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Christmas in a caravan: £85,000 building project on artist's dream cottage turns to nightmare

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:20 22 December 2018

She has an electric heater in the caravan but temperatures have dropped inside to 3 degrees C. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

She has an electric heater in the caravan but temperatures have dropped inside to 3 degrees C. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood

Christmas is cancelled for customers of a west Norfolk building firm who are camping at their homes after a catalogue of problems with their projects.

She has spent £75,000 renovating the cottage. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodShe has spent £75,000 renovating the cottage. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

One artist has been living in a caravan in her front garden since May after a project to renovate her cottage in north Norfolk ran five months over time.

Imogen Ashwin has paid building firm Traditional Renovations Ltd £75,000 for work on her new home in Ridlington, near North Walsham.

She hoped for a fresh start after losing her son Adam, 33, to a brain tumour in 2015 and her husband, Trevor, 53, to cancer on Christmas Day 2016.

In a Facebook post in May this year, Traditional Renovations’ director Gavin Nixon said he aimed to complete the work in nine weeks and said they would provide her with a “turn key” service to help her after her losses. The budget was £85,000 with VAT.

Builders have not been on site since the start of December after Mrs Ashwin refused to pay another £5,000. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodBuilders have not been on site since the start of December after Mrs Ashwin refused to pay another £5,000. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

But seven months later, Mrs Ashwin’s dream of a new beginning has become a nightmare.

“I was meant to move in this summer, but as the weeks went on there were sometimes no workmen here at all,” Mrs Ashwin said.

“I’ve lost my previous livelihood since Trevor and I were a self employed partnership and Gavin was fully aware that the ‘turn key finish’ was for a living, working and productive space. They were the building blocks to setting me up in a new life.

“I knew it would take a bit longer, but there is a massive amount of work left. It is an absolute disaster.”

There is still lots of work to be done at Mrs Ashwin's house, including fitting radiators, a kitchen and bathroom. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThere is still lots of work to be done at Mrs Ashwin's house, including fitting radiators, a kitchen and bathroom. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

The cottage is now uninhabitable. The radiators were ripped out and have not been replaced, there is no working kitchen or bathroom and the electrics have not been finished.

She lives in a small caravan in the front garden where temperatures have dropped to three degrees C.

The 58-year old has to use an unheated outbuilding to cook on a small hob and shower.

“You miss things like not having a Christmas tree,” she, said. “I can’t buy presents for people as I have nowhere to store or wrap them.”

Mrs Ashwin is using an outbuilding to cook and wash. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodMrs Ashwin is using an outbuilding to cook and wash. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Builders have not been back to the site since the start of December after Mrs Ashwin refused to pay another £5,000 to Traditional Renovations.

But Mr Nixon denied they had walked out.

The King’s Lynn builder admitted the project had been a “disaster” but said more than £100,000 of work had been done.

He said his men stopped working after not being paid the latest invoice.

The inside of the house was stripped down but work hasn't been finished. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThe inside of the house was stripped down but work hasn't been finished. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

And he claimed the costs soared after they found “substantial structural deficiencies” and extras were added on.

Mr Nixon said: “We said we would do as much as we could 
for free. I was doing it for her because of her circumstances but I never thought it would come to this. It has been an absolute disaster but that is not how we operate.”

•‘It has been awful’

The outside of her cottage in Ridlington. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThe outside of her cottage in Ridlington. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

In Swaffham, couple Kelly and Debbie Alford are also facing a miserable Christmas after work stopped on their project.

Traditional Renovations have not been on the site since September after the Alfords and Mr Nixon fell out.

The firm began what was meant to be a five-week job in May to remove a conservatory, enlarge their kitchen and replace and level downstairs floors.

Instead, seven months and £30,000 later the Alfords are living with an unfinished bathroom and kitchen and a lounge full of boxes at their terraced home on London Street.

The caravan has no electrics. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThe caravan has no electrics. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

They have been using a camping stove and microwave for meals since May and wash up in their upstairs toilet.

Debbie said: “It has been awful. We can not invite anybody over. We can’t afford to go out.

“It has put our relationship under strain.”

They paid Traditional Renovations £28,000 but said they face having to spend another £20,000 to complete the job.

Building work at Imogen Ashwin's home was meant to be finished over the summer, but she is still living in a caravan after lengthy delays. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodBuilding work at Imogen Ashwin's home was meant to be finished over the summer, but she is still living in a caravan after lengthy delays. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

The boiler, for example, was installed in the wrong place by a subcontractor.

A heating engineer who inspected it wrote in a report the installation was “nowhere near the required standard”.

“Christmas is effectively cancelled as we have no money left,” Kelly, 45. “We can’t afford presents or a tree.”

A surveyor hired by Mrs Alford estimated £21,000 of work had been done.

Kelly and Debbie have only been able to live in the upstairs of their home on London Street, Swaffham, as the downstairs is still a building site. Photo: ArchantKelly and Debbie have only been able to live in the upstairs of their home on London Street, Swaffham, as the downstairs is still a building site. Photo: Archant

But Mr Nixon dismissed that figure and said the project had cost him £40,000.

He blamed Kelly for the delays as she was employed by him to manage her and other projects.

Mr Nixon said he dismissed Kelly after delays to projects.

“We have completed everything that we have been paid for,” he said.

Kelly and Debbie Alford's bathroom. Photo: ArchantKelly and Debbie Alford's bathroom. Photo: Archant

Kelly, meanwhile, said Traditional Renovations had simply stopped work after she was dismissed from the firm in September.

•Financial problems at firm

Traditional Renovations had a “long string issues” from September to November, according to a letter sent by director Gavin Nixon to creditors last week.

Their front room is a mess after building work stopped on the project in September. Photo: ArchantTheir front room is a mess after building work stopped on the project in September. Photo: Archant

His letter said the firm was now “insolvent”.

Meanwhile, one former

staff member said he had not been paid since the end of October.

When asked by this newspaper, Mr Nixon said: “The business is insolvent in as much as there is no money to pay the debts I have this month.”

The Alfords have turned their upstairs study into a temporary kitchen. Photo: ArchantThe Alfords have turned their upstairs study into a temporary kitchen. Photo: Archant

But he said more work in the New Year would keep the company going.

“We come highly recommended by a number of architects,” he said. “We’re a small family business.

“In four years we’ve gone from building small fire places to building renovations.

“I’ve completed a number of projects.

“I’m a good, upstanding citizen. I’ve never been in trouble with the law.”

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