Local volunteer construction workers want to help the bedridden Toombridge man

Volunteers from the Band of Builders charity have answered a call for help to transform the home of a former Toomebridge bricklayer who has been bedridden for a decade with a rare neurological disorder.

Traders from across Northern Ireland – as well as others crossing over from mainland Britain – are gathering to help Kevin McGowan, a former bricklayer who was told his life expectancy could be as little as three months when he first developed progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy was diagnosed (PML) in 2012.

Kevin, a 65-year-old father of six, was a fit and healthy bricklayer and contractor before he was diagnosed with PML, an extremely rare condition that is almost never seen in a previously healthy person. It causes irreversible brain damage and has not been successfully treated, usually resulting in death within a year of diagnosis.

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He requires round the clock care provided by his devoted wife Margaret and the support of the community. Despite having limited speech and movement and tube feeding, Kevin is grateful to have seen his children grow up.

The 10-day project is due to start on July 8th and is being organized by the registered charity, which runs hands-on projects to help members of the UK construction industry who are struggling with illness or injury. This is Band of Builders’ 26th project since its inception in 2016 – and first in Northern Ireland.

As part of the project, work is being carried out to extend the rear of Kevin’s property to allow for a sun lounge with a wraparound access ramp.

Before the project began, Kevin’s wife, Margaret, said she was overwhelmed by the amount of handymen who had volunteered to work on the project for free.

She explained: “This project will make a huge difference to Kevin’s quality of life because it will provide a change of scenery and he can enjoy our garden and just be outside. Our family has been amazed at the many offers of help and donations to the project – and we can’t thank everyone enough.”

Marcus McGee from County Tyrone, a trustee for the Band of Builders and project manager, said this is the first project the charity is running in Northern Ireland and there is a lot of word of mouth about Kevin’s plight and offers of help from across the building industry.

“Kevin’s story is so heartbreaking and one that Band of Builders wants to step in and help one of us out by doing work that makes life for him and his family that little bit easier,” said Marcus.

“Word has spread like wildfire, with so many offers of help from craftsmen to get involved – mostly from Northern Ireland but also from the mainland – and local businesses willing to donate materials. This will be Band of Builders’ first project in Northern Ireland and one that will bring our charity to the attention of the construction industry that cares about our own.”

Kevin’s project was boosted by news that local suppliers and retailers – including one of the charity’s patron partners, JP Corry – will be giving away materials.

The charity was started in 2016 when Lincolnshire landscaper Addam Smith, upon hearing that his friend Keith Ellick had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, wanted to do something to make his friend’s life a little easier. A plan to landscape his garden won the support of his fellow craftsmen and saw the project grow into a major renovation of Keith’s home, undertaken by volunteers from across the country.

Earlier this year the charity completed projects including one to build an annex for a Lancashire surveyor to allow him to return home after nearly two years in a Leeds rehabilitation center after suffering severe brain damage. Another was landscaping an outdoor area to allow a South Shields plasterer’s wife to recover from chemotherapy after her dog alerted her to ovarian cancer. Most recently, he helped a Hereford contractor working on another Band of Builders project to complete his own home improvements after being diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer.

Kevin’s will be the 26th project to be run by volunteers from the Band of Builders and as well as being supported by craftsmen from across the UK it is supported by big names in the construction industry including DeWALT, Jewson, Gibbs & Dandy, V12 Shoes , Talasey, Resideo and Hämmerlin.

Anyone interested is encouraged to learn more about the charity on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/bandofbuilders/.

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