Every girl needs some personal protection…

Building sites are dangerous. Already knew that but for an apprentice like me, they are doubly dangerous. Thankfully, Neil and Andy have been very good at directing my work effort ensuring I do things right and don’t put myself in harm.

And of course, I am covered from head to toe in PPE (personal protective equipment). It’s never going to be glamorous but it’s a definite must.

Goggles. The first set I purchased were not so useful. Building work is sweaty and dirty and the goggles regularly steamed up. Not very practical particularly when working up a ladder. So I upgraded to a different set and they are considerably better, and more comfortable. Purchased from Screwfix.

Face mask. The choice is enormous and complicated. Initially, I took advice from Travis Perkins – my local builders merchant. Purchased a twin pick of respirator moulded masks with valves . How naive of me. The work is so filthy I need a fresh mask every day. I then purchased a 10-pack out of necessity when in Screwfix (buying a first aid kit and eye wash kit). They didn’t feel as comfortable nor as effective as the first pack. Now I am using another pack of 10 purchased when back at Travis Perkins. The key thing is to make sure you have a valve on them (round plastic bit) and it can mould around your nose/cheeks. It filters out the gunk in the air so that you don’t breathe it in. I do sound like an extra in Star Wars but its worth it.

Gloves. Apprentice girl has small hands. Builders are (generally) men so the glove size option was limited to Large, X-Large, etc, but again Travis Perkins came to the rescue – and I cannot fault the gloves. Mine are called MaxiFlex Ultimate. Hands stay cool, no piercings despite dealing with tons of nails, shards of wood etc. Although they are still slightly too large, they are elasticated so they don’t feel loose. What is clear, is that they have saved considerable damage to my hands. The only cut on my hands to date is when I didn’t put the gloves on (and it hurt!).

However, the gloves do not stop the growth of calluses. Yes that is how hard I am working. My hands are no longer the pampered tools of my past. My next hand-holding romantic moment is going to be interesting!

As a side note on hands, they dry out incredibly fast in this environment and standard hand cream barely makes a difference. Andy recommended Teisen Skin Care from Mole Valley Farmers. It works…but be warned, its use is also recommended for cows and goats udders and horses legs. I am ONLY using it on my hands!

Boots. Oh my, how important are they. I bought my steel capped boots from an online store called Footloose Shoe Shop for £31. Not only are the seriously comfortable, I have felt nothing untoward happening to my feet despite the dropping of tools, bricks and a hammer drill on my tootsies – as well as standing on hundreds of nails. I love these boots. They are off the scale brilliant and worth every penny.

Ear defenders. Have you got any idea how loud a Breaker is. I didn’t. You can’t stay in the same vicinity if you aren’t wearing ear defenders. Travis Perkins had an end of line bin. I got mine from the bin . They seem to be the perfect fit bearing in mind I have a little head and tiddly ears! Am not sure they would fit a bigger head! Not sure Travis Perkins still sell them either but Amazon do if you need a pair to match mine!

I also have a hard hat and a yellow vest. Useful for my next French holiday after the building project finishes.

So there it is I am protected – mostly. Other than both my legs, arms and my entire torso which is smothered in bruises, mini cuts and tiny little holes made by terribly sharp objects.

Off to the Doctors now to get my tetanus shot!

Who built this thing…?

I knew the property was old but blimey, have we been surprised by some of the building methods that have been unearthed.

We were expecting a bit of lath and plaster and that is what we have found. Along with horsehair and straw! It’s not clear when this method of building was used but needless to say its a while ago.

Modern day plasterboard is such a joy to remove. Older plaster methods is not. I cannot begin to explain how dirty the job is and when the ceilings as well as the walls are made using these old methods you can truly expect a mess when you pull them down. For Neil and Andy this was less of an issue. They went home every night and had hot showers. You’ll know from a previous blog, I did not.

Halfway through the first few weeks I thought we might find some treasure. This place is old. Surely a gold sovereign or similar can be found.


Nope.

A Samsung phone…If you read this and think you lost the phone in the pub then get in touch.

We did find a lovely old key and the place is held together with old nails some of which I have kept as a lovely reminder !!
We also found a box of matches that still work and an (empty) pack of cigarettes. Good job I gave up 20 years ago.

Living the high life…!

I was asked at the weekend what job I was doing now. A property developer role – I said. Wow, they replied. How incredibly exciting. Sounds like you’re living the high life.

Yes indeed. Perception is interesting. Perhaps I should have said apprentice builder, but to be fair even that role doesn’t explain how I am most definitely NOT living the high life.

This project is just too far away for me to commute every day and the budget doesn’t allow for unnecessary expense. I spent the first 2 weeks sleeping in the property. We erected some dust sheets and I took over a bedroom furthest away from the stairs to limit the dust reaching my sleeping accommodation. We were going to demolish downstairs first and would leave this bedroom until the end of the third week.

We cut the electric supply into the building and drained the water systems. But we did tap in a simple power supply (needed for the builders too) and fitted a tap into an outside toilet that we have also kept operational. So I had basic electric, cold water and a loo. I already owned an inflatable mattress and a flask. I went on a mad spending spree and bought a kettle for £2.50 (really) from Sainsbury’s. I was set.

It’s a little unnerving to sleep in a partly demolished property on your own with a single electric lamp. Our workday finished at 430pm. How was I going to use up my time without the usual entertainment? What would I eat? How was I going to wash? Was I going to get any sleep?

Well..I can tell you that nothing mattered during that first week apart from sleeping. I have never worked on a building site – no surprise there – and it’s close to two decades since I engaged in strong physical exertion for 8 hours a day. My first night I washed in a bucket, brushed my teeth, inflated my bed, ate a banana sandwich and was asleep before 8pm.

Of course I woke at 430 the next morning – bright and alert – so my whole body clock was screwed for the rest of that week. I tried to stay awake longer the second night but the work was too exhausting.

The third night was easier and on it went.

I am not sure what my fellow builders thought when they turned up to start work each morning. Although I washed as best I could, I had no mirror. I couldn’t wash my hair and I had a feeling that my cavernous wrinkles were like a magnet to the filthy dust and dirt being extracted from the walls and ceilings. On one morning a little chunk of grit fell out of my ear and I had a fair amount of straw embedded in my hair. But I don’t think I smelt. So that’s OK.

I am now living in a caravan – borrowed from good friends Sue & Colin. Bless you both….bless you….bless you.

Yep. Living the high life.

Don’t panic….until you have to!

Commercial to residential, in this case, also means lots of digging! Not just a little way either. We have to dig the floor out to a suitable depth and then put it back in but with all the necessary materials that make a modern building. Including a DPM (damp proof membrane) and the necessary insulation.
We knew this from the outset, so in Week 1 we broke into just one area of the floor to see what lies underneath.

Concrete tiling is what everyone saw – great for a pub. Easy to clean and hard wearing. No good for a residential property. That was the top layer. Underneath was dirt, then blue lias flagstones. Probably originals from a way back. Yippee. There is value in them there stones and if we can save them, we can re-use them or sell them on.

Then weirdly, a type of bitumen. Didn’t smell too good but nothing to worry about.

What was worrying was the next material we found. It looked like a type of insulation board. We stopped work, masked up and sealed the area. Both Neil and Andy thought it might be asbestos. That is one of the words you do not want to hear when you start a job this big.

I cannot tell you how worried I was. My first action was to find out what I had to do. The HSE has tons of information but it doesn’t help lessen the panic. We have to dig up an area of about 90m2 – and if it was asbestos the digging out programme was about to get incredibly expensive.

That was a tough week. I sent off the sample we had unearthed to Artisan Surveyors, a specialist business found online. The result came back negative.

What a lesson to learn. We do have some asbestos sheets on an outside toilet. We know we have to deal with them in time…but it never crossed my mind that some of the floor would be made of asbestos.

You might have seen me dancing in the streets that night under the influence of sheer relief.

Late to the party. What have I done!!

Our first day of demolition.

The project started on 2 September 2019 and I was late – having been caught in the traffic on the M5. Nothing to worry about I had already handed over keys to my builder – Neil and he and his No. 2 Andy were on site from 0830hrs to get started. By 1030hrs when I turned up I walked into a mess – that simply got bigger and more dirty as the week progressed. No turning back now.
I had first day nerves. Not sure why. I know Neil (met him playing golf). I took out references on his work as a builder and we met several times to discuss the project. But even so I was still nervous.

The plan is simple. Knock everything to pieces and then re-build where necessary to meet current building regulations and to turn the old pub into a contemporary home. Simples !!

I took a course at the NSBRC (National Self Build & Renovation Centre) in Swindon. Three days on how to plan, manage and implement your project. I then did another one day course with them on Project Management. The courses were great – truly interesting and helpful. I took loads of notes.

One of the things they said again and again is make sure you budget for everything in advance. So here I am on day one, having only budgeted for the next 4-6 weeks on a project that is likely to last for 6 – 9 months. To be fair, I did get some total build quotes and they were around £50k over my entire budget so I have an idea of what this might cost if it all goes horribly wrong.

Ask me at the end of the project whether this way of doing things was a good idea.

Where do I begin?

You’ve done a bit of property renovation before. How difficult can it be”?

~ My Mum

I should start with the truth so there is no confusion. I am not really a ‘Builder’ or a ‘Girl’. I am a marketer by trade and although I can handle a drill and a hammer (shelves are my specialty) I hardly fit the required job description of builder. I suppose I should say Apprentice Builder Girl …but it didn’t sound so good.

Secondly, my age really precludes me from being called a girl. I will admit to being older than 40 but that is all. However, given my apprentice status on this project I aim to continue with the ‘girl’ designation.

I have undertaken a little bit of renovation work in the past. When I say I…I actually mean I have engaged various trades to do the work. This is obviously not unusual. It is the norm for most. The hardest part of my historical work has been choosing tiles and room colours.

What I have never done though is take on a project of this size and duration and become part of the team whilst fulfilling the project management role.

I have never worked on a project that requires a six figure budget. I have never stripped a building from foundations to rood and have never turned a commercial property into a residential property.

So all good there then.

First the sad news. The project I am working on is a closed pub in South Somerset. The why and what happened is not for this blog. But it is sad that it had to close. Whilst the pub was open and when ‘well-supported’ it was a delightful little place and full of energy and conviviality. Alas being ‘well-supported’ was not a regular occurrence. We put in 10 years as did the previous owners who also struggled. Some villages care a lot about their amenities. Others don’t. C’est la vie.

The pub closed 10 July 2019 following a significant effort for planning permission that started in 2016. Planning was approved in October 2018 for Change of Use (COU) and on 3 September 2019 the work will commence to turn the old village pub into a good sized 4-bedroom house.

The carpark, sited opposite the pub, has also received outline planning permission. Nothing to report on this yet but there is hope for 1 or perhaps 2 houses to be built from scratch.

This blog is the story of the redevelopment journey through my eyes. The highs, the lows. The surprises and the lessons to be learnt.

I am anticipating learning a lot – not least the process required to turn a commercial property into a residential property.

I am committed to seeing this through. I have re-mortgaged to get the money for the development. Ceased my work as a marketing consultant….and de-camped Monday through Friday to the village so I can be there to manage and help with the project.

Wish me luck !