Property series. Joe Crowley meets Kay and Lee Husdon, who have had their fill of inner city life in Sheffield and plan to move their young family to the countryside.
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Across the country, empty properties that could be homes are waiting to be put back into use.
I'll be finding out why,
and what you need to do to rescue a house for yourself.
Along the way, I'll do some digging of my own to find out more
about our housing stock, our heritage, and why we should be
both reinventing and preserving Britain's empty homes.
Taking on a property that's uninhabited and unloved can be a daunting prospect.
But if you can see past the abandoned, forlorn facade,
and you're prepared to put the work in, you could not just bring a home back to life,
but you could also end up with the house of your dreams.
On today's show, I meet a couple from Sheffield
planning a move to the country and their first ever renovation.
-It's just a bit of a low ceiling.
-Yeah. We're not too tall, are we?!
I'll be visiting a project trying to save a piece of British maritime history...
This is incredible. What a space!
And we'll be meeting one of the UK's empty property officers,
dedicated to rescuing Britain's forgotten homes.
It ranks as one of the worst I've seen.
And that's in 20 years of doing this job.
Kay and Lee Hudson have had enough of city life in Sheffield,
so they plan to move to the country with their three children.
The girls would absolutely love to be in the countryside.
We've talked to them about it, they were just, "Yeah!".
-They just went for it straight away, didn't they?
-"When? When can we go?"
Our dream house would be plenty of space around for the kids to play,
and we would like to do a bit of gardening and growing our own veg.
So having a bit of space to do that
-and maybe some chickens.
-Yeah, chickens and ducks, maybe.
With a total budget of around £230,000,
their dream of a farmhouse would normally be out of reach.
So they're looking for a renovation project.
Lee is a dab hand at DIY and plans to do a lot of the work himself.
I'm an optimist and an enabler.
I'll look at what I can do and if I can't do it, I'll get help.
Later I'll be taking Kay and Lee to see a finished renovation.
First, I'm in Retford, to help them work out how ambitious they want to be.
I'm taking them to an example of a pretty run down empty building
to see if it excites them, or if it makes them want to run a mile.
This is 19th-century, originally a pig barn.
Converted about 40 years ago.
You are near some very open countryside and importantly,
there is an acre of land at the back of this as well.
This is an exercise in seeing an empty property.
I'm not trying to sell it, it's about ideas, inspiration,
and seeing if you guys, with my help,
can visualise what an empty property can become.
-Are you up for it?
Come on, then. Let's have a look inside.
Since being a pig farm, the building has been used as a tea room, a bed and breakfast,
and a spiritualist chapel.
It's on the market for £115,000, so well within Lee and Kay's budget.
So, I guess this would be a kind of living room, reception room.
The current owners, the ideas they came up with was to knock down this wall, going through there,
and knock down a wall that way,
so you get this great big L-shaped open kitchen-diner,
-which I think is something you're quite keen on?
-It's just a bit of a low ceiling.
-Yeah, we're not too tall, are we?!
-Here is what would I suppose be the kitchen.
You said, oh, very low ceiling height in that room.
-Here, it's a lot lighter.
-It's the opposite.
What's your kitchen like where you are?
It's fairly small. We can't have two of us in at the same time, can we?
This would be a lot bigger. And if that wall is knocked through,
you can both be in here and you can have the kids playing in the living room.
-It's definitely a better fit, isn't it?
There is a surprise we can see through the window.
-I suggest we go around to it and have a look, OK?
The main building has been extended both to the side and the rear,
which gives the couple more space to play with.
-Can you tell what it was?
-Going for a swimming pool, are they?
-Yeah, it was a swimming pool.
I think it's no longer a pool! This is where we need a bit of vision,
because there is planning permission to extend, have a proper extension.
You've got two bedrooms in the main building
but you could certainly have another one and a bathroom as well, on top.
-It's a big space.
-It's almost as big as the actual place, isn't it?
Bringing Kay and Lee here is all about getting them
to visualise the potential of an empty home.
So, here we have a bit of a bonus space.
Bit of a treat, just tucked away.
It's quite long, actually. We've got this room here,
a similar length through the door,
so you've got a long space to work with.
I guess the idea is, whether it's a bedroom or a snug,
it can basically be somewhere away from the main hubbub of family life.
So, another option, just to add to the list of options with the building.
Could be a good space. Like you say, a snug. I could imagine that, yes.
So, having looked round, what do you think?
It's got lots of potential. I like the fact there's options
and nothing's set in stone about what you put where.
The pit in the back, and the conservatory,
there's a lot of work there.
So maybe a bridge, or a pool, too far?!
It's something to sit and think about.
What are you feeling, Kay?
I'm not the expert with the building work and things like that,
so it's hard for me to visualise it, you know.
-I can see bits.
-It looks hard work to you?
Well, I really like these two.
Lee has some experience of building, getting hands-on,
and you can see he's thinking through the space
and visualising what it can be.
Kay, I think, finds that side a bit more difficult.
She's quite daunted by this project.
So I hope the building we're going to take them to see later
will help them both realise how you make the most
of the potential of an empty property.
You don't just find empty houses in the country.
Everywhere you go, from the seaside to the city centre,
streets are blighted with wasted homes.
But up and down the country are teams of empty property officers
working to give them a new lease of life.
Paul Palmer is the empty property officer
for Corby and East Northants.
I love properties, I love buildings, and I love people as well.
So to be able to go along and see a problem
that I can then personally do something about,
work with an owner to see that property brought back into use, brings me total job satisfaction.
In his 20 years on the job,
he's saved 800 houses from dereliction
and brought them back into use.
There's one drawback to my job.
That's the fact I never stop doing it!
Whether I'm shopping, or I'm on holiday, even,
I can't stop looking for empty properties. I find them everywhere!
Paul is on his way to see an ex-council house that's been rescued.
After inheriting the house,
the current owner found himself in financial difficulties,
unable to pay the mortgage, and the property lay empty for nine years.
To help bring the building back into use again,
Corby Council joined forces with a local developer
to create a mortgage rescue scheme.
And together, they paid off the owner's mortgage,
and set aside funds for renovations, which are now well underway.
The company we're working with will refurbish the property.
They'll bring it up to a good standard for homeless tenants from our waiting list.
The rent raised by the new tenants will go towards paying back the loan and the refurbishment.
Today, Paul's come to meet the project manager to see how
the grant money is being spent and how the work is coming along.
So they've started already? Well in there.
-Yeah, we've got lots of activity, lots of work going on.
-Let's go and have a look.
So, the kitchen's gone, then. What's happening here?
It wasn't fit for purpose, so we're putting a brand-new one in.
It's going to be stunning. We'll have a new sink unit here,
we're going to have plenty of cupboard space for them to share.
As well as extending the kitchen, the plan is to revamp
the four bedrooms upstairs and fit a brand-new bathroom.
Under the grant, we allow for a new bathroom.
Looks like we'll get one!
The old one has been ripped out. It was the original from the 1960s.
The aim is to finish the renovation in 10 days,
as people are waiting for the house.
-Jonathan, thanks a lot for showing me around.
I really enjoyed that.
Not convinced you'll be finished in 10 days and up to spec!
-So I will be back, OK?
-Paul, it will be done, and done right.
-See you in 10 days. Thanks, Paul. Goodbye.
I'm particularly pleased about this property
because it has been empty for well over eight years and it originally was council property
and it's going back to social housing. That's a nice result.
If you're considering renovating an empty home
and you're on a tight budget,
seeing the potential in an empty wreck is the easy part.
But if you're prepared take on a variety of roles,
from interior designer to accountant and project manager,
you could save yourself a fair bit of cash.
If you can get all these roles working together,
you could create a home tailor-made from you.
Six years ago, Paul and Linda made the ambitious decision to leave London
for a disused 19th century granite watermill in Scotland.
They plan to turn it into a unique home
with stunning views of the Scottish Cairngorms.
It sat beautifully in its environment.
It just looks terrific where it is.
We loved the stone.
There's something really uplifting about beautifully crafted stone
and this building had all of that.
We fell in love with it straight away. All of it.
The building ceased to be a working watermill in the 1940s
and after a brief incarnation as a farm outbuilding,
it lay empty for 70 years.
The roof itself was leaking.
There were no doors, as such, on the outside.
There was rot in the woodwork. It was a mess, basically.
When it was discovered that ivy had infiltrated
the 18 inch granite walls,
the renovation fast became more of a complete rebuild.
We had to take the walls down, front and back of the property completely.
At that juncture, we had the unenviable state
of finding ourselves with two gable ends
and nothing much in the middle.
-Daylight in between!
-We'd spent a lot of money and you think, "Wow!"
The couple bought the mill for £175,000
and spent another £475,000 on extensive renovations,
which took a total of nine months to complete.
Paul and Linda were keen to reflect the building's industrial past when designing its future.
They reinstated an authentic mill wheel
and used oak, steel and granite
in the striking modern interior.
I think the idea of taking a building that really was sad
and you knew you could do things with it,
and that's one of the most rewarding and creative things we've done.
We were at an age where we were not going to do this twice.
This is the one-off task we're going to undertake. What the heck!
We'll give it a go and we'll have what we want.
If we can't do it now, when ever can we do it?
Our bedroom upstairs with that fantastic slanting window,
we can lie in bed on winter nights and spot all the stars.
We can live in this, knowing exactly how it was put together
and the various bespoke features that make it very much
our particular individual home.
I've come to the historical Sheerness Dockyard
on the Isle of Sheppey,
where the largest group of vacant Grade II listed domestic buildings in the south of England
look like they're finally on track for a full scale renovation.
Sheerness Dockyard has a rich and varied naval history.
In the 17th century, it was the central hub
for the Royal Navy's warships
and it remained a working naval dock
till the 1960s, when it was bought and run as a commercial harbour.
With such a wealth of history, it's no wonder people are passionate
about regenerating this area,
but with 11 Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings,
including a Regency terrace, an old police house, even a mansion,
this is a project on a massive scale.
But that hasn't deterred Will Palin and his colleagues.
Will's the secretary of Save Britain's Heritage and has been
at the forefront of the battle to save Sheerness Docks
and restore the area to the vibrant community it once was.
What's the situation with these amazing 1820s buildings here?
-Are they safe?
-Yes, they are safe.
But they haven't always been safe.
Most of the buildings on this site
were on the English Heritage at risk register for many years.
It wasn't until earlier this year that that decline has been reversed
and you can see and hear the signs of repair and renovation going on.
Work's under way.
At one point, a developer owned it. What was the plan?
Was he going to knock them down or develop around them?
He was going to build a lot of new developments on the site.
We thought that was very damaging
and a lot of other people thought the same
because this is a very special,
carefully conceived Georgian residential quarter
with walled gardens and a beautiful landscape,
so we didn't feel this kind of level of new build was the right solution.
-Can we have a look inside one of the properties?
-I'd be delighted to show you.
-Lead the way.
Funding from the Spitalfields Trust meant that all of the buildings
could be bought and protected,
but buyers are bound to carry out
any work needed in a style sympathetic to the area's heritage.
This is incredible. What a space!
How many original features have you had to work with?
You're fitting in bits of skirting board and original shutters.
A lot of the joinery survived, but sadly not many of the chimney pieces.
But there's probably a lot more than you'd find in a terraced house
in a city or town that had more owners and changes in its history.
This must be a figurehead success for the campaign,
that you could save a site like this.
The crucial thing was we had very strong local support.
The people of Sheerness are very proud of what they have here.
They feel it's been neglected and shut up for too long.
People are coming here and thinking, "My goodness! What a place! What an oasis!"
-This is going to be quite some development.
-I hope so, yeah.
This isn't just about preserving this British history,
it's also about regenerating the area.
It's a great example of what organisations like Save Britain's Heritage can campaign for.
And it's so encouraging.
It just shows there is a way forward
for derelict buildings of historical importance throughout the UK.
Earlier, I took Lee and Kay Hudson round an empty farm building
to help them visualise the potential an empty property can offer.
Now I'm taking them to meet a couple who've done the hard work
and realised the dream
by turning a once-derelict barn into their forever home.
Steve and Tracy featured on our last series,
at the beginning of their renovation.
It had been their lifelong ambition to convert a barn,
and when, in 2010, they saw a trio of derelict barns in rural Lincolnshire,
it was love at first sight.
Now, after eight long months of hard graft,
the couple have created a stunning home.
Our original plans changed quite dramatically.
We were going to be doing the big barn first,
and concentrating on this side of things later on.
But when we thought about it, we realised that this would be able
to provide us with more accommodation with the budget that we had.
Steve and Tracy ambitiously converted both the cart shed
and adjoining buildings to create a modern, open-plan family space.
It gives me a sense of pride, really, to say that actually, yes,
this was something we managed to achieve together.
And country life couldn't be better.
It's lovely having the goats in the garden,
having all the wildlife around us.
It is beautiful.
-Hi, guys, how are you?
-Very well, thank you.
-Steve, Tracy, Kay, Lee.
-Now, this place.
-Am I right in thinking this building hasn't been touched yet?
The original plan was to do the big barn, and as yet we've not done anything with it.
We concentrated to get into the place first,
and then we'll progress the driveway, the barn and the conservatory.
So really planning in stages and prioritising what you can do
to start living comfortably, then tackle the rest of it is key advice?
-Without a doubt.
-Does that make sense to you? Breaking it down and doing it in stages?
-Yeah, if you see something and loads needs doing to it...
Yeah, it's a bit scary. If you can think of doing it a bit at a time...
Anything is possible! It looks incredible.
Let's go inside. I'm very curious. Lead the way.
-I couldn't imagine a more spacious feel.
It's just lovely. And the idea you could have all three rooms together,
your dining area, your kitchen and lounge space, it's just wonderful.
So what was the price of the barn in the first place? What was the cost?
We paid 145,000 for the property.
And what was your budget? What do you do a project like this on?
The entire budget ended up being just under the 100,000.
I think that's very encouraging for what you've done,
and it's not a million miles away from what you're talking about.
How does that make you feel?
I feel a lot better that we could probably do it within our budget.
-Look, it's incredible in here. But there's a bit more to see, isn't there?
-Lead us on, then.
'As well as having this large, open-plan space,'
the barn now has two bathrooms and three characterful bedrooms.
-It is fair to say you've made this your own.
You've even got a fish tank between you and your ensuite!
You don't seem to regret anything you've done here.
Oh, no, not at all. It's been fantastic.
A much more peaceful place for Luke to be brought up.
-Much more relaxed living.
-That's what you're after, isn't it?
-A relaxed family home.
-Yeah, that's music to my ears.
Guys, thank you for showing us round.
I'm so pleased it's worked out as well as it has.
Back in Northamptonshire, Empty Property Officer Paul Palmer
is visiting a severely dilapidated house.
It's been empty for three years,
since the owner found it too much to manage.
After complaints from the neighbours,
the council contacted the owner, who've been trying to sell it.
Paul's checking its condition.
I can't see an estate agent's board. Wow!
That's the way in.
Not exactly had hordes of people going to view it, has it?
This isn't what Paul would normally expect to see
when a property is on the market.
His first job is to check the exterior of the house
for signs of deterioration
and possible points of break-ins.
This has clearly been broken at some stage.
And this is now a major concern
because this property is clearly unsecure.
Following rat sightings around the house, Paul has called in
pest control officer Angela McNeill
and they've been granted a notice of entry by the council, to inspect the building from the inside.
Oh, my goodness, look at this.
Look at the state of this place.
-Look at that!
-Half of this floor's gone.
-It certainly has.
-It's just crumbling.
-Oh, my goodness!
The house isn't secure and has been a target for thieves and vandals.
There's definitely a rat population in this building.
I can imagine there is some nesting going on in this property,
where they'll be mostly undisturbed.
This is the worst property that I've ever been in.
I would say it ranks as one of the worst I've seen,
and that's in 20 years of doing this job.
With a large rat infestation confirmed, Angela's first job
is to place secure bait boxes around the house and garden.
She'll return in a few days' time to analyse the amount of rodent activity,
and decide on a plan of extermination.
Meanwhile, Paul continues his investigation outside.
This garden still goes even further down this hill.
The extremely overgrown garden is a big concern
but there is one positive.
Just look at that view. It's fantastic!
It's a real waste, you know? Some people would love to have it.
Having completed his investigation,
Paul has to decide on the best plan of action
to make the house safe, secure and habitable again.
I'm starting to lean more towards a compulsory purchase order -
that's literally where we get an order to take possession of the property.
I think that's the best solution for everybody.
But a CPO is always a last resort.
And since Paul's visit, the owner has been in touch,
and plans are being made to clear the house and get it on the market.
Back in Lincolnshire, Lee and Kay Hudson
have been looking around a converted barn to help them work out
whether taking on an empty building could be the way forward for them.
It's quite a place. Tell me your thoughts.
I think it's fantastic. It's brilliant what they've done,
and the budget they've done it on is just amazing.
It has really inspired me.
I was scared of this kind of thing
and now it's like, "Yeah, we could do it."
There's places like that out there, in the areas we want to move to.
It's just finding them and having the patience to find them,
but also knowing that you don't need to have a really massive budget
to convert the place and make it liveable and lovely, like that place.
You don't sound like you have too many doubts that this is for you,
that the empty property is the way forward?
-I think so.
-I'm delighted to hear that, guys.
It's great that Kay and Lee could come here today.
This place is such a good example for a number of reasons.
First of all, it used to be nothing like this.
It shows how you can mould and shape a place
to fit what you really want.
I just know, with Kay and Lee's enthusiasm, and with Lee's skills,
that whether they take on the pig barn or not,
they will be able to turn an empty property into their dream home.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Joe meets Kay and Lee Husdon, who have had their fill of inner city life in Sheffield and plan to move their young family to the countryside with the dream of finding a disused farmhouse to renovate. To find out just how ambitious a renovation project they are prepared to take on, Joe takes them to see a former pig farm in Retford, which has bags of potential but needs a lot of work.
To give them some inspiration and reassurance, they are introduced to a couple who have completed an ambitious conversion of a series of barns into a modern, open plan family home.
Plus a look at how a collection of Georgian buildings in Sheerness docks were saved from demolition and turned back into family homes, one of the UK's empty property officers is on a mission to bring Corby's unwanted homes back to life.