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
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)
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
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 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
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
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 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
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 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