TV presenter and architect George Clarke on the new Channel 4 series of Remarkable Restoration

When architect and TV presenter George Clarke first walks into a historical building that’s going to be someone’s renovation project, he immediately sees the potential.

By Helen McGurk
Friday, 1st July 2022, 4:02 pm
George Clarke’s with Paul and Imogen in the second series of Remarkable Renovations
George Clarke’s with Paul and Imogen in the second series of Remarkable Renovations

No matter whether that building is gutted down to the beams and brickwork, or is set to be repurposed from an entirely different use into a family home, he says he hasn’t “ever walked into a building and thought it’s not going to work”.

In the second series of George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations on Channel 4, the titular architect, who is also known for programmes such as The Restoration Man and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, will follow the stories of five incredible restorations by ambitious people from across the country, all the way from the initial inspiration to the final reveal.

From converting an abandoned electricity substation in Cornwall into a first home, to repurposing a Grade II-listed collection of buildings including a pub, butcher’s, bakery and slaughterhouse in a Suffolk town into “a fantastic house”, to a Brighton glassworks conversion that’s been decades in the making, Clarke says that this collection of challenging renovations is “genuinely one of the strongest five bills in programmes that I’ve had for a long, long time”.

“I’m not just saying this!” says Clarke, 48. “We’ve genuinely got five knockout projects, five sets of really good contributors as well.”

At a time when environmental conservation is essential, a housing crisis grips the country and many are working tirelessly to preserve the character of Britain’s towns and villages, Clarke says that renovation and restoration are so important – and that’s why he loves doing this programme.

“You can’t be greener than recycling an old building,” reasons the Sunderland-born presenter. Having an old structure sitting there that’s been abandoned for years is a complete waste of time.

“It really is, when you think we’ve got a housing crisis, any way that we can bring an old building back into the system and convert it into a house is going to be good for the housing crisis.I also like the idea of people looking for history. If an old building is lost and demolished, it’s a real shame. Giving it a new lease of life and turning it into something else, turning it into a home, it’s another chapter in the story of that building. It’s actually quite exciting.”

Clarke speaks from Brighton where he has, just minutes ago, finished the big reveal of one of the projects for this series of Remarkable Renovations. Buzzing from the satisfaction of seeing another brilliant renovation completed, he shares some special details of the stories of the five buildings which have been rescued and repurposed for this series.

The first episode features a “fantastic couple called Paul and Imogen”, Clarke reveals. “He’s a pig farmer, and his wife persuaded them to move back into a town, Framlingham in Suffolk. They bought this collection of old buildings in town, lots of different uses and lots of different buildings all stitched together, they bought them all, this little complex. A fantastic house, quite an unbelievable one.”

Second up is “a great young couple in Cornwall”, Abi and Morveth.

“He’s the son of a farmer, and near his family farm has been an electricity substation which has sat there abandoned and empty for 50 or 60 years,” Clarke explains. Him and his girlfriend, they’ve bought it as their first property together. Converted this electricity tower, basically like a substation, you’d never imagine it would ever be turned into a house.”

“The one I’ve just done today is quite an epic one, really,” Clarke continues. “This guy called James took on an old glassworks in Brighton. To show how long these people look for properties, it was over 20 years ago that he first saw that property and fell in love with it. He tried to buy it from one owner, it got sold to somebody else, got sold to somebody else, and then eventually I think he bought it nine years ago.

“Then five years of getting the money together, getting planning permission, all the work that you needed to convert that sort of building. He started work on it four years ago, I did the first day of filming nearly four years ago, and I’ve just done the reveal today. Beautiful old building.”

Peter and Julia in Gloucestershire have “quite an emotional story”, Clarke adds. They bought a building two decades ago which they ran as a village shop and Post Office until, sadly, they were forced to close its doors. Not wanting to let go of the building, they “picked themselves up and decided to turn their old post office and shop into a new house”.

The fifth episode in the series is “one of our fastest builds”, Clarke says – “I think it was supposed to be in our next series, but they finished it so quickly it’s been brought forward an entire series – nearly unheard of for restoration projects”. Stuart, an architectural designer, and his wife Theresa, who manages his building company, converted an old village hall in Northamptonshire into “the most fantastic house” that will be “their home for the rest of their days”. They’d set themselves a tight deadline, wanting the house to be finished by their son’s wedding, having no idea how much work and stress that would involve.

George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations , Channel 4, July 6.