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
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
“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.
“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.
“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
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
“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