Leap of faith

An eco-friendly renovation has transformed this old Methodist Chapel. Sharon Dale reports.

Saving buildings and making them eco-friendly has become something of a hobby for surveyor Dawn Dickinson, though it has proved an expensive and challenging pastime.

Her latest project was to give new life to a redundant chapel that had limited prospects thanks to no drains and no outside space for a septic tank.

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“I used to drive past and think ‘what a great building’ but the drainage issue was off-putting,” says Dawn. “We later found out later that there were mains drains in the road that we could connect to and so we decided to go ahead.”

She and her partner, Mike Soper, had plenty of renovation experience after rescuing a derelict barn and turning it into an eco-friendly home, so they weren’t deterred by the amount of work presented by the chapel, that had been empty for four years.

They eventually bought the dilapidated ecclesiastical property in Great Hatfield, near Hornsea, for £45,000 in October 2008 and it was a real leap of faith.

There was no planning permission for change of use and Dawn and Mike wanted to convert the building into two holiday cottages.

Dawn says: “We had to prove that it was no longer feasible as a community building and that the proposed use as holiday homes would have the least impact locally.

“We also had to prove there were no bats or owls present by instructing Wold Ecology to carry out surveys.”

The couple finally gained planning permission in December 2009 and spent almost two years creating a pair of properties that are so energy efficient they received a rare A rating on their energy performance certificates.

The cottages are super insulated, have rainwater harvesting for toilet flushing, solar panels for water heating, a wood burning stove for underfloor heating and water heating via a thermal store. All the appliances are A-rated.

The couple are experts on conserving and generating energy after experimenting with various techniques and equipment at their nearby barn. “We both care about the environment and, of course, a big bonus is that you save money on water and heating bills.

“The cottages are incredibly efficient – even the wood for the wood-burning stoves is a by-product from Mike’s joinery company. Guests help themselves and we ask for a small donation to the Candlelighters charity,” says Dawn, who works for Associated British Ports.

Some of the eco elements presented a challenge and they had to design in space for a thermal store, which is now encased in a cupboard above the wood burning stove.

Dawn and Mike also worked hard to reflect the building’s heritage. The chapel was built in 1862 and later became a Sunday School when a new chapel was added on next door in 1901.

There were few period features in the Primitive Methodist buildings except the wood clad ceilings, so the couple were keen to keep some of the double height space instead of carving it up completely with the new first floor. They managed this by creating a dramatic double-height sitting room in one of the cottages with a bridge between the two bedrooms upstairs. The first floor also stops short of the windows. Skylights and clever internal windows bring natural light into the bedrooms.

The old exterior windows were past redemption but the new ones made by Mike’s company look even better and incorporate a stained glass edge and glazing bars that cast beautiful colours and shadows across the interior.

“We’re really pleased we were able to protect and enhance the façade,” says Dawn, who worked weekends and evenings on the project along with Mike.

It took two years to complete thanks to the part-time approach, though they had a lot of professional help from the team at Mike’s joinery company The Soper Group, based in Hull.

“There was a lot to do. It was damp and that took a long time to dry out and everything needed doing, from the roof down. We also had to dig down to create more height so we could install a first floor and we had to wait for workmen too because Mike’s customers came first,” says Dawn, who strayed only slightly over a renovation budget of £135,000. The revamp came in at £140,000.

They splashed out on gorgeous bathrooms and slate floors but there were some bargain buys, including two green glass lamps from a charity shop for £35. More colour and interest comes from original art by Dawn’s sister Claire West, a Beverley-based artist.

The couple also got lots of ideas on interior design from the Home Building and Renovating Show in Harrogate.

Their hard work has paid off and the cottages, Old Chapel and New Chapel, have a four-star and a four-star gold status from Visit England.

“We’re thrilled with that and we had to tick a lot of boxes, including providing pegs even though there is nowhere to hang washing out,” says Dawn.

The first guests have been impressed with the accommodation and with the village.

“It’s a beautiful area especially for walkers and anyone who wants to get away from it all,” adds Dawn, who would love to tackle another project.

“I’m really interested in property to the point where all my holiday photos are of buildings. I’d really love to save another building and I’ve always wanted to do up a windmill. But we’ve spent up for now, so that might have to wait a while.”

Dawn and Mike’s Useful Contacts

Hatfield Chapels Self Catering Accommodation: www.hatfieldchapels.com

Accommodation Agent: Yorkshire Cottages, www.yorkshire-cottages.info

Architect: Jonathon Hobson, Ingleby & Hobson, Beverley, tel: 01482 868690

Main Contractor: The Soper Group Limited, www.thesopergroup.co.uk

Bathroom Sinks: Prices Paving & Tiles, www.pricespaving.co.uk

Floor & Wall Tiles: Al Murad Group, www.al-murad.co.uk

Art Work: Claire West, Beverley, www.claire-west.com

Local information: Tales from Great Hatfield, www.acraftyvillage.co.uk

Their adopted charity: The Candlelighters, www.candlelighters.org.uk