For years we’ve struggled for space, having long ago out-grown our original base at Station Garage. The short term solution was to rent a unit some miles away, but it was freezing cold and then the landlord wanted it back anyway. So we moved again into a tiny rented unit 5 miles in the opposite direction whilst we worked out how to create our own purpose-built unit. After all, in the words of Jeremy Clarkson “How hard can it be?”
The idea was simple; we wanted a large enough space to be able to work on 4 to 6 vans at a time, with a high enough roof to be able to fit roofs with ease and possibly have a mezzanine floor for extra storage. We needed a customer reception area, woodworking area, a toilet accessible to those with limited mobility and a place to make a brew. And it needed to be finished off better than any other light industrial units we’d seen. Oh and it all had to be done on a very carefully controlled budget, so we’d be doing as much of the work ourselves as we could.
So Colin became project manager and we all transferred our skills to a temporary role in the building trade.
We started last Autumn and the idea was to have the whole thing done within 12 weeks.
Our ‘recipe’ for the build went something like this:
- Take one bumpy over grown car park and clear it thoroughly.In the process we dug up lots of railway sleepers, half a ford escort and some lorry wheels from the 1940’s.
- Reinforce surrounding areas to avoid land slipsAs one side of our site is higher than the other, we needed to do something to ensure the stability of the area to the South. We may not have heard of Gabion baskets until we started to build them, but after a week of making them up and then filling them by hand, we became experts. And the result has been a really strong barrier wall on which Colin could has been able to perch every few days to take photos of the rest of the build.
- Plan where to dig your foundations.We worked out roughly where the foundations were going, give or take a few cm and then we got someone in to make the final adjustments. After all it’s really hard to build a steel framed building if the footings are just a cm or two in the wrong place.
Foundations carefully measured and dug out, ready for concrete.
- Dig out and then construct your foundations.This part we left to others, so we couldn’t be blamed if the main bolting locations ended up in the wrong place. After pouring the concrete, we left it for a good few days for it to set.
- Build the frameWe somehow managed to choose a nice sunny day to bring in all the steel, which Colin had already ensured had been painted bright green. The measurements were pretty much spot-on and within a day the frame of the building was up, thanks to people who must have played with a lot of Meccano as children.
The main steel sections arrive on site
… within a few hours we had a frame.
- Add the roofIn a rush to get the roof on before the weather turned again, the chaps worked fast and if you are being hyper critical you may notice that the roof windows are not exactly central to the two entrance bays. Nobody has noticed yet, but nevertheless it was touch and go for a while if we could live with the slight discrepancy. This is the problem when you’re a bunch of perfectionists; we notice things most people don’t and it eats away at our souls. This is greatly beneficial to you if we are making a camper for you; less so when the weather is about to turn and bricklayers are due on site the next day.
The roof is on (and the windows are in the correct place…honestly).
- Build up your walls, first building up internal blockwork and then neatly facing the walls with bricks.It was at this point that the weather was due to turn so we did our best to put up a large tarpaulin wall to keep things as dry as possible. The downside was that it made it really dark in there and with no electricity on site, you had to wonder whether the brick layers would be able to work blind.
- Still, with the tarp in place the brick layers arrived to work in dark, wet, miserable conditions for over a week, building up the blockwork and then the outer lower skin of the building. To keep them on-side we provided gallons of tea, encouraging comments and regular fish and chips. And of course as soon as they finished, the sun came out again so that Colin could take a photo.The front wall taking shape in the sunshine
- And now all that’s left is to finish the walls, make a floor, lay the drains, build the mezzanine, build internal walls, add wiring and alarm systems, hook up the services….. dig up the road and have no water for 3 months thanks to COVID. But that’s for next time.