how to create a self-sustainable garden," Dympna adds. "We've also been reading up on succession growing so that we have produce all year round.

"I've also got a book on how to preserve produce. The biggest learning curve will be changing our attitude to food. We have to eat what is there and work meals around what's available from the garden."

After three weeks of working eight-hour days between them, Benjamin and Dympna have transformed their garden and their way of life for a total cost of around £400 for all their building materials, soil and compost.

Belfast Telegraph