As we reach the end of summer, it seems like a good time to give you an update on the church-into-home project we are following in west Wales. You can see the introduction and background to the church in the first blog post, and there was an April 2019 update too. I feel so fortunate to be friends with the family who have taken on this project and to be able to visit them to see the changes.
So here we are with part three of this series. Since the last article, the family have managed to sell their previous home so now have those funds available for the expenses that keep on coming in. (As a reminder, the family are not super-wealthy; they simply needed a bigger home for their large family – 6 children live at home – and this will give them a fantastic forever home.)
All of the children (except the 2-year-old, of course) now have school places, and everyone has enjoyed the six-week school summer holiday.
No TV Deal
In the April 2019 update we knew the family had been approached about featuring the church in a TV restoration programme. Sadly, as the TV production company needed property projects that will be completed by the end of the year it means they couldn’t be included.
But, so everyone can follow along with the transformation process, there is now the Building Holly House Facebook Page with regular posts and photos.
The electricity was reconnected at the end of April 2019 so they can now switch lights on – and most light bulbs still work! It’s also meant they can test the organ and it is also in working order.
In early May 2019, the Church Organist came to visit. She was the last to play it at the final service in 2012 and kindly came back to play it again. She is now in her 90s but has offered to teach the children to play. As Deb and Andy still need to get married, their 10-year-old daughter is hoping to learn the wedding march for her parents. (Yes, they have adult children so have been together for many years. But they are always so busy with family life, the wedding day has been put off for a very long time.)
Electricity has also meant they could add some temporary lighting to the spiral stairs in the tower and they can charge power tools for graveyard maintenance too.
Many pigeons had been nesting in the tower and the stairs were covered in guano (bird poo) as well as nests and dead birds. In early May they got permission to remove the mess and 50 full wheelbarrow’s of unpleasantness was swept out!
Andy has added netting over the tower windows and it has been successful at keeping the pigeons out.
There are 560 graves in the graveyard with over 4,000 bodies (as burials were stacked). The graves are not all the same and some are many hundreds of years old. There are lots that have sunk into the ground leaving an uneven surface making it more challenging to cut the grass.
There have been multiple lawnmower repairs and strimmers that haven’t survived but no setbacks have stopped the family from wanting to improve the graveyard for the whole community. They have removed most of the ivy from the outside of the church and have been uncovering graves that haven’t been seen for decades. The family have all got involved in clearing and tidying, even the youngest who is great at clearing up sticks. The family have also been painting the railings around some of the plots which is a huge improvement on the rust and ivy that was there before.
The graveyard is on a 999-year lease from the Church of Wales so it is the family’s to maintain and care for. They took this on as they wanted to be sure the graveyard was looked after as it will be right outside their home when they move in. It is open to the public during daylight hours every day and from the messages they have been receiving, the local community are grateful for all their hard work.
After being told there were snake nests, no snakes (or evidence of snakes) have been found. There have been lots of slow worms though so maybe that’s where the stories came from.
Every day this summer Deb, Andy and the children have been cutting grass, chopping back ivy, uncovering graves, weeding plots and generally making it a much nicer place for them and the whole community.
It helps to see some aerial photos to understand how large the graveyard is.
While there are no snakes, there is other wildlife that lives in the graveyard. Hedgehogs have been seen and there are signs of rabbits and a badger may have been spotted. And from late May 2019, the graveyard became an official bumblebee sanctuary for rehoming bees from a west Wales pest control centre.
In September 2019, an arborist (tree surgeon) https://www.thelocaltreeexperts.com/ is coming to assess the trees as some look like they need attention.
The whole ‘creating a home’ project has had to wait for bat surveys to be completed as bats are a protected species. Bat monitors were added inside and outside the church, and the specialist surveyor has visited during the day and the night.
While the final report is still to be written it does seem there are no bats nesting inside the church. The surveyor would like some bat-friendly additions to be included in the building work so bats could roost on the roof.
In the evening, larger bats have been seen that roost in the trees. These are Noctule bats (Nyctalus noctula) and are the largest species of bat. While they seem quite dramatic, they are not uncommon in Pembrokeshire. The other species of bats seen are Soprano pipistrelle bats, long-eared bats and the occasional greater horseshoe bats.
When the bat surveyor completes his report, he will also apply for the building and conservation licences needed for the project.
Some of the leaded windows have damaged glass (about 100 pieces) and the square metal hoppers (the small sections that can be opened) need replacing. A local company have been in to measure up and have been working on the replacement pieces over the summer. The new glass sections will be installed in late September 2019.
In May 2019 a church bell specialist from Dorset came to assess removing the bells from the tower. It was exciting to have it confirmed that one bell is from 1380 and the other is from 1585!
The bells will stay in the building but need to come down as the ground floor of the tower will be the bathroom so there are safety considerations. The bells are heavy and no-one wants to take risks.
The floor of the tower was recently assessed to ensure it is strong enough to withstand the weight of the bells when they come down. Once the structural engineer’s certificate is in, the bell team can be booked in.
The plan is to have the larger bell cleaned and on display, and the smaller bell can be turned into the new doorbell. How cool is that?
A local roofing company is lined up to complete the repairs needed to ensure the building doesn’t let in heavy rain. The same company will also rebuild the chimney, currently over the vestry, where the biomass boiler will hopefully be installed.
As the planning permission has to be approved before work can start, the roof will hopefully be dealt with in November 2019.
Their home is going to be built inside the church as a two-storey box being called the ‘pod’. To create the internal space needed, the pews need to be removed. An application for removal of pews was submitted in July and approval was received in late August 2019. An application notice was displayed on the church gates so the local community remained informed of the plans.
The pews are going to be reused and repurposed. Plans so far include a book bench in the graveyard (somewhere to stop and read with a box of books), a friendship bench for the playground at the local primary school (somewhere for a child to sit if they would like someone to play with so others can approach them to join in their games) and many local people would like to buy a pew to take home.
The pews from the sides of the church do not have two ends so those will be used as quality seasoned wood for doors (including a new front door), table-tops, shelves, etc.
As an interesting aside, there is a space in the wall at the back of the pews, opposite the entrance, where food was left for the needy before we had Food Banks (more organised places for accessing free food for those most in need).
The Pod Foundation
As the base for the ‘pod’ goes across the tiled aisles and the raised wooden areas where the pews were (see photos above), there are different options being considered for the pod foundation. The pod will be a timber frame but it needs a slab base to build on. The architect will finalise that as part of the planning permission application.
In June 2019, a meeting with the architect, Conservation Officer and Building Regulations Officer led to the decision that a sprinkler system is needed in the pod. There was also a suggestion to have another one in the church but this will spoil the look of the building. (This suggestion wasn’t a total surprise following the horrendous Notre Dame fire in Paris in April 2019.)
While this sounds like a good plan, Andy is having trouble getting quotes as not many companies produce systems suitable for this type of property.
As the family will be living in a building inside a building, an airflow system to change the air every hour is also being considered.
In August 2019, a meeting was held to plan the drainage from the church to the main sewer system of the town. The idea is to dig up the path from the gates to the church building so no graves are disturbed. As the site is so old there is the potential to find bones under the paths so an archaeological consultant came to offer advice. When the trenches are dug, an archaeologist will need to be on-site at all times. Interestingly, if bones are found, the work doesn’t have to stop but the bones must be reburied.
Some research is now being done to see if the phone line and broadband connection can be added in pipes in the same trenches.
The full application to gain approval to start the building work has to wait until the full bat report is completed. The surveys have all been done so everything is on hold while the surveyor writes his report and applies for the building and conservation licences.
Once those are in, everything can be submitted to the local council to complete planning approval, listed building consent and change of use to residential. It is likely the local authority will need to consult Natural Resources Wales as well before granting a licence.
Notices will also go up to inform the local community of the plans and time has to be given for any objections to be considered although none are expected.
The Building Control department has requested full EPC and SAP calculations which will require an external party to be commissioned. An EPC is an Energy Performance Certificate and SAP is the Standard Assessment Procedure – a measure of the energy efficiency of a property and is the calculation from which an EPC is generated.
After being contacted by the Cambrian Archaeological Association (a local archaeological association, founded in 1846) a date was arranged for them to visit the church. Andy gave a talk about the building and their plans.
Deb and Andy have enjoyed lots of visitors over the summer who would have been curious to see inside. Families have come who were married in the church many years ago and local residents who wanted to see the view from the tower have been welcomed too.
Let’s leave you with photos of how beautiful and peaceful the churchyard is looking right now.
We’ll continue following the family’s progress here on Anglotopia and will have future updates. You can also Like the Building Holly House Facebook Page to see regular posts and photos, follow the family on Instagram and see more about ‘Holly House’ at www.familydaystriedandtested.com.