Building the Dream, Chapter Two: A New Life

Creating a ‘Self Build’ home for our family of five

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I wish I could tell you I am taking everything in my stride and this whole self-build malarkey is a breeze and that we are total pros at this, but in fact I am writing this second instalment from a place of frustration, impatience, chronic tiredness and brain fuzz! That said, it’s all still very exciting and gradually getting super real, which is somehow pulling us through the insane juggle that is three kids, two businesses, project managing a house build from scratch and 24 weddings to plan this season, 19 of which are abroad.

So, I’m going to take you back a few months again until we have caught up with real time, which shouldn’t be too tricky if our current rate of progression is anything to go by. Please stop, rain!

We’d had the foundations dug, the mortgage released and brickwork was being commenced. At this time, we were living at my Father-in-law’s two-bedroom house which was still decorated just as my husband’s Nanny and Grandad had left it. The three kids were in one triple bunk bed (genius invention) and we thought hey, let’s buy a puppy, just to make life a bit more of a challenge. We do that sort of thing a lot….

Anyway, Gaston the French Bulldog has completed the Storey family and regularly comes along to check progress on site. He is really looking forward to having his own bedroom too and seems to approve of our design decisions so far.

 

We decided, that now was time to start our new life an hour away in the countryside, so we could keep a close eye on the build, begin new friendships near our forever home and get the kids settled into their new school. HOWEVER, the chicken and egg situation of this was unreal and don’t get me started on finding school places for more than one child in a different area, mid-academic year. This has without doubt, been one of our biggest anxieties and the most trying experience in this whole adventure to date. When it comes to the kids and their wellbeing, nothing else matters more though, huh? This is all for them, after all.

The logistics just wouldn’t work. The only choice we had was to take the risk, accept the Year 1 place for our little girl and take our application for our son’s Year 4 place to appeal and hope for the best!

We visited at least eight schools, which either had no places at all or a place for one and not the other. We weren’t quite ready to leave the house in Dartford and pay full rent somewhere else, but we knew that if the kids didn’t start a new school soon, we wouldn’t know what choices to select for our toddler’s admission application in a few month’s time and couldn’t possibly have to change their schools again later! We were so desperate to put down roots and get settled and allow the children to finally make their lifelong friends. Plus, they couldn’t be at different schools long term, even in the same area. The logistics just wouldn’t work. The only choice we had was to take the risk, accept the Year 1 place for our little girl and take our application for our son’s Year 4 place to appeal and hope for the best!

 

So off she went for her first day an hour away without a peep, the resilient little thing that she is. Up to 6 hours per day in the car with traffic for me, whilst Hubby (let’s call him Dan from now on) dropped the 3-year-old to nursery in Dartford and our oldest to school in Greenhithe before heading off to work. This continued for two weeks, until suddenly the stars aligned and we found a rental property in the same village as the new school, just a few minutes from the building plot – and with one extra bedroom for all our laundry and other crap. Result!

The appeal hearing came, and it was brutal. But my childhood inner wannabe lawyer came out and along with my passionate fighting-Mum-face and proof of our new address within walking distance, we won the panel over!

I got to do the school run on foot and the other two had to be ferried all the way back to North West Kent each day. We were all utterly shattered. But we knew we had to see it through, and be positive.

The appeal hearing came, and it was brutal. Surely we didn’t stand a chance against the council’s polished, thoroughly researched, facts-based argument? They spoke first and I was petrified. But my childhood inner wannabe lawyer came out and along with my passionate fighting-Mum-face and proof of our new address within walking distance, we won the panel over! Everything was starting to work out. The good news coming in thick and fast. The mortgage decision, the successful appeal hearing, the rental property (which was like gold dust) coming available with the most beautiful village square at the end of the road. It was all going to get a bit easier and we were totally over the moon. Our first walk to school as a family had me welling up! Our new life was beginning and I was immensely proud of the kids for not batting an eye lid at leaving their old friends and starting all over again. They have been so patient and made everything a little easier to cope with. Also, the community spirit here is so so wonderful.

So, back to the build itself. There had been a few hiccups (the first of many as it would turn out, due to errors made earlier on by the architect) with concrete being poured in the wrong places etc. But so far, it was all going fairly swimmingly. Our bricklayer is an old friend of Dan and has been the cement holding everything together on site for us (see what I did there?) whilst we have been busy at work and unable to oversee things. Without him, I think a nervous breakdown would almost definitely have been on the cards for one or maybe both of us.

 

We opted for a Flemish Bond bricklaying method, which is bricks laid as stretchers and headers alternately (yes, I‘m learning all the lingo) and it really makes it stand out from the others on the site and adds a little character, we think. I never knew such excitement could come from a brick, but after the first few courses were laid, I just couldn’t stop stroking and admiring them and their dusty, weathered texture. This was going to be our home and we are watching it begin to take shape before our eyes. We also chose to have a herringbone brick fireplace, which is another individual feature, that I am so thrilled to be in the privileged position to dictate. I was ridiculously excited to see this and it was the first time I started to feel like it will truly be our own creation.

I just can’t believe it’s really happening after so many years of dreaming it and it will be completely and utterly ours. So far, the kids are just happy with their giant new playground/climbing frame.

Helaina x

 

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3 Comments

  • Ah I’m so thrilled to have found your story here! You sound like an incredibly resilient, resourceful individual and I can completely relate to your hopes and dreams for your family and home. I’ve always longed to self-build but for now am settling with a large-scale remodel and extension, we’ve just had our planning permission approved and are moving onto building regulations application stage. Its so interesting and helpful to read all the nitt-gritty detail you share.

    You’ve inspired me already, I’m now considering bypassing the architect for our building regs plans and just working directly with the structural engineer to draw up the plans myself (I drew up the planning permission plans myself with the help of my building surveyor Dad). Having just read part one of this blog I was prompted to call our builder to arrange a meeting with the structural engineer and fortuitously he’s going to be working at the end of our street on Thursday anyway so its all very serendipitous!

    I can’t wait to follow your story and continue to be inspired and motivated by your progress. Best of luck!!

    • Thanks Philippa. This is such a lovely comment to read. I find there are very few real accounts online that include all the gory details from start to finish, so I’m thrilled you have found this useful. I’m so envious of your beautiful character property! This was our initial dream, but we couldn’t find the right place, in the right area for the right money. I think it’s every bit as brave taking on the renovation of an older building. I’m super impressed with the plans you have put together. Huge congrats on getting them approved. I’ll look forward to following along with your exciting journey too. Very best of luck with it all. xx

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