Architect George Clarke likes to see buildings being put to good use. Back in 2011, he presented The Great British Property Scandal, which asked why there were so many families without adequate housing when one million homes were lying empty across the country.
His latest series George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations (which forms part of a property double bill with Kirstie and Phil’s Love It or List It: Brilliant Builds) isn’t quite so crusading, but it does draw attention to the fact that it’s not just houses that are currently standing unused and unloved.
Over the past few years, there have been some big changes to the way we live (and shop), which have only been accelerated by the pandemic. If the lifting of covid restrictions has sent you back to the high street for the first time in a while, you may find that even more banks and shops have shut. It also helps to explain why nearly a third of Britain’s 600,000 unused buildings are commercial.
Many people have thought about what that means for jobs and local economies, but they maybe haven’t considered it from an architectural point of view. Many of those buildings were local landmarks that are now at risk of being demolished or snapped up by big developers.
However, some people want to give these one-time banks, shops and even former agricultural buildings a new lease of life, while still celebrating their history. And, thanks to recent relaxations in planning laws, it is now easier to change the use of these local commercial properties and transform them into family homes. However, just because it’s possible to get permission, it doesn’t make the projects any less daunting. So, George is meeting the people brave enough to take on these grand designs.
Of course, he’s no stranger to programmes about people with ambitious plans for their properties. The architect has previously hosted the renovation-themed The Home Show and The Restoration Man, as well as Amazing Spaces, which features people with big ideas for transforming small structures. He’s also the man behind Ugly House to Lovely House, which has seen some very radical transformations.
Now though, he’s starting his new show by meeting Cornwall couple Richard and Sarah, who were regular customers at their local high-street bank for 20 years – until it shut. When the grand Victorian Grade II listed building was boarded up and put up for the auction, the couple could see its potential, and put in a sealed bid of £50,000, not expecting it would be enough to secure them the property.
So, they were gobsmacked when they won – they feel like they’ve got away with bank robbery. But while the building itself was a bargain, converting it is not going to be cheap.
George follows their progress, but will the couple be sent into the red as they follow their dream, or will it turn out they really did snap up a bargain?
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