This is one of the hardest posts I think I've ever had to write - just over 5 years ago during some minor repairs to our shop building, we discovered that there were some major structural problems that needed drastic attention. On the face of it, the shop looked incredibly ordinary and drab - see "before" photo below!
Although this really ordinary facade was hiding a truly remarkable early mediaeval building built circa 1450!
When we initially bought the building back in 2003, it wasn't a listed building, and each time we needed to do anything to it, we double-checked with the council just to be sure we hadn't been listed in the meantime, and each time, we were told that we weren't listed! This time, however, we found that we had been listed in 2004, but at the wrong address!
Here is where it all starts to get difficult - we are now operating from a building being totally supported by scaffolding, and at the mercy of the planning authorities and all the rules that go with being a listed building in a conservation area. It took almost 18 months to get the planning application to be heard, which of course, was turned down, as the half-timbered facade and oriel windows of the original frontage which we planned to restore would be "an anomaly in a largely Georgian street-scene" and "would detract from more important listed assets".
An appeal was duly lodged and heard by the Planning Inspectorate, who found in our favour, (although we were not awarded costs) and here is where the fun begins! We have now been under scaffolding for two years by this point and turnover is clearly suffering, due to the unsightly nature of the scaffolding at the front of the shop - see photo below:-
Now to find a builder - of course, during the whole of the previous two years, we were unable to go out to the market and get quotes, as we had no clue what we would be asking the builder to quote on - were we going to be half-timbered or rendered? Were we going to have oriel windows or Georgian windows? And so the list went on!
Having found a suitably qualified joiner, it took us a further 18 months to find a builder to take on the project - all the time, the costs for the scaffolding are mounting and turnover is dropping.
Finally we found a company willing to lend us the money on a short-term basis, but, of course, like all good projects that involve listed buildings, deadlines were missed and the project overran by a further 5 months. Extensions were agreed and additional interest was paid.
A further source of lending was found to replace the bridging finance, and all seemed to be going well - the scaffolding finally came down after five years, all but two weeks, and turnover bounced back to pre-scaffolding levels virtually immediately. We were due to complete tomorrow, and, then, literally at the eleventh hour, my solicitor rang me to say that there was a shortfall of almost £17,000 to repay the original loan, which, unbeknownst to me there were huge penalties for the project over-running, plus we still owe the builder approximately £8,000 for some additional work that the contingency fund didn't cover.
We have had no help or support in the way of grants or other financial assistance, and have had to fund this project every step of the way ourselves - we are now virtually at the point of having to hand the keys back, which, after all that we've been through would break my heart - the people of Daventry absolutely love what we've done to the building and to the High Street in general - not a day goes by, without somebody coming in to the shop to congratulate us on the renovation and to tell us how much our efforts have been appreciated.
We never wanted to reach the stage where we had to literally beg to keep the business, but that is the position we find ourselves in today - if you can spare anything, please help, and even if you cannot offer any financial assistance, please, share, share, share this plea far and wide - we will be eternally grateful!
This is what our beautiful building looks like now!
Thank you for taking the time to read this!
- Penny Alexander
- Neil Stevens
- Mr Ablett
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