Press Coverage - The Sunday Times

Niall Toner from The Sunday Times was the first journalist to write about the website. Here is his article that appeared in the paper's Home Section on 29th July 2007. This article gave the website a great boost in visitor numbers.

Don't Let Relics Slip Through the Net

Niall Toner talks to a church restorer who is launching a web venture to spread refurbishment tips.

When Chris Deakin saved a listed architectural relic from dereliction, it whetted his already hearty appetite for reconstruction.There but for the grace of God, a former Church of Ireland building at Kiltullagh, near Athenry in Co. Galway, would now be home to an entirely different flock. Or rather, there but for the Lord's beneficence and the starry-eyed vision of the appropriately named Deakin, the enthusiastic amateur restorer who saved it from a woolly fate.

A local farmer was about to buy the church to use it as accommodation for sheep, but Deacon stepped in, scooping it up for €165,000, having seen it in The Sunday Times in February 2005. Now he is converting it into a comfortable three bedroom family home called Bookeen Hall.

But Deakin has no immediate plans to take on another restoration project. Instead, he wants to spread the word on resurrecting hopeless cases and help others to realise dreams similar to his.

Deakin has just launched a website, www.formerglory.ie, dedicated specifically to the purchase, sale and restoration of historic structures, the fringe oddities of the property world.

"Former Glory will have listings of castles, Georgian houses, churches, railway stations, old barns, schoolhouses, mills," he says. "And any unusual or interesting building with character."

But at a time when many property websites are going more cobweb than worldwide web, either languishing in un-updated cyberspace or folding altogether, does the world need yet another one?

Deakin says his experience doing up the old church has been his main motivation. "We lived in an ordinary bungalow, and had always wanted to do up an old building," he says. "We looked at a lot of places, including a castle and some tumbledown houses. But finding one wasn't easy. More often than not, estate agents tend to keep them in the bottom drawer, so hopefully the site will help make these properties a bit more visible."

Former Glory is unlikely to make a fortune for its creator. Aimed primarily at those with an interest in old buildings and doing them up, Deakin hopes it will pull together many of the currently disparate strands related to the pursuit of bricks-and-mortar antiquity.

Deakin hopes to have 50 to 100 properties listed for sale at any one time, and a section on the site dedicated to "works in progress", where renovators will publish pictures and stories of their own experiences.

At present, there are about a dozen properties listed for sale on the site.

He says: "One of the things I hope the site will do is show what really can be done with some of these old buildings, so there will be lots of 'before and after' pictures. Often, when you look at some of them in a ruined state, you'd think all you could do is clear the site, and that is often the attitude of the owners, too. "You might often see a terrible- looking bungalow for sale, and then down at the end of the garden is this lovely ruin, and it hardly merits a footnote in the brochure."

Under the advice and information section of the website, Deakin hopes to bring together organisations involved in the restoration of old buildings, such as the Landmark Trust, as well as bodies that can offer advice.

Deakin managed to apply for and get a grant of €13,000 towards work on the roof of his church, but he says many would-be restorers fail to capitalise on grants available, simply because they are unaware of them. They are often put off by the expense of doing up a listed building, even though financial help is available.

According to Deakin, finding the right craftsmen and materials can also be tough for the refurbishment debutant. He hopes to attract advertising, as well as advice, from architectural-salvage suppliers, stained-glass-window makers and traditional craftsmen and builders of all kinds, as well as other professionals, including architects and engineers. He says the reaction to his site has been great so far, and a number of businesses have already signed up.

Deakin's chapel was deconsecrated in 1920 and later used as an Irish army billet, a dancehall and a workshop. With an air of both reassurance and resignation, he says it will be finished whenever it is finished.

"Three years in a row now, we have invited people over for Christmas dinner and it wasn't finished, so one piece of advice I would give to anyone thinking of doing this is to forget about completion dates. They never materialise."

Deakin also has advice for would-be restorers about budgets. His experience reinforces that of others who have discovered restoration eats money. "It will always go over budget," he says. "When I initially had discussions with our builder, he estimated I could do it for about €200,000 to €250,000, but it is likely to be closer to €300,000. To be honest, I could have knocked it down and built a new church from scratch for less money, but it just wouldn't have the history, would it?"

But then again, nothing is simple when you restore an old building, Deakin reckons, even buying it. His chapel was initially advertised at €150,000. "Supposedly there were a few people interested, and we bid €175,000, then 'somebody' went higher, so we backed out (having gone way over what we said at the start), then that sale fell through and eventually we bought it for €165,000."

The building was essentially dry thanks to the galvanised-steel roof, which needed to be taken off and replaced with slate, but there was some damp inside. There were no serious structural issues, however. "There were a few cracks in the arches," says Deakin. "But nothing too serious, and the builder (Tom Howard) spotted them early on, so we knew what we were dealing with."

"The main complications were in the planning process, as it is always more elaborate with a listed building, but actually we found the conservation people much more flexible than we had expected. I thought there would be far more restrictions on what we would be allowed to do with it, but, for example, they allowed us to build a small extension and to put in a second door, where previously there was only one entrance. "The main restriction was that when you walk into it, it has to 'feel' like a chapel, so we had to keep the high ceilings in the hallway, which we wanted to do anyway."

"The other tricky thing is the graveyard. There are four graves, with six people interred there, including one of the reverends. We were originally going to put railings around them when we thought there were just three, but we will have to change the plan now that we have discovered the fourth one."

Financing restoration projects can be slightly tricky, too, as they tend to be a bit more expensive, and lenders expect the eventual added value to be lower than with an average house. At one stage, Deakin found himself paying for rented accommodation and bridging finance at the same time.

His current delays involve waiting for new windows to arrive. The plumbing still has to go in, as does the kitchen. But when it is finished he will have a home of about 1,600sqft.

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