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Bringing City's Planning History Back To Life

Coventry residents and planners need to take a greater pride in their city and its heritage, says the founder of a firm dedicated to restoring ageing homes in the town.

Malcolm Adkins worked in the city council’s planning department - and that is when he saw the ‘waste’ of seeing good homes knocked down in the name of progress.

He is now a leading light in Black Swan Restorations, specialising in older homes by working on their features, rather than replacing ageing windows and doors with newer designs.

The company says that maintaining the house can see its value shoot up by thousands.

He fears his adopted home city is looking forward too much, instead of to its history and protecting the few features that survive today.

The company takes its names from the former Black Swan pub in an adjoining street to his home in Gloucester Street, Spon End, which the company is to helping transform into an IT techno centre.

He said:

“We are all about conservation. We were first set up to look at restoring vintage boats and old boats, but we have moved on to houses and it is run as a cooperative.

“We are trying to be authentic in the work we do. We are offering people advice, and they don't have to come back to us for the work.

“Unfortunately there are not too many people in Coventry who do this style of work. But there are plenty in Warwickshire, especially in the Leamington and Stratford area - Coventry is a little way behind that.

“I think it is all to do with the idea in Coventry of always moving forward, and if something is in the way or is a problem, it just gets knocked down and they build again.”

But Malcolm said it does not have to be that way. Contrary to what workmen may tell you, he feels features like sash windows do not really wear out.

He said:

“The problem is that that they get painted and painted and painted and then water gets in. If you take off the paint off you will probably find there is no deterioration underneath and they can be restored.

“These old homes could last indefinitely if they are looked after properly. There is no need to go knocking them all down or replacing everything inside them.”

Work on windows starts at about £150 for a strip down, or up to £500 if new windows have to be made. There are improvements grants available for work like this, but Malcolm warns they are difficult to gain for anyone who is not on benefits.

He said there is a trend for more young couples to move into older houses and then to do them up themselves.

Malcolm said:

“I would like to see in a few years time that we have started something and there are 20 firms doing this work. It would be nice that the city council did not have to go out of Coventry if they need work doing.

“The tragedy is that normally people have to be pulled in from outside Coventry – mainly Birmingham or Warwickshire – because there are few specialists here.”

Black Swan has recently been leafleting homes with old-style windows in the Earlsdon and Spon End area, telling them of their work.

There is an inner-ring of Edwardian and Victorian homes stretching out from the ring road for about a mile, and also into Foleshill.

He said not only does uPVC generally sit unsympathetically with older-style houses, it also contains dioxins which can prove dangerous in a fire and the windows will probably only last 15 years.

Malcolm, aged 61, worked for the city council planning department and later at former Coventry University lecturing on economic development.

He saw the clearance in Hillfields and Spon End in the 1960s, which made him realise that homes were being cleared to make way for new development, which he feels they should have been saved.

He said:

“Just because a house is old, it does not mean it has to be pulled down. There were a lot of good quality homes in those areas and I think they could have been saved.

“The shame is some of the buildings, owned by the city council, are left and become derelict when they should be saved.”

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CWN / BusinessBlack Swan Restoration / 18 Jul 00

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