Where have all the old public buildings gone – the post offices, banks, churches and pubs – that used to line the High Street and be our local landmarks?

The answer is that, in many places at least, they have been converted into holiday lets.

Holidays in the UK have become the norm since Covid made travelling abroad so difficult,’ says Kate Eales, head of regional residential with Strutt & Parker. 

‘So, instead of renting a cottage in August, many people create their own holiday homes and recover some of the costs by letting.’

Historic: A two-bedroom apartment in the former Royal Navy building, Brewhouse at The Royal William Yard, Plymouth, is £575,000 with Knight Frank

Historic: A two-bedroom apartment in the former Royal Navy building, Brewhouse at The Royal William Yard, Plymouth, is £575,000 with Knight Frank 

There are several advantages to converting an old public building, according to Eales. 

‘You get a lot of property for your money, there is often car parking and you seldom have a garden to maintain — good news if you are letting,’ she says.

 ‘Above all, an old building in a brochure catches the eye. Families love the idea of holidaying somewhere quirky — in, say, a converted lighthouse, a school or a pub.’

You’d be hard pushed to find a more eye-catching holiday property than the four-bedroom, 3,800 sq ft Bath House in St Leonards, East Sussex, for sale for £1.5 million with Fine & Country.

This surreal conversion of the town’s old Turkish Baths is a homage to fairground art and glitz. 

It was created by music agent Solomon Parker who spent three years scouring the South’s antique shops looking for sufficiently gaudy ‘objets’ to match his vision.

The result is a cavernous room with a bowling alley (reputedly once owned by Roman Abramovich) running down the side, flashing signs saying ‘Carnival’ and ‘Dodgems’ and a gigantic clown’s face grinning from the wall.

A mezzanine hangs like a cage from the ceiling while the original tiling from the swimming pool can still be glimpsed. Parker is proud of his creation and defends St Leonards, which has had a bad press for its social problems over the years.

The converted Bath House in St Leonards is on the market with Fine & Country for £1.5million

The converted Bath House in St Leonards is on the market with Fine & Country for £1.5million

‘Since the pandemic a lot of London people have moved to the south coast and that’s been a good thing,’ he says. ‘The town now has a thriving arts scene and some fabulous restaurants.’

Making holiday lets from battered old buildings can make sound financial sense.

Twenty years ago Derek Thomas bought the abandoned chapel in Llanrug, North Wales for £85,000. He converted the building into two homes — Capel Mawr and Basement 19 — at a cost of £300,000.

Having at first lived in one of them himself, he now makes £60,000 a year letting them to holidaymakers who are attracted to the cottages for their proximity to Snowdonia and Anglesey. 

The properties’ value today is £800,000. ‘This place is my masterpiece,’ says Derek, who lets the homes through Sykes Cottages. ‘It’s the culmination of all I have learnt about building over the years.’

It would be wrong to assume that holiday lets only pay off in seaside locations. Other areas can attract visitors all year round. 

In Bath and North Somerset, for example, tourism contributes £470 million to the local economy. Martin Fahie, 65, makes about £12,000 a year from running the former Ebenezer Chapel in Wellow, Somerset as an Airbnb. 

The chapel, which still has many of its original features including the stained glass windows, was first converted in 1990.

‘Bath is a big attraction, both with tourists and parents visiting their children at university,’ says Fahie, a musician. ‘And Wellow itself, with its pub and old manor house, is the quintessential English village.’ Chapel House, Wellow is for sale with Knight Frank for £650,000.

Anyone contemplating investing in a holiday let would be wise to inspect the small print on the sales details. 

There is a stipulation, for example, that the three-bedroom flat for sale with Winkworth for £695,000 in the converted synagogue in Devonshire Place, a short walk from the seafront in Brighton, may not be used as a holiday let, perfect though it would be.

Pubs can also pose problems. Local planning restrictions usually state that a conversion can’t be carried out unless the owners are able to prove the pub cannot be profitable.

No such problems at the Nag’s Head, Avening in Gloucestershire for sale with Murray Estate Agents for £595,000. This former 18th-century inn is well placed for tourists.

‘We are in the middle of the Royal Triangle — the homes of Prince Charles at Highgrove, Princess Anne at Gatcombe Park and Badminton — so we get lots of royal watchers,’ says owner Nicole Sabine, a journalist. 

‘It has an easy-to-maintain terraced garden so it would make an ideal holiday let.’ 

On the market… Reinvented buildings

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BBC Three is about to return to Freeview, Sky Q, Virgin TV and Freesat viewers nationwide next month. BBC bosses decided to remove BBC Three from broadcast back in 2016, with the channel branding only surviving with shows and documentaries broadcast via BBC iPlayer. Since then, the channel has enjoyed some runaway successes, including the critically-lauded Normal People (adapted by the novel of the same name by Sally Rooney), RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, and mock-documentary comedy This Country, to name a few.

Since the decision to pull the channel from Electronic Program Guides, or EPGs, six years ago, shows that broadcast on BBC Three could only be downloaded to your Sky Q or Virgin TV 360 box by searching through the on-demand catalogue. The fact that BBC Three shows didn’t air on a terrestrial channel meant they wouldn’t work with features like Series Link, which sees your Sky Q or Sky Glass automatically record new entries in an ongoing series – so they’re always ready for you to watch when it’s convenient. Viewers would have to specifically search out new additions in ongoing series broadcast on BBC Three by navigating to separate BBC iPlayer apps on Sky or Virgin platforms, or searching for new episodes on a regular basis.

Shows went live on BBC iPlayer at set times as if they were broadcast. For example, new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK went live at 7pm each week. However, viewers would not necessarily be watching at the same time as some downloaded the show, others started to stream immediately, and others watched later the same evening.

But that’s all about to change as BBC Three returns to the airwaves for the first time in six years. BBC Three will broadcast from 7pm every night of the week, and will be available to watch on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat, as well as on BBC iPlayer. The BBC hasn’t revealed the channel number for each platform yet, so stay tuned to find out how to jump into the channel when it returns on February 1, 2022.

BBC Three is primarily targeted at younger viewers – one of the reasons the Beeb believed that younger viewers would be happy to watch on-demand, rather than tuning in for set broadcast times. The channel has launched a number of blockbuster successes for the BBC over the years, including the critically-acclaimed 15 Storeys High from the late Sean Lock, the award-winning smash Fleabag from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, This Country, Little Britain, which launched the careers of David Walliams and Matt Lucas, cult comedy classic The Mighty Boost, People Just Do Nothing, Don’t Tell the Bride – which has recently resurfaced on Netflix, and Gavin and Stacey. The latter was later promoted to BBC One and set viewing records when it returned for a Christmas special back in 2019.

Speaking about the decision to return BBC Three to EPGs across the country, Fiona Campbell, Controller, BBC Three, said: “We know how popular sport is with younger audiences and it’s going to have a big part to play on BBC Three. AFCON is set to be an incredibly exciting tournament with some of the best players in the World on show and it’s brilliant news that we will be showing the climax of the competition on free to air television.”