Building a Dream

Vivid green rice fields stretched out before us. People bent over planting new vibrant rice plants. Rugged arid hills in the distance. Mile by mile we cycled our way through the landscape. Settled into the routine of watching life going on in this rural scene my mind would wander, thinking about a building challenge I had looming back home.

I enjoyed the complex mind game of visualising the three dimensional spaces and how to overcome design problems.

The Old School, a flint and stone village school built in 1852 had been harshly adapted to a dwelling in the late 1960s. The elegant school building, ruthlessly had its roof ripped open to make way for box shaped dormers and extensions to achieve a first floor with no sympathy for the vernacular. There it lay abused for fifty five years amidst this idyllic quintessential English village setting.

In my mind as we pedalled on across, India, Africa or the Far East I played around with ideas. How could I return this building to sit comfortably in its surroundings yet maintain a reasonable level of accommodation. I wanted to show off the spaces that existed when it was a school. Additions had to be in proportion and needed to display the heritage of the building. I wanted it to feel like a school again. The shapes and spaces gradually materialised in my mind. The problems of how the new and old would connect in proportion became clearer in my mind. I dwelled on these thoughts for three years whilst on long bike trips in very different places from the English village set in the picturesque Downs. Sometimes I would progress a plan over a few days and while mulling it over realise I had taken a wrong turning and have to go back and reformulate my thoughts. I have always enjoyed this mind game.

Eventually a solution was found and the details were clear in my head. I planned to build a slightly newer school in style next to the Victorian one, leaving a gap that could show off the tall old flint walls and provide some interesting space for the hall and stairs. The school room would be returned to its original big space with the addition of a steel mezzanine so you could feel close to the existing roof structure and appreciate the beauty of the open space.

January 2021, four and half years after acquiring this place we started the building project. Every day for just over a year we worked on it every hour of the day. We ripped off the box like 1960s additions and soon were back to the bare bones of the Victorian building. From the ground the new school rose and soon we were pitching the various roofs that met kindly with the old.

As the shapes and spaces that were in my head became reality it was satisfying seeing them connect together in real life. The dream was now set in stone, brick and timber. Sitting once again comfortably in this ‘chocolate box’ village scene. The privilege and satisfaction of building is your work is there to stay for another hundred years or perhaps more.

We became absorbed into the village. For just over a year this was our community. The people adopted us, we felt at home, and this brought another interesting dimension to our time there. The village was real, a range of folk, old and young, newcomers and old established families that go back several generations, but always a nice community feel, like it’s perfect setting, which is most noticeable at the very good mum and daughter run village cafe which we regularly visited.

This was the adventure of 2021, ‘Building the Dream’, but also living the dream in this beautiful setting with lovely people.

4 thoughts on “Building a Dream

  1. Dear Dave & Helen,

    Thank you for sharing your building project.
    It’s very impressive and wholly in sympathy with your delightful village, nestling in its bowl in the downs. I’m sure that your neighbours are very pleased with the transformation too.

    With best wishes.

    Mike Gunn (Zest).


  2. The building certainly does look better with the removal of the awful 1960’s monstrosity that had been grafted onto the original Victorian school. The new building looks good and very much in keeping with it’s surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

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