A dated farmhouse, a cow shed and an old farm machinery store have been transformed into quality housing by a relative newcomer to the barn conversion sector.
Tom Russell set up Full Spectrum Construction Services Ltd (FSCS), which is based in Hadlow, Kent, just three years ago after working in project management, and has already made an impact with his work at the former Petley’s Farm in Downe.
Just six months or so after setting up in business, FSCS put in a bid to Page Surveyors to carry out the conversion work for the site owner and won the contract to renovate and extend the farmhouse and convert the cow shed into luxury homes. Given the opportunity a while later to convert the remaining building on the site, Tom and his team jumped at the chance.
One man who was happy when FSCS won the second contract was the prospective purchaser, who knew the site.
“I said at the time that I hoped Tom would win the job of converting that building because I wanted to buy it and I was impressed at how well he had done the work on the building I am currently renting,” he said. “It’s really nicely done.”
Tom’s wide experience in the building profession is supported by well-honed project management skills, a carefully chosen team of specialist sub-contractors and a loyal workforce. FSCS’ only full-time employees are himself and site manager Gordon Joy, while Jess Holliday looks after the all-important admin.
“By keeping the core team tight we can make sure our overheads are low, which allows us to submit very competitive tenders,” Tom explained. “But I always bring in the same people, from plumbers and electricians to carpenters and roofers, and that means I can guarantee a high quality finish.”
Tom is committed to paying attention to detail and to ensuring a quality finish ‘from the ground up’. “With both the conversions I decided to install a power floated concrete slab at the very start of the project,” he explained. “It’s a more expensive option, but in the long run it’s a better way of doing things and it pays for itself.”
He said the farmhouse had needed completely new electrical and plumbing systems as well as re-plastering throughout. FSCS also rebuilt a flint wall and added a full width extension to the front of the house.
Work to the cowshed was even more dramatic but has resulted in two stylish homes with luxury fixtures and fittings that face on to a spacious and well-planted courtyard. The conversion also involved laying on new gas, water and electricity supplies from the road to the properties.
Work is now well underway on the remaining property, with the same craftsmanship being employed to create a luxury home with superb views across the countryside towards Biggin Hill.
After completing a degree in construction management at Oxford Brookes University, Tom lived In Saudi Arabia, where he started a medical waste processing company. He also worked in project management for a company that was restoring the country’s coastline, which had been damaged by oil spills in the two Gulf Wars.
“Restoring the coastline was a huge challenge and needed a great deal of project management expertise,” said Tom, who is a member of the Chartered Institute of Building and an Associate Member of the royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
“When I came back to this country I wanted to use those skills in construction management and so I set up FSCS. We won our first major contract here at Downe just six months later and we are keen to talk to farmers or estate managers with redundant farm buildings that need a new lease of life.
“We pride ourselves on the quality of our work and our set up makes the business agile and competitively priced. The conversion work here at Downe is a great example of the attention to detail that we put into all our projects and highlights the skills we have within the wider team.
Tom admits to getting a great deal of pleasure from “restoring and fixing things” and also likes being in the countryside, which makes working on old barns a real ‘labour of love’ for him. It also means that he takes a personal interest in the company’s various projects and is always on hand to make sure the work is done to his own high standards.
FSCS places a great deal of importance on safety and sustainability, something that is particularly important when working with old buildings that are a vital part of the heritage of the countryside. “We aim to improve the rural environment with every project we undertake, and our choice of materials reflects that,” he said.
While the company also tackles new build projects including offices and warehouses, and is currently tendering to build a £1.4 million gymnasium in Maidenhead, it is rural projects such as barn conversions that set Tom’s pulse racing.
The company recently completed the conversion of a Grade II Listed oast house in Laddingford, a project that involved totally disassembling the framework of the building, replacing a number of the timbers and then rebuilding it as a luxury home.
“We reused as many of the original materials as possible to create a home that exceeded the expectations of the owners, who were over the moon with the result,” said Tom. “We also had to re-roof a substantial part of the property.
“The owners told us they were really impressed with the care we took to retain as much of the timber as possible, and anything we replaced used the highest quality materials in order to enhance the character of what is a lovely old building.
“Bringing an old building like the oast house at Laddingford or the barn and machinery shed here at Petley’s Farm gives me a great deal of pleasure and I believe is what makes FSCS stand out.”