Side project – the village hall

Another thing that’s been keeping me occupied for the past year or so is our village hall.  Our village had an old hall, built by subscription in the 1920s, and in 2018 a newly-formed committee decided to try and raise some money to renovate it for its 100th birthday as it was looking a bit sorry for itself and was barely being used.

We’re lucky in my area that community projects have the opportunity to apply for money from SSE’s windfarm funds, thanks to having one a few miles away.  And we did some fundraising ourselves, including a very popular bingo and cake night that proved to us there was a demand for bringing the hall back into full use (any health and safety officers, please look away now!).

We were awarded an initial £11,500 to employ an architect to do a feasibility study for us and he came up with a plan of taking down the kitchen and toilet extensions and the porch and then building a big steel-framed building over the top of the hall itself, retaining the original heart of the building and putting new loos, kitchen and an entrance hall around it.  Then one day we turned up to a meeting to find him waiting for us, wearing a boiler suit, with a pile of floorboards lifted, looking rather ashen.  This is all that was holding the main floor up – the whole length and width of it was propped like this.

It could obviously take some weight, as evidenced by the amount of people at the bingo, and many people in the village had fond recollections of how well-sprung the floor was at dances, but from a public liability point of view, as well as building standards, it was a non-starter.  So after a lot of drawing and re-drawing and an unexpected large legal bill when we found out the hall actually belonged not to the committee but to six trustees appointed in the 1930s who were all dead, meaning we had to apply to the High Court in Edinburgh to confirm new trustees, the old hall was carefully taken to pieces and taken away to start a new life on a nearby croft as an agricultural shed.

In March this year, the builders started on the groundworks.

They were making great progress – in three weeks they had the foundations complete and inspected by the council, poured the slab, laid out the pipework for the underfloor heating system and poured the screed over the top.  The day the first half of the kit frame was delivered to site, Nicola Sturgeon shut down all construction sites due to Covid.

It was three months before we were allowed to commence work again, but I’ll say this: a kit frame building goes up flipping quickly!

Currently we have the roof on and we’re waiting for the exterior cladding, which has made it as far as Inverness and hopefully will turn up on site this week – it’s large sheets and nobody wants to be fixing them in winter winds, which can gust to 100mph here and may reach 45-50 as a base speed.  The guys have been sorting out the inside in the meantime and it looks amazing – just look at the new main hall.  Doors at the back lead to storage area and a green room which will also double as a drinks serving area for functions etc. (if and when we’re ever allowed to do them again!)

We’ve got a bigger kitchen with yards and yards of storage space, plus the island in the middle to plate up on and a serving hatch through to the main hall.  A double Rangemaster is going into the blank space on the right of the picture next to the door.  The kitchen has a separate handwashing sink to comply with the council’s environmental health standards and we’re exploring the option to let anyone locally who wants to have a crack at starting a food business use it for a while to test their market, so they don’t have to get their home kitchen certified straight away.

The entrance hall has an office with a ticket window, the loos are to the other side and we’ve also got two shower rooms – being on the North Coast 500 we get a lot of passing tourists and the hall is opposite the path down to the beach, so we’re hoping to raise some income from opening the loos and showers to public use every day.  Initially it’ll be on a donations system, but we have the option to add pay-per-use locks at a later date.  (I have no idea why this picture has come out so small!)

It’s been my first involvement with a new build and it’s been FASCINATING.  Whilst old buildings are always going to be my first love, this has really whetted my appetite to do a new build of my own in future.  Or two.  Or three.  Or more…

Project 3 – the tiny cottage

This is going to be an interesting one.  First joint venture, first listed building, first one that’s been offered to me as a project rather than me trawling through property listings.

Those of you who have read this blog back when I was doing Ethel’s and the start of Tor Aluinn will have seen me mention Pete the Roofer.  As we came to the end of doing Tor Aluinn, he was over giving Mick a hand with re-laying the slabs at the back (translation: showing him how to do it properly!) and casually mentioned that if I was interested, he’d be interested in working on a project with me as a joint venture.  He owns a Grade A listed (Scottish equivalent to Grade 1) tiny terraced cottage, which is just a bare shell inside, and wondered if I fancied helping turn it into a holiday let.

So I pottered over one afternoon to have a look at it.  It’s gorgeous.  A tiny fisherman’s cottage on the edge of a tiny harbour, very private (five buildings down there, only two of which are currently lived in) and a totally blank canvas inside, which means hopefully the listed buildings officer will be relatively generous in what we’re allowed to do with it, as long as we remain sympathetic to its origins.  Yes, there are a couple of areas where I think we’re going to struggle with the layout and I suspect we’re going to have to spend a bit of money on getting an architect experienced with working with listed buildings to help us get approval, but it should end up being a little gem of a romantic hideaway for two.

Pete had the building valued and the surveyor came up with £60,000, which I think is fair.  The idea is that we create a limited company, he will put the building into it and I need to come up with £60,000 in cash to put in to pay for the renovation work.  This may be slightly problematic, as it’s not the easiest time to go to lenders and say, ‘Hi, I renovate old buildings into lovely holiday cottages, please give me a lot of money unsecured against anything.’  Ethel’s is due for remortgage in May next year and I’ll be able to take about half of it out of that, but I’d rather get cracking before then.

Anyway, there aren’t going to be too many photos of this just yet, because there’s still a small chance it may not happen, but just to whet your appetite, this is what you see when you stand outside the front door.

Project 2 – Coldbackie – FINISHED!

Oh my goodness, it’s been a year and eight months – where did that go?  To cut a very long story short, we planned to open Tor Aluinn to guests in May this year, got scuppered finishing it off by Covid and finally welcomed our first visitors at the end of August.

As a small memory refresher, this is what it looked like when we bought it:

And this is how all those rooms look now.

Living Room

The window seat ended up not getting put back in because it turned out the three-seater sofa fitted so perfectly it could have been made-to-measure, so we just ordered another one.  We didn’t go for a woodburner in the end, they make a lot of mess and there wasn’t really anywhere to store logs, so we left it empty (I’m looking for a vintage fire screen to go in front of it, like the one in Ethel’s House’s bedroom) and picked a wall colour that would make the fireplace disappear a bit – this is Sulking Room Pink, originally this room was going to be dark red.  I’m still not 100% convinced I’ve got the colour right, because there’s so much blue in the rest of the house, but as soon as I change it the fireplace is going to start hitting you between the eyes again.

Downstairs bathroom

We ended up not doing too much in here.  Kris the plumber took one look at the floor and the wetwall and advised (a) it was about £2,000-worth of work and (b) it had been done extremely well.  So we took the shower seat and surround out, got some contrasting wetwall to make a feature of the shower and cover up the screw holes, replaced the loo and Kris had a rummage through his shed and found the shower screen.  The storage unit was bought second hand from someone at Mick’s work.  We did put a big chrome heated towel rail in here as well, which is to the right of the loo, and then the little white towel stand was £20 from Argos and is surprisingly sturdy.


This is where we knocked the study/bedroom 5 into the dining room.  The old Aga was on the blue wall.  And yes, I know the blue kitchen is fashionable and might well date badly, but I love it.  David built the shelves on the island from some offcuts of worktop, so they match perfectly and are really sturdy.  The island isn’t actually fixed to the floor, it can be moved about if we ever need to access the electrics underneath it (the fridge is built into it on the other side).  The blue velvet curtains are the ones we bought with the house 🙂

Utility room

After a bit of a mismeasure with the units (they forgot to take into account the concrete skirting) we had to ditch the separate tumble dryer and get a combination one – and then had a mad panic when I thought I’d better test it the week before the first guests arrived and found it didn’t work!  We ended up frantically swapping it out for a new one the day before the guests were due and the one in the picture is now in my house after a warranty repair.  Glad I found a spot for my impulse bench seat buy and the seat holds all the dog-drying towels, dog poo bags and dog treats.

Hall and landing

Blue, blue and more blue – I didn’t exactly keep to my neutral plan.  Chris the electrician was convinced the feature light was going to be too big for the space, but it works just fine, although changing the bulb in it is a two-person job and you have to lean out rather perilously over the stairwell.  We put an LED bulb in it though, so hopefully it’ll last the advertised 15 years.  The cupboard downstairs has the vacuum cleaner and lots of spares (glasses, bulbs, handwash, loo roll etc. etc.) and the upstairs one is the linen store and has two full spare sets of sheets and towels.

Master bedroom

I LOVE this room.  I know that Hague Blue makes me a walking middle-class cliche and I really don’t care.  Mick had serious doubts about the peacock until he actually hung it on the wall and then he had to admit that it fits in nicely.  The shop actually had two, the other one faced the other way, and I was so tempted to get them both and hang them in the dining room instead, but Mick veto’d that in favour of a really big wooden clock he’d fallen in love with (not shown in the kitchen picture because it hadn’t arrived).  The window seat cushions were made by Just Wright Crafts, who did all the lampshades and cushions for Ethel’s House.  We also cut a hole in the wall in here and put in a little en suite shower room.  If I could change anything about the way we did this house, it would be to put another 10cm onto the en suite, but hey ho.  We went for new doors upstairs in the end, rather than reusing the ones removed from downstairs, as David said too much needed cutting off them and they’d have looked wrong.

Upstairs bathroom

Bit of a difference from the old bedroom.  Because we put the en suite in we decided not to put another shower in here, just the hand-held shower attachment on the taps and a screen to stop the splashes.  The old window seat is the perfect height for a glass of wine and a book.  Kris and David made the boxout to hide the pipes and the bath surround from wet wall.  Again, the radiator was swapped out for a big chrome towel rail.

Front bedroom

This ended up having to be the twin after I couldn’t make the space work for it in the back bedroom.  A shame to lose the fireplace, but we did really need the space.  The bells are all still on the walls, but sadly the wiring couldn’t be revived.  The cupboard in here has had a rail fitted and is acting as a wardrobe, which saved a few hundred.

Back bedroom

The wallpaper in here was such a sod to get off that Magnus ended up papering over the whole thing with lining paper and painting that rather than scraping.  We had to move the bell push, it’s just been glued back on.


The old asbestos garage, half-built over the boundary, got removed by specialists, and we created a gravel parking area at the front.  The garden was hacked back, a really big tree too near the house was taken down completely, and Pete and Mick spent four very hard days levelling the broken flagstones and laying new patio stones around the back of the utility room where the garage used to be.  There’s now a rustic wooden table and benches in the rectangle area where the wall is and the double sink is at the back door as a planter, with mint and chives in it.  Fencing David (he has the same name as David the joiner) came and replaced the remains of the old metal wire fence with a beautiful wooden one with handmade gates at either side of the house, which Magnus then stained with creosote – we have not yet had a dog escape!

And that’s it, job done!  Is there another project?  Well, yes, there is, but more about that another day.