This blog page documents a few DIY projects I have undertaken on my UK home in Royston, Hertfordshire, most of which I would not have achieved without the help of neighbours and friends.

To read the FULL story and view the COMPLETE set of photos at various stages of construction – click here!

Access to a row of semi-detached properties where I live is somewhat untypical, in that, rather than emerging into a long, slender rear garden upon exiting the back door, one encounters a common access lane running across the back, with the advantage of providing additional space for a garage or for parking a car or two. All the neighbours make use of this, despite there being a driveway in front of each property. The garden proper lies beyond that. In 2015, specialists removed and disposed of my old asbestos garage, leaving nothing more than a naked cement slab. Rubble retrieved from the bottom of my garden provided me with much-needed hard-core and in 2016 I was able to extend and widen the existing garage base. It was only now, four to five years later, after some effort preparing the base, that I was able to finally see the void filled with a gleaming new wooden garage structure!

I was finally in a position to be able to order a garage unit from a Kent-based company called Chart Garages, located in Ashford. There is a bit of a story to the company, which I only learnt quite recently. An employee of the company had risen up through the ranks to become a director, then left the company to form his own, Olson’s Timber Buildings, which had subsequently become so successful that they had recently bought out Chart and a number of related companies entirely.

With time running out, my neighbour Chris and I got stuck in a week before the installation date of 25th May. With he assuming the role of bricklayer-in-chief, I kept up the supply of bricks and mortar on the mixing board, albeit that his cement mixer came in really handy. The dry concrete surface was first treated with Everbuild PVA, which was then also added to the concrete mix, providing additional bonding capability. There was much discussion as to the various ways to square the unit precisely and things got a little bit tense but we got there in the end, although Chris bellowed with laughter on the day when the installation team told us it wasn’t quite square. With the old concrete surfaces not being as level as the extensions, laying the brick course presented a small problem in that the 3″ height stipulation didn’t allow much room for error, for a standard brick height of 2½”.

It also turned into a race against the weather, with the Atlantic jetstream playing havoc with UK weather patterns all week. The tarpaulin sheet I had ordered for when the base was being extended came in handy, if not for the fact that the gigantic size of 7m x 9m size was proving somewhat unwieldy to handle. It was akin to managing a cricket match in England the summer. The covers are on…….and then they’re off! It took two days to complete the brick course. With each light shower, the PVA bond I had brushed onto the concrete surface turned a milky white, indicating that it wasn’t waterproof, as we had originally expected. Not that it was going to be an issue. The ever-present formation of cumulonimbus clouds hinted at the possibility of thunderstorms. As Chris literally laid the last the last brick, the heavens opened up. Typical!

At the weekend, with the inevitable threat of showers looming, I knew I had to crack on with the pointing and filling of the holes of the engineering brick, believing in the old adage that you create your own luck. It took all of 6 hours to complete this task on the Saturday. The final bit of preparation on the Sunday involved glueing a damp proofing material onto the brick course from a roll Chris had given me, using a product called Sticks-like-Sh*t, then weighing it down here and there overnight with the odd brick or two. Fortunately, the material is the exact width of a brick, so I was able to get the job done relatively quickly.

The logistics of the project had been a bit of a concern at the outset, however I needn’t have worried. I thought it only fair to enlighten my neighbours as to what was in store. Given that it seemed unlikely that 12-tonne delivery truck would make it down the lane around to the rear of the property, which is accessible for parking, blocking off of the lane was inevitable, so I prepared a notice which was henceforth delivered to the respective letterboxes. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes. I was told that they would arrive onsite at 7h30 in the morning and they were true to their word. Rather than overnight in Milton Keynes the night before after completing a job there, they had returned to base in Kent and subsequently travelled up to Royston in a smaller truck, which had the advantage of being able to at least get down the lane with centimetres to spare despite not reaching the actual site. This made the carrying distance shorter, freeing up the access lane along the front of all our properties. My ex-next-door-neighbour, George, who had moved out only recently, had graciously volunteered to help with carrying on the day, cycling all the way from the neighbouring village of Melbourn, roughly four miles away, where the family had now settled.

The two artisans who had arrived from Chart Garages were both named Jordan. A quick check of the brick course measurements confirmed that, at the very least, the installation could proceed. They told us they had been to numerous sites in the past, only to find that this was not the case. In fact, on one occasion, they alleged, they had driven all the way up from Kent to Liverpool, only to abort installation and return immediately. Neighbours Mary and in particular a thoroughly absorbed Chris made up the rest of the audience as we watched this very professional outfit swing into action, whilst ensuring that they were well primed with cups of coffee throughout and introducing them to the very particular South African delicacy known as a rusk!

To read the FULL story and view the COMPLETE set of photos at various stages of construction – click here!