How to turn a former bank, church or pub into a popular holiday let

Reinvent then rent! Former public buildings such as banks, churches and pubs are full of character… and can make for lucrative holiday lets

  • Local landmarks make popular short lets for growing breed of UK holidaymakers
  • Buildings are often large, have parking and no garden to maintain
  • The quirky former Turkish Baths in St Leonards is on the market for £1.5million
  • We speak to one investor who converted two Welsh chapels into holiday homes

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 

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

‘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

Yorkshire: The Old School in Newton on Ouse has four bedrooms and has been recently renovated. There is oak flooring throughout and beams. Hudson Moody, 01904 650 650. £799,950

Warwickshire: There are four bedrooms and a one-bedroom annexe in this former pub. The property is in the charming town of Shipston-on-Stour. Pritchard and Company, 01608 801 030. £450,000

County Durham: St Laurence’s Church dates to 1871 and was designed by Darlington architect J.P. Pritchett. Now it is a seven-bedroom home. Finest Properties, 01434 622 234. £1.2m

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