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Great British Home Restoration: Couple spend £500k doing up a church

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Imagine buying a church ruin at auction for £85,000 and spending two years transforming it into a five-bedroom family home. 

For many, that would sound like a renovation nightmare – but one adventurous couple from West Yorkshire took the plunge after buying the striking derelict building at auction. They subsequently spent £420,000 doing it up and the completed home was valued last month at £1million.

The unusual property transformation was captured for a new television show, and sees the couple move into a caravan in the grounds of the graveyard to help keep costs down during the build.

New TV show The Great British Home Restoration sees a couple renovate a derelict church bought at auction for £85,000

New TV show The Great British Home Restoration sees a couple renovate a derelict church bought at auction for £85,000

The church was a complete wreck when it was bought, but it was completely transformed on a budget of only £420,000

The church was a complete wreck when it was bought, but it was completely transformed on a budget of only £420,000

The Great British Home Renovation is an eight-part weekly series presented by architectural designer Charlie Luxton that begins on More4 this Sunday at 9pm.

It follows couples and families who take on unusual and historic property transformations, including churches and windmills.

Couple Sean and Debs appear in the first episode, battling through a catalogue of setbacks in a bid to save the historic church in Denholme, near Bradford.

Sean took two years off work to oversee the build, while Debs continued to run her scrap-metal plant to raise extra money.

Couple Sean and Debs battle through a catalogue of setbacks in a bid to save a historic church in West Yorkshire (pictured in the church's new kitchen)

Couple Sean and Debs battle through a catalogue of setbacks in a bid to save a historic church in West Yorkshire (pictured in the church’s new kitchen)

The couple worked hard to retain many of the original features at the historic church in Denholme, near Bradford

The couple worked hard to retain many of the original features at the historic church in Denholme, near Bradford

The original building was not designed to be lived in and was not insulated, so the couple had to build an entire building inside the church

The original building was not designed to be lived in and was not insulated, so the couple had to build an entire building inside the church

Through blood, sweat and tears, they transformed the 450 square metres church with its 36 metres high steeple into a three-storey family home.

Presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton said: ‘When I first saw the building, I drove up a windy, blustery hill in the freezing cold to be greeted by this vast, Victorian church.

‘It was jaw-dropping and more on the scale of a stately home than a residential build. I was in awe at the scale and beauty of the building, and the size of the project that Sean and Debs had taken on. 

‘I thought that is a project. But as I talked to them, I could see that they were both capable and driven. And with Sean working as an electrician and Debs specialising in reclamation, they were in the perfect spot to take on the project. And what they did to the church was really impressive.’

The show's presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton described the church's transformation as 'impressive'

The show’s presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton described the church’s transformation as ‘impressive’

The couple transformed the 450 square metre church with its 36 metres high steeple into a three-storey family home

The couple transformed the 450 square metre church with its 36 metres high steeple into a three-storey family home

The first job was to change the roof, which cost somewhere in the region of £60,000, according to owner Sean

The first job was to change the roof, which cost somewhere in the region of £60,000, according to owner Sean

He went on to explain that the scale of the project was the biggest challenge.

‘The first job was to change the roof, costing somewhere in the region of £60,000,’ he said.

‘And once that was finished, they had to build an entire building inside the church because churches are not designed to live in – they are not insulated, they are draughty and cold. And with any kind of restoration, for example repair work on stain glass windows, it needs to be completed in in a sensitive and skilled manner.

‘So the list of possible booby traps was long, and once you start taking things on a building like this apart, you can suddenly find – as they did – other issues such as sinking structures and movement and that can end up costing you an enormous amount. 

‘Luckily they were very hands on so they could keep the labour costs down and managed to complete the restoration within a really tight budget.’

The couple moved into a caravan on site in the grounds of the graveyard to help keep costs down during the build

The couple moved into a caravan on site in the grounds of the graveyard to help keep costs down during the build

One of Charlie’s favourite parts of the restoration was the altar and the way it was left as an original feature.

He said: ‘I also loved the fact that they have slotted a building within a building but weaved in the architecture and fabric of the original church.

‘Considering the building’s wind-blasted location at the top of the hill, the sheltered suntrap area created as a Venetian garden is fantastic with original courtyard features such as the original aisles with the roof collapsed upon it – being left untouched. I loved the way they worked with the building very sensitively rather than impose their own ambitions.

Regarding the tight budget, Charlie added: ‘It was extraordinary, you can only achieve what they did on that budget with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, working seven days a week, 15 hours a day. They worked so hard, they’re such a strong unit, it was an amazing achievement.’

One of Charlie's favourite parts of the restoration was the altar

Charlie like the way it was left as an original feature

One of Charlie’s favourite parts of the restoration was the altar and the way it was left as an original feature

Sean Kennedy, 57, of Denholme, in West Yorks, told MailOnline Property how the couple found the church, saying: ‘We were listening to a local radio station as my wife Debs had an advert playing to advertise her business when we heard about this property coming up for auction.

‘We were looking for a house to move into after getting married and Debs asked if I fancied living in a church.

‘We went to have a look at it and it was in an extremely sad state but we fell in love with the building. That was the main reason we wanted to buy it, plus when we saw the building in such a bad condition, we thought it needed saving – and we were the ones to save the building.

‘We had not looked at anything unusual before, it was purely inspired by hearing about it on the radio. We had not even considered anything unusual. When we first saw it, there was so much to take in – the architecture, the gothic theme and just the sheer scale of the building, there was so much about it that was striking. And even though it would be an unusual transformation to turn into a single dwelling, that was always our plan, to turn it into a home.’

Sean explained that the biggest challenge was tackling the roof and ceiling, which were connected.

‘This was the single most important of the whole build, due to the scale and safety aspect,’ he said.

‘I am no roofer or builder but we tackled it ourselves along with a couple of guys we employed to help us. We also knew that if we did one thing wrong with the roof, the whole lot could collapse. While sadly we were not able to save the ceiling, it was a mammoth task to safely remove it and not damage the rest of the building.’

Charlie explains that it was 'extraordinary' that so much was achieved at the converted church on such a tight budget

Charlie explains that it was ‘extraordinary’ that so much was achieved at the converted church on such a tight budget

He added: ‘We managed to overcome so many other challenges, it was incredible rewarding to save so much of the church’s original features and architecture. We had to tackle the build in little stages, we never looked at it as one big project.

‘Everyone advised us against it. Some people said ‘what a fantastic idea’ but we never saw them on site from the day we started to the day we finished. Other people were saying ‘hope you’ve got deep pockets, there’s a million pounds that needs to be spent here’.

‘The majority of people thought we were insane but they have now been back to see the finished project and have been absolutely blown away by the building and the whole feeling of the house. ‘

He confirmed that the final bill was £420,000, plus the original £85,000 purchase price, so a total of just over £500,000.

Sean said: ‘Between us we’ve got five grown up children, and five grandchildren and they all love it. At the beginning, some questioned what we were taking on and whether we were mad but all of them love being here, it’s a great family space. And the grandchildren think it’s one fantastic adventure, like a big castle with a garden that’s full of stones – gravestones – to read. It keeps them occupied for hours.

‘While I love the guest annexe, the favourite part of the house is the Venetian courtyard.’

And Sean’s advice to others? ‘Be brave, it can be achieved. You just need to have the mindset that it can be done.’

The couple spent two years transforming the property

The converted church is now a comfortable five-bedroom family home

The couple spent two years transforming the property into a five-bedroom family home for £420,000

Misbah Alvi, of Windfall Films – which is part of Argonon and produces the programme – said: ‘This series demonstrates the huge potential rewards of transforming unloved, unused and often dilapidated buildings into forever dream homes, through sheer determination. 

‘Every property transformation in the series was driven by passion, which helped get the build completed even when, in some cases, the money ran out. These are no ordinary renovations. Throughout the series we see how our property buyers respect the heritage and history of the buildings, undertaking creative restorations that were faithful to the incredible original design and craftmanship.’

  • The Great British Home Restoration is on More4 on Sundays at 9pm 

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How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

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We want to hear your views on the proposed new carbon budgets which, the Government says, will change how people live and work. The proposed budgets, published by the Climate Change Advisory Council, will apply to every sector of the economy and will outline a limit for total emissions that can be released.

The first carbon budget, which will run from 2021 to 2025, will see emissions reduce by 4.8 per cent on average each year for five years. The second budget, which will run from 2026 to 2030, will see emissions reduce by 8.3 per cent on average each year for five years. The council says the budgets will require “transformational changes for society” but that failing to act would have “grave consequences”. Environmental campaigners say the budgets will provide a cleaner, healthier and safer future but some rural groups such as the Irish Farmers’ Association say they will have “serious repercussions”.

How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Now we’d like to hear your views: Do you support the budgets or are you against them; do they go too far or not far enough?

We will publish a selection of your responses online (If you are reading this on the Irish Times app, click here to access the form for submissions).

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House sales shoot up a THIRD in September amid fears of mortgage rate hike

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The number of homes bought and sold in Britain rose by two thirds in September compared to August, with experts believing buyers are seeking to get ahead of a potential rise in mortgage rates. 

There were nearly 161,000 property transactions in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis, a 67.5 per cent increase on the previous month, according to latest figures from HMRC. 

They also increased by 68 per cent compared to September 2020, and 63 per cent compared to the ‘normal’ market average in September 2017 to 2019.

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

Experts say the sharp rise was only partly a result of the Government’s stamp duty holiday, which has fuelled price growth of around £25,000 in the last year but finally ended on 30 September. 

It initially allowed buyers to save up to £15,000 in taxes as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of their property purchase under £500,000. 

But in September, the tax break would have had a more subdued effect.

In England and Northern Ireland, it was tapered down between July and September so that buyers could only save £2,500.

And the holiday had already expired in Scotland and Wales, on 31 March and 30 June respectively. 

Given that the impact of the stamp duty holiday was lessening, some suggest that other factors have become more important in maintaining high levels of activity in the housing market. 

There are a number of things at play, according to Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at Savills.

‘There’s more to this activity than a stamp duty holiday: record-low mortgage rates, desire for more space, and a core of unmet pent up demand all continue to push up transaction volumes,’ he says. 

Although it is one of several reasons why the housing market remains hot, the desire for a cheap mortgage has become more of a pressing issue for buyers in recent days and weeks. 

This is because speculation about a rise in the Bank of England’s base rate has threatened an increase in the current super-low rates.

At the moment, rates are available as low as 0.89 per cent – but they are already rising. At its lowest, the cheapest fixed rate on the market was 0.84 per cent.

Major lenders including NatWest, HSBC and Barclays have all moved to increase rates on some mortgages, after months of sustained falls. 

With a base rate rise being predicted by some for December, experts are suggesting that the threat of mortgage rates going up is the ‘new stamp duty holiday’ and that the rush to complete sales before rates rise is now keeping the housing market buoyant.

Simon Bath, chief executive of technology company iPlace Global which created the property advice app Moveable, says: ‘We have reached another crossroads in which following the stamp duty holiday, there is another potential deadline for Brits to prepare for.

‘It seems likely that house prices will continue to rise before demand slows down, as Brits race to obtain lower mortgage rates.’

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove 

Early statistics back his price rise theory up. According to Rightmove’s latest house price index, which covers the first half of October, the average house price jumped £5,000 compared to the previous month. 

In addition, every UK region broke asking price records for the first time since March 2007.

The property portal noted in its report: ‘The continued fast turnover of property for sale and a window of opportunity to buy before a potential interest rate rise seem to have overcome the final expiry of all stamp duty incentives and are keeping activity robust.’

This trend is keeping the market buoyant for now, but could it really lead to another buying frenzy? Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, says so. 

‘With demand for properties still high, and a potential mortgage rate rise on the horizon, this could be the perfect storm to see another frenzy to buy, so long as the shortage of stock doesn’t continue,’ he says. 

There is also the simple fact that people who were trying to meet the September stamp duty deadline, but failed, are unlikely to abandon their purchases, and will continue to add to the totals over the coming months. 

But others are less sure about talk of another buying boom. With the base rate rise only tipped to be from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the difference in people’s mortgage payments may only be a few pounds per month. 

For example, for someone with a £120,000, two-year fixed rate mortgage on a £200,000 home, the difference between a 0.89 per cent rate and a 1.04 per cent rate would be just over £8 a month, or just under £200 across the fixed period. 

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: ‘People will still move without stamp duty holidays and will continue to refinance their homes, whether mortgage rates are below 1 per cent or around 2 per cent.

‘Borrowers are keen to secure these historically-low mortgage rates but if the right property comes along, they are still likely to buy even if they have to pay say 15 basis points more and won’t qualify for a stamp duty holiday.’

But as the stamp duty holiday proved, the psychological impact of thinking you are saving money can be powerful, even when the actual cash saving is negligible. 

While buyers did indeed ‘save’ up to £15,000 in tax, house price rises during the stamp duty holiday were upwards of £20,000, eclipsing the actual saving.   

The true impact that the mooted rise in mortgage rates will have depends on myraid factors, including whether there is further clarity on if and when the base rate change might actually happen, and how mortgage lenders continue to respond to the situation. 

All eyes will be on the October transaction statistics and house price indices to see whether the market is remaining buoyant. 

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Covid grips Europe’s unvaccinated east

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Hospitals are struggling to cope as Covid-19 sweeps through large unvaccinated populations in central and eastern Europe, where low levels of trust impeded acceptance of inoculation programmes.

Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and others have teamed up to send oxygen supplies, medicines and ventilators to Romania after it appealed for help from the European Union to cope with a crushing fourth wave of the pandemic.

Just 36 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated in the country, according to EU figures, the second-lowest level in the union after Bulgaria, where the rate is just one in four adults, far below the pan-EU rate of 75 per cent.

Both countries are suffering a brutal surge of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Romania has seen an average of more than 400 deaths a day for the past week, in a population of 19 million, the highest rate in the EU according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. In Bulgaria, in a population of seven million, more than 100 people have died on average each day for the past week.

Romania on Monday imposed a night-time curfew, shut schools and introduced mandatory Covid-19 passes for most public venues in a bid to curb the soaring infections as its intensive-care wards ran out of beds.

Reimpose restrictions

Infections are also soaring in the Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia, which became the first European country to reimpose sweeping restrictions last week by shutting schools and all non-essential shops, and imposing a curfew from 8pm to 5am for a month. Restrictions were also tightened in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia.

In neighbouring Russia, daily Covid-19 infections reached a record high of 37,930 in 24 hours on Monday, and some regions shut workplaces in response.

World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that with 50,000 Covid-19 deaths a week the pandemic was “far from over”, but he said it would end “when the world chooses to end it”.

“It is in our hands. We have all the tools we need,” he said. “Unlike so many other health challenges, we can prevent this. Complacency is now as dangerous as the virus.”

 In Austria, where 73 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, chancellor Alexander Schallenberg warned that restrictions could be placed on the unvaccinated if Covid-19 patients began to take up the country’s ICU capacity.

“The pandemic is not yet in the rear view mirror,” Mr Schallenberg said. “We are about to stumble into a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

He warned that if Covid-19 patients took up a quarter of national ICU beds, then only the vaccinated or people who had recovered from the virus would be allowed entry into restaurants and hotels. If the percentage reached a third, the unvaccinated would be allowed to leave home only for specific reasons.

Vaccination rates have reached above 90 per cent for those eligible in several countries in western Europe including Ireland, though coverage is lower in some cities and particular populations.

Hospitalisations

This is helping to keep hospitalisations under control, but infections are still rising and many countries have opted to continue with some precautions including mask-wearing, working from home recommendations, and mandatory Covid-19 passes in public settings. Last week, Italy made the passes mandatory for workplaces.

The WHO warned last week that Europe region was the only region in which Covid-19 cases were rising, led by surges in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan appealed for the unvaccinated to come forward for jabs, and said the rise in infections came as restrictions were dropped in many countries, coinciding with “the winter period, in which people are moving inside as the cold snaps appear”.

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