OK, I’m a little bit late in starting this website, so bear with me as I do a little background catching up on the Small Mission Hall project for you. At least this way you’ll know where I’m coming from with the building. Don’t worry, the main work hasn’t started just yet, so there is no sudden grand reveal you’re missing out on just yet. This is a genuine journey into the unknown for me. So stick around and subscribe as hopefully, the journey will be a fun and interesting one with the final destination still TBC…
No, I’m not a builder by trade. I’m a designer who’s just always loved buildings and different types of structures, they fascinate me. As a design language, Architecture can help people identify a building’s use just from its external form and appearance. But what if you could change or subvert this? On a hugely grand scale, take, for example, the magnificent Tate Modern in London. A huge industrial piece of architecture that was an ex-power station in its former life. Utility architecture that’s now been transformed into a very successful public art gallery – how cool is that!
OK, so this sort of scale is way, way, way out of my league. However, this concept has captivated my thinking and dreaming for years. It’s been fueled by seeing numerous different building types and wondering if or how they could be turned into something new. Applying my design ideas to try to rethink a building’s original usage or purpose into something different. It’s the sort of creative challenge that floats my boat. However, to do this in reality, I needed a structure or building that I could afford to buy and try to transform. Challenge accepted.
Moon on a stick
Initially, because of the relatively much lower cost of purchase, I had been searching for buildings in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy and some Eastern European countries too. Plenty of interesting buildings in all of the countries. However with the uncertainty over the rules and regulations involved, language, visas and paperwork, eventually I felt this was not the best option for me. For once, sensibility prevailed. This narrowed the search back to the UK.
Unfortunately, property in the UK is phenomenally expensive in comparison. I explored the idea of buying a plot of land to build something. Still not cheap, especially with the extra costs involved in just getting all the required permissions and surveys etc. carried out. All of this just to see if it were even possible to build anything in the first place. This quickly ruled this route out as well.
Plus, the whole point was the design challenge of the project. I wanted to reimagine or repurpose an existing building or structure into something different. Something it wasn’t originally intended to be. Without constraints (like with a bare plot of land), design can often lack genuine challenges. It’s like having a blank sheet of paper where everything and anything is possible. Where’s the fun in that?
My net was cast UK-wide, nothing was ruled out. Nuclear shelters, water storage tanks, abattoirs, coastguard huts, cattle sheds, old petrol stations, churches, factory units, utility buildings, workshops, and pretty much anything that had walls or a footprint on (or underground), was an option to be explored or considered. This search went on for years… and years… and years!
Over this time, I tried to slowly add to the potential (dwindling) budget I might have for any such project. Unfortunately, this only amounted to possibly being able to afford a single up-and-over garage in Hastings (if one ever came up!). It was a bit of a much-needed reality check if I’m honest. You can’t live a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget! Things were not looking hopeful.
OK, so clearly it would need to be a pretty small project then. This just added to the challenge! I remembered one night watching and being inspired by a particular episode of Grand Designs (Season 12, Episode 7) – The Larch Clad House. It was where a couple of artists (Indi and Rebecca) were discussing the more modest nature of their dream project. What they said about it nailed things for me.
What’s the point of having a lot of something you don’t want, better to have a wee bit of something that is just right for you.
This encouraged and resonated with me. I wasn’t after a mansion, just a little something that I could outwork my design ideas through.
So back to the search for a suitable structure or building. Environmentally it is also good to reuse as much as possible, even if that means a whole building! Why build new when you already have a structure that could be reused or repurposed? I love the idea of bringing new life into abandoned buildings. I know it’s not for everyone, but remember this is my dream. Your dream could be something totally different. Mine might sound more like a complete nightmare to you!
It seemed that anything vaguely affordable was conversely miles and miles away from where I lived (Hastings on the south coast of England). Then two big things happened. Firstly there was a global pandemic that seemed to change everything in a very short space of time. Secondly, I had two unsuccessful attempts at buying different properties through auctions. Suddenly, remote properties were in high demand as remote working became a reality for many.
I decided to shake up in the way I was searching for things. This resulted, in me finding another potentially interesting building at a price I thought I could probably afford. I rang up to clarify a couple of confusing details. Then came the sucker punch. The building was no longer being offered at the advertised price, it was going to final sealed bids. My heart sank. The last property I was interested in went for ten times the asking price!
The other slight issue was the location of the building. It was actually in another country. It also happened to be on an island in the North Atlantic that I had never actually been to before. Technically it was nearer to Norway or Iceland than London or Hastings.
Coupled with this, unfortunately, the country was also in lockdown at the time. So apart from being 750+ miles away, there was no way to visit the building. I had previously only ever heard of the Outer Hebrides on the weather forecasts. I had never actually been there. I knew nothing about the archipelago of Islands that make up the Outer Hebrides. All I knew was they were a fair distance off the western coast of mainland Scotland, and Scotland was a long way north of Hastings.
… nothing gained right? Do you know how sometimes you hear or read about people who buy odd things online without ever having seen them first? They buy strange things they have never seen, in a different country, or on an island they’ve never even been to. You know, people who you think to yourself, what on earth were they thinking? Well, that person would be me then.
I had to guestimate a bid price whilst also trying to leave some money to do work on the building. Time to buckle up and go all in. There are no loans, no mortgages to fall back on. Maybe that’s a good motivator? It certainly helps bring clarity and focus to decision-making.
One day I’d like to do that… we’ve all been there. Things we’d like to do, places we want to visit, and experiences we would love to try. Turning these one-day ideas into reality, well sometimes life just seems to either drift or we let it get in the way. The trick is just to make a start. Do something. It can be anything, it doesn’t have to be a big profound life-changing event. It can be the simplest of things. Mine was to put a bid in on the building!
It was an anxious few days of waiting to hear back from the solicitors, but eventually, the call came through. I had now just bought myself a building I’d never seen in the Outer Hebrides! When I say bought, that’s not quite strictly true. My bid had been accepted, but I was still a long way from actually being the owner of the building!
To build is to be human
In many ways, the project I’m sure will be more about what I learn about myself in the process, rather than just the building itself. It’s good to be challenged and pushed outside your comfort zone. It helps avoid getting stuck in a rut. These sorts of experiences can help you to realise, develop and unlock your real potential. At least that’s what I’m kind of hoping for!
Feel free to subscribe and enjoy following the journey too…