George Clarke, architect, author and presenter of The Home Show, is back this spring with a brand new show, The Restoration Man. Ever passionate about his subject matter, here he explains what the series is all about, why he feels so strongly about it, and how restoring an old building is one of the most stressful - and most rewarding - things you can do.
By Benjie Goodhart
'It stems from me wanting to come up with a new series which was an accessible restoration series. There was a restoration series done by the BBC a few years ago, presented by Griff Rhys-Jones, which was much more of a national campaign of people lobbying to save prestigious public buildings. But actually, there are thousands and thousands of very small, humble architectural gems across Britain which have been completely neglected. There's something like 5,000 buildings on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register. On top of that, you've got all the ones on the Scottish, Irish and Welsh registers, so you've got thousands and thousands of these buildings at risk - and when I say "at risk", they are genuinely about to collapse, or be completely beyond repair if they're allowed to deteriorate any more. On top of those buildings at risk, you've got tens of thousands of other buildings which are very old and beautiful, which have been neglected, but aren't necessarily in danger of collapse.'
'So I wanted to make a series that showed people the plight of Britain's architectural heritage. Not your Blenheim Palaces and St Paul's Cathedrals, not these flagship buildings, but buildings that maybe people wouldn't normally be aware of. I want to make people aware of this fantastic collection of amazing buildings that are just sitting there redundant, being lost.'
The series involves people restoring old buildings. Is it a sort of Grand Designs for historic architectural treasures?
'It's different from Grand Designs in the sense that some of the Grand Designs' budgets make your eyes water - which is great, I love what Grand Designs does, and Kevin is brilliant, but the budgets can be incredibly high.'
'Most of ours are much, much lower. We've got one or two, to be honest, which are quite high. We've got a couple which are mad. One couple bought a mansion in Wales for £1.5 million. So that gets us up to the Grand Designs crazy levels, but most of them, to be honest, are very affordable, very accessible buildings that most people who are able to get on the property ladder can afford to buy. One of them, the chapel in Wales, was £55,000 and he did all the work himself. The total cost of raw materials was £40,000 to £50,000. If you think the cost of the average house in Britain today is £160,000 and Gareth has got his dream home for £100,000, that's amazing. And in another of our stories, there's a guy who's got an old ice house in Scotland, by a loch. He bought it off the farmer for about £10,000. He's got about £100,000 to do it up. But this is a building that's an amazing piece of architectural heritage. This amazing guy has turned it into a fantastic place, one of the most unusual two-bedroom houses you could ever imagine.'
What kind of buildings do you feature?
'We're giving these buildings a totally new lease of life, because nearly all of them are old industrial, agricultural or military buildings that are being converted into homes. We've got one or two that were already residential, we've got the mansion building and one called The Medieval Hall. But all the other ones, The Ice House, a windmill, and old coach house, an old bath lodge and so on, they were all used for other purposes. We've got a Martello Tower as well. They're towers that were built as military defences on the south coast in the early 19th century to protect against invasion by the French. They look like windmills without the top on them.'
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