Almost bought a building…

Offer accepted.

OK, so the good news from last time was that my offer had been accepted on the Mission Hall. Unfortunately, I still did not own anything.

My solicitor advised against any early celebrations. In Scotland, in reality, this means you are given first refusal on the sale without the risk of getting gazumped (got to love that word!). Now comes the normal legal process of getting all the legal documentation and searches sorted.

There was no chain, I was a cash buyer, how long could that possibly take? I was advised to allow three months.

Original exterior picture from the Estate Agents of the Small Mission Hall
Original exterior picture from the Estate Agents of the Small Mission Hall

This coincided with the pandemic lockdown and a surge in people UK-wide trying to complete on-property purchases because of a stamp duty discount. Now I’m not saying it took longer than expected to complete, but in the waiting time, the person at the solicitors I was dealing with actually got to retire! There was a backlog and delays, and it took around 15 long and frustrating months for the process to get finalised.

In the meantime…

Crazy frustrating time. Had I bought a building, was it mine? Well technically no. I was left in limbo. I couldn’t get to go see it because of travel restrictions, yet it was hard not to get excited at the prospect of fulfilling a dream. At this point, all I had was a couple of low-quality estate agent pictures, so not exactly a lot to go on. Time to start doing some desk research.

It was a very simple and plain building, nothing particularly special to look at or catch the eye. It came with a small amount of land to the side with a disused concrete bus shelter and a small store behind that. I subsequently found out, that this used to store the Mission Hall funeral Bier.

Not sure why, but I love the idea of having my very own little bus shelter, not many people have one, so that has to be a pretty cool thing right?

Original plan from the Estate Agents of the Small Mission Hall
The original plan from the Estate Agents of the Small Mission Hall

If the outside was plain and simple, it was even more so internally! Just two spaces, a small entrance lobby and the main hall space itself. That was it. No need for an extensive guided tour to view all the different rooms. Everything could be seen within seconds of entering the building. It boasted around 35 square metres of space to play with. It’s going to be an interesting design challenge that’s for sure.

‘Compact’ is maybe how an estate agent might describe it! That is if only I could get there to view it! At this point, that seemed like a very long way off.

Special kind of ordinary

I had heard that some interested parties simply wanted to knock the structures down. Start afresh, clean slate, no limitations, just build a bigger building to suit their desires. People probably wondered if this was my intention too. It’s not. I liked the fact that it was a very plain, ordinary-looking building. It fits in perfectly with the buildings on the Isle of Lewis. You would not think twice when passing it by. It’s very understated. It has long historical roots in the community which was important to me. Heritage is something to be treasured.

Original interior picture from the Estate Agents of the Small Mission Hall
Original interior picture from the Estate Agents of the Small Mission Hall

From my limited experience, Mission Halls on Lewis tend to look pretty much just like like this. Even down to the colour schemes and materials used in their construction. They seemed to follow the exact same design template. They served as mini-Churches or church meeting halls in an area. This particular one I found out was built by members of the community to be used by the people of the locality. I loved this sense of heritage, narrative and connection that the building has with the community it sits within. Why would I want to lose any of that?

Get creative…

So in the absence of me not actually being able to go see the building, it didn’t stop me from envisioning what I’d like to try to do with it. I asked (nicely) if the estate agent would be able to get me a few basic internal dimensions. If I couldn’t get to the building, I’d bring the building to me.

Not physically of course, but I could make a small-scale model to start exploring some design concepts for it whilst still some 750 miles away back in Hastings. Ok, there will need to be some margin for error, but at least it will give me something to experiment with in the meantime.

having fun making a scale model of the Mission Hall
having fun making a scale model of the Mission Hall

As a designer, I often get tasked with creating or building a brand for a client. This is my more normal kind of client design project. However, now I’m the client and this is not graphic design. It’s a mix of architecture, interior design, technology and construction.

Still, transferrable skills and all that. There’s a whole bunch of problems to be solved, just that maybe I’ll come at them from a slightly different perspective. Should be an interesting learning curve along the way.

exploring interior layout ideas
exploring interior layout ideas

Planning priorities

Normally, provision for off-road parking is a key criterion to try to get planning permission approval. Fortunately, I think the area of land to the side of the mission hall hopefully could allow for this. Time will tell on that. It also turned out that the Mission Hall didn’t technically exist on the national address database system! It wasn’t currently on the Post Office address records, no big thing I thought, but apparently, it is. Without having a valid address, you’ll struggle to get connected to basic utility services. If I were to be able to get any kind of planning permission, I would need an address. Add this to the list of priorities to resolve when the sale goes through.

site plan with off road parking ideas
site plan with off-road parking ideas

Mission: road trip

Unfortunately, I then had to wait a further six months until Covid restrictions were finally lifted before I could try to arrange a visit to the building. When the restrictions on travel were finally lifted, it resulted in me doing a 2,300+ miles, 13 islands and 6 ferry road trip to explore the Outer Hebrides.

if I can’t get to the building, make a scale model instead
if I can’t get to the building, make a scale model instead

It was an amazing experience! So very different to the manicured landscapes of England. Here the landscape is raw, wild and untamed. It’s stunning in so many different ways. Having never been here before, it totally blew me away! Yes, and I even finally got to see the building I was hoping to buy!

More on that to come…

(yes, that’s a subscribe now if you want to find out more teaser right there!)

  • Lucy Hames

    Already an interesting journey!

  • I’m exhausted already and you’re not even there yet!

    • Yeah, I thought it would be a simple process to buy an empty building with no chain – how wrong could I have been!

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