Blog: House completion party in Dunoon

Dunoon empty homeFrances Snee, empty homes adviser at Shelter Scotland, visits Argyll to see the successful completion of an empty home renovation.

I was lucky enough to go on a day trip across the water to Dunoon the other week. I’d been invited by Argyll and Bute’s Empty Homes Officer Kelly Ferns. Kelly was in cahoots with one of her empty homes owners – Suzy. They’d put on an afternoon ‘prosecco party’ to celebrate the completion of the renovation project. Lots of people joined the party, including the press.

The cottage in Hill Street had been unoccupied for over 10 years with its condition causing a lot of heartache in the pristine neighbourhood. Suzy’s father in law told me the story about metal thieves who’d broken in a few years back. Local legend has it that after stamping a hole in the roof they were seen rolling a boiler down the street. The property went rapidly downhill after that. The owner had initially planned to leave just for a short time to attend to some family commitments. There’d been food left in the fridge and DVDs neatly piled up beside the TV as if he’d just popped out to the shops. As happens though, life events took over and the years rolled on. Kelly had been responding to the 80 year old neighbour’s increasing distress about it all. At the same time, behind the scenes Kelly had been patiently engaging with the current owner. Eventually she succeeded in bringing it back onto his radar and helped him decide to finally put it on the market in its current condition. Hole in the roof and all.

Suzy and her husband bought the house in September 2015. “It’s been a steep learning curve for us.” she said. “We got some funding from Argyll and Bute Council’s Empty Homes Grant. The money has been incredibly helpful but the best thing has been Kelly. She sought me out, she offered me help. She’s been there for me throughout this whole project.”

It was so nice to hear this praise for Kelly. I’ve worked with Kelly so I know how committed she is. Hearing unprompted compliments first hand from a member of the public made my day though.

The house was busy with neighbours and other locals all day. Each of us got a tour and timeline of the project. There was tea, sandwiches and party food in the new kitchen. It was a bit like Christmas. The family have done a huge amount of the work themselves including clearing out the tonnes of brickwork, ready for the builders. Suzy was even mistaken for a worker at the local recycling centre because she was there so often. “My red overalls and steel toe cap boots might also have had something to do with it.” she laughed. It’s one thing to be mistaken for a member of staff in Boots – not so much at the tip!

When the builders popped in I asked them how they’d found working on a home that had become almost derelict. “It was good to work with owners who’ve got such an eye for detail and who pay us when they say they’re going to. I always put in a lot of groundwork when providing a tender and do everything I can VAT discount and trade price wise to make it as competitive as possible. We’re always realistic with substantial renovations like this, pricing in a contingency fund so it’s great when we get the commission. When owners are good to us, we’re good to them. There’s a lot of snagging work that we do without even being asked. We wanted the project to be a success just as much as Suzy.”

The new tenants moved in later that week. As well as enjoying the new sunny extension to the living space, they’ve got an affordable rent and security for at least five years. This was an important part of the project for Suzy who’d moved about 10 times when she was in secondary school. She has strong feelings about people feeling rooted to their own home. This was the reason for involving the tenants in the choice of flooring and décor. The last word comes from Suzy – “It’s their home so we want them to enjoy living here and to stay on. It’s important to me and it also makes good business sense. We’re about to start on the next renovation of a long term empty property nearby so there’s no let-up in our pace.”

What I took back with me to Glasgow was inspiration about all the resources that are already there in the local community just waiting to be used. The buildings, the keen hands-on developers, the local tradespeople and suppliers. Not to mention Argyll and Bute Council’s commitment to empty homes work and clever use of resources.

If you know of an empty home in your neighbourhood that you’d like to report, please get in touch with the Empty Homes Advice Network by emailing or calling 0344 515 1941.

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