6 Jan 2007

National Self Build Centre: opening soon

I’ve just got back from Swindon where I visited the soon-to-open National Selfbuild & Renovation Centre. It’s quite a departure for the world of selfbuild, a permanent exhibition centre that will be open seven days a week throughout the year.

It’s the brainchild of the Buildstore group and in particular their CEO Raymond Connor, who has been building up to this for several years. His hope is that it will provide a one-stop shop for any and every one planning new homes, renovations or improvements. It’s a big complex, about the size of a B&Q Megastore, and it includes a Potton show house and a fascinating deliberately dilapidated Victorian cottage where you can look at the problems and solutions facing renovators. My own favourite bits were the cut-aways of floors, walls, roofs and drainage systems: I have never seen the inside of a septic tank — a notable first.

By any stretch of the imagination, it’s a huge gamble. Buildstore are planning for 100,000 fee-paying visitors a year; if they get that, it will be judged to be a major success for them and for their many exhibitors. It’s not an unrealistic proposition because there are at least this number of people who visit the various selfbuild exhibitions at the moment, but a permanent exhibition of this scale is an untried concept. Connor’s hope is that it will grow the market and help put selfbuild on the map: others are sceptical that people will be persuaded to pay £10 each at weekends to visit what is in effect a giant showroom. But what can’t be doubted is that it is going to happen and you have to admire the vision and determination that have got it off the ground.

From what I saw yesterday, I would recommend a visit if you are at all interested in understanding the building process, even if you have no plans to build anything anytime soon. It struck me that it’s a great educational facility and I can quite see parties of school kids being taken around here in years to come. But that, of course, is not why it’s there: its purpose is wholly commercial.

I hope it works out for them: the country has seen nothing like it before and we will all be that little bit richer for having such a centre. The opening of this centre marks a step change for the selfbuild movement in this country.

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