Cannock Mill House – a cohousing conundrum

November 22, 2018 10:32 pm

When we bought the Cannock Mill site, in 2013, we knew what we wanted to do with all the existing buildings except one. The garages and workshops by the mill were destined for demolition; asbestos roofs and all.  At the top of the site, a large shed – rumoured to have been a pigsty but then home to some bathroom fittings – was also marked to go. Cannock Mill was always going to be our common house; we have described that in another blog. But Cannock Mill House, an imposing Victorian house at the entrance to our site, was more of an enigma!

Perhaps symptomatic of its indeterminate status was the fact that we did not know what to call it; because the mill itself was always ‘Cannock Mill’, we didn’t want to just add ‘House’ to discriminate between the two main buildings so ‘The Miller’s House’ and ‘The Mill House’ were both used instead.

Cannock Mill House served us well as temporary, if rather draughty, accommodation for some live-in ‘property guardians’, given a cost-effective tenancy through a company specialising in such safeguarding of building sites. Its garden provided some of the grazing for our temporary flock of sheep (and goats, including a magnificent if rather menacing billy!) and it also provided a source of occasional worry: bee swarms, roof leaks and groundwater leaks spring to mind (especially the latter).

Eventually, it made sense that the building should be used as part of the building site’s offices/facilities, so we stopped thinking too hard about its future.  As the end of the build of our homes draws nearer, we have been reviewing our options. The alternatives we have looked at included:

  • Using some or all of the building as further common space – the cellar looking particularly attractive to the wine connoisseurs in the group!
  • Converting it into further cohousing homes
  • Alternative uses, such as subletting to a local organisation, or
  • Selling the building ‘as is’ to realise some cash, perhaps to provide better facilities elsewhere on the site.

Ideologically, we would prefer to have more cohousing homes, so that is the route we have prepared to go down.  Although any expenditure of significant money on a conversion will have to be subject to a proper financial viability appraisal, we have decided to go to stage one of this choice.

We applied for and were granted (subject to the usual further approvals) planning permission for three flats. The planning documents are all available on the Colchester Borough Council website, and you can view a copy of the floor plans on our website here. Because Cannock Mill House is locally listed, we have planned to retain most of its features. This means that it will still be a commanding presence visible to those leaving Colchester on the Old Heath Road.

Again ideologically, and in keeping with the Passivhaus standard to which the other homes on the site are being built, we want to make these new units as energy efficient as possible. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t quite proved feasible to achieve full Passivhaus standard in ‘retrofitting’ either of the two old buildings on our site, but the flats in Cannock Mill House will provide a level of comfort that its Victorian builders would not have dreamed possible.


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