Otter Pool Barn - The story behind an accessible barn conversion
This year a newly converted barn in Ilfracombe is getting ready to welcome its first guests for summer, and it’s already booked out until September! Otter Pool Barn owners, Kate and Simon, share their amazing story about why they decided to turn an old threshing barn into a luxury accessible holiday let, and how they did it.
Simon and I live on an alpaca farm in North Devon, and about six years ago a friend advised me we should rent our farmhouse out for the summer as a holiday let (High View Farmhouse). With two children just about to head off to university it seemed like a good idea. High View Farmhouse proved to be very popular, but we became increasingly aware that, even with a ground floor bedroom, we couldn't really cater for people with significantly restricted mobility. At this time we both had elderly parents and their visits were also becoming increasing difficult. As most of our holiday rental visitors seemed to be extended family groups we wanted to do something about it, as it seemed that there were few (if any) wheelchair suitable, larger properties in the area.
After identifying a large threshing barn with planning permission for sale nearby, we decided the time was right to make an accessible property for visitors to North Devon. The barn was derelict and one end was at imminent risk of collapse, but it had a private lake, five acres of land and incredible potential. Time to get to work. One large draw-down on our existing mortgage and a rather too large bank loan and the barn was ours. More research revealed that we may be able to apply for a loan from a local LEADER scheme to assist with the accessibility adaptations and eventually (after proving that there were no similar accessible holiday lets locally, from which business might be displaced), we were awarded a 40% grant amounting to £30,000. The creation of Otter Pool Barn was viable.
Despite the financial arrangements in place we were working to a restricted budget, about 1/10th of that recommended for a project of this nature, and we also wanted to achieve a 5* feel and an 'access exceptional' National Accessibility Scheme grading. Installing a lift made the upstairs four bedrooms accessible. The grant helped to fund mobile hoists, indoors and to the swim spa/hydrotherapy pool and hot tub and a ceiling hoist in one of the two downstairs bedrooms; and I started to learn a complete new language.... profiling beds, slings, bariatric equipment, and much more.
Simon and I had decided to do much of the work ourselves to keep the costs down, just with a general labourer and plasterer; but we expected to have to 'buy in' some expertise. Replacement of the exposed roof trusses in the Great Hall was an eye opener - the quote was over £40,000 and then the costs of removing a section of the roof and hiring a crane to lift them into position would also be required. Simon decided to make them himself. They look spectacular, and as with everything Simon puts his hand to, they are as professionally made as the company quoting would have done, and he was able to lift them into position without a crane, just a heavy duty piece of lifting equipment from the local building merchant. Total cost £4,000.
The stunning staircase, found on Ebay, came from a nursing home in Manchester that was about to be demolished. Again, Simon's skills came to the fore, as he redesigned the staircase to fit Otter Pool Barn and also created a Minstrel's Gallery from the original staircase parts. The beautiful stained glass and wood panelling between the Great Hall and huge kitchen/diner was also reclaimed and the barn design adapted to fit it! It's great to have a blank canvas when you find amazing items like this.
The fantastic roof beams, impressive staircase and grand panelling don't make the property accessible though and now it was time for more practical solutions. New internal walls and doorways gave us huge flexibility. All hallways could be easily made wide enough for wheelchair use. Doorways are wide, and the doors solid oak that slide into pockets in the walls, meaning no obstructions or difficult doorways. Most of the lighting is dimmable, multi-point and extra sockets were added when wiring, to allow easier access. Fire and CO₂ alarms could have audible, visual and vibrating alerts and assistance call systems could easily be incorporated into all six bedrooms and three bathrooms. All in all, as we progressed with the renovation we tried to think of anything that could make life easier and more enjoyable for people with any disability, while they were staying in the property. Thankfully many friends with relevant expertise came forward to help with our planning.
It is outside that I think we have really created something that is not available elsewhere. The large (5.5m) swim spa can be heated to temperatures that allow hydrotherapy, and a removable partition enables the hot tub section to be accessed without the need to exit the pool. Both sections have hoist entry. The long five-acre field leads away from the house and at the end, slopes steeply downwards to a private lake. We couldn't make the lake easily accessible, but we have put in a wheelchair suitable path to a picnic and barbecue area overlooking the lake (where we have seen otters swimming). At the end of the path it isn't possible to see any residential properties at all - a true escape into the lovely rural countryside of North Devon, without all the people that you normally find where accessible paths are available.
As opening day draws closer, Simon and I are still working around the clock to finish Otter Pool Barn. Since opening the booking system, around Christmas, bookings have flooded in and we are now fully booked until September. We think we have been able to enable people, with a wide range of disabilities, to experience a fantastic holiday in a barn conversion that really does have the luxury family home feel. We are also getting bookings from residential homes where a group of carers and residents can holiday together, as everything in the property is suitable for them to be able to have a true holiday.
If you choose Otter Pool Barn for a holiday, don't forget to leave them a review on Euan's Guide!