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Our Story – Part 1

Who are 'we'?

James Walters, Sylvia Cosh, Barry Cosh

Left to right: James Walters, Sylvia Cosh and Barry Cosh in March, 1999

When this project began in 1997 James Walters was looking for a new home – with 'a little help' from his friends. Even now only James lives at The Old Chapel, but, as circumstances changed and the project itself evolved, two of his very best friends, Sylvia and Barry Cosh, became jointly involved in the whole project


The Brief

It was clear right away that we should look some way ahead in order to be able to devise a Planning Application which would cover the complete conversion project before returning to a realistic Plan 'A', which James would be able to put in hand. We also needed an overall 'shape' in our minds in order to know what to do first and how to do it.

This is what we worked out over many weeks and months to cover the medium term:

  1. Make the building dry, weatherproof and energy efficient, that is:
  2. Alter the appearance of the building as little as possible, whilst creating large, simple, warm, dry and well-lit spaces inside.
  3. Adapt the building to our current vision without compromising its capacity to be meet changing needs in the future.
  4. Continue to use the existing natural materials - wood, stone and slate - for roofs, walls, doors, windows, partitions, cladding, surfaces and finishes.
  5. Use traditional lime mortar and traditional methods for pointing the stonework, so as to enable the walls to 'breath'
  6. Continue to research and use eco-friendly, low impact, energy efficient techniques and materials
  7. Use organic techniques in the management and maintenance of the garden and stream bank

Roof valley/outside Roof valley/inside

Austin Lewis (lower) and Wayne Price give the leaking roof valley some treatment both outside (left) and inside (right)


Planning Requirements

From the first moment we saw the chapel we were lucky enough to have the services of Nick Salt, a building design consultant, who lives in the area. This helped us to do the initial sums and make the primary decisions with something approaching confidence. Nick then drew the plans, handled the planning application and dealt with the planning and building regulations. Later still he also recommended local craftspeople, drafted the specification and obtained estimates

The chapel is not listed as having any special architectural merit or other interest, so we were not beset by any particular requirements beyond those applying to any building project, except that we had to undertake to make a full photographic record of everything before we did any work (which was no hardship!)


In addition there was a colony of bats (possibly Natterer's) nesting in the roof space. They were to continue to have access via their customary window and we were to do no work, such as might disturb them, between April and September. Only certain substances might be used to treat timber, etc, in the area of the roof.



In some circumstances grants are made available from time to time in the context of renovation work. Apparently we did not qualify for any of these …



… but we found we would be eligible to claim back VAT (value added tax) on bona fide building work/materials, etc. At 17.5% this would obviously come to a significant sum and the 'rules' governing such claims had far-reaching implications - the system is that you have to pay the full costs first and claim later and the 'claim' itself may be made once only, so the longer the project takes, the longer you have to wait before making the claim and obtaining the refund.


Plan 'A'

The initial plan, which was the basis of the decision to purchase and the minimum to make the place liveable and workable, consisted of:

• making proper access for vehicles (as required by the authorities as a prerequisite of any building work) including gate and driveway

• putting in a borehole and sewage treatment plant as required by regulations

• doing essential repairs to roof, walls, windows, doors, gutters and downpipes, etc

• excavating and damp-proofing the chapel floor and rear part of the 'cottage' floor

• making a new upper floor in the chapel for living and working, using floorboards from the existing ground floor

• dry-lining and insulating the new chapel upper floor walls and ceiling

• constructing new stairs to access the chapel upper floor

• creating roof windows in the chapel

• making a shower room and minimal kitchen facility in the former 'stable' area at the back of the 'cottage', where all incoming and outgoing services would always be concentrated - this to include converting the existing stable door into a window and making new doorways on the ground floor between the 'cottage' and both chapel and 'stable'

• installing basic hot water heating facility

• making minimal additions/alterations to electric wiring based on current input to service working areas

• installing telephone line(s)


Plan 'B'

Completion of the project (medium term) would involve:

• renovating the 'cottage', including creating additional windows in the west wall and roof, making good (and workable) existing chimney, in order to provide bedroom accommodation with bathroom on the upper floor and, on the ground floor, kitchen/dining room as well as shower room and utility room (formerly the stable and converted to shower room and basic kitchen in Plan 'A'). This would in turn involve knocking out the existing 'cottage' stairs and partitions, filling the resulting opening in the upper floor and making another door between chapel and 'cottage' on the upper level

• completing dry-lining and insulation of walls and ceilings

• completing excavation, damp-proofing and finishes of floors in chapel and 'cottage' ground level (slate tiles preferred)

• adding roof windows to 'cottage'

• re-routing input of electricity supply cable underground and direct to the Utility Room and routing all electrics to consumer units there

• renewing wiring and installing full system of electrics

• installing underfloor heating pipes (oil-fired) throughout the chapel and 'cottage' ground floor, including under the 'conservatory' area, and radiators on the upper floor

• installing boiler to fire both central heating and hot water

• creating two new doors in the east wall of the chapel

If the budget permitted (and time allowed) we would also:

• construct a small conservatory at the south end of the 'cottage'. This would invlove removing the existing 'cottage' front door and enlarging the existing window to the ground leaving 'walk-through' arches in the wall

• construct a garage at the rear (north) of the 'cottage' with access to the ground floor of the cottage and having overhead storage space

• 'tidy' the perimeter hedge, walls and gates

• 'tidy' the stream bank

• start a garden for fruit and vegetables as well as for shrubs and flowers and for outdoor meals and relaxing.

• make garden paths, seats, pergola, etc …

Very quickly the limitations inherent in Plan 'A' came leaping out of the woodwork …