Sarah Beeny has been presenting property programmes for Channel 4 since 2001. She’s back with a new series of Double Your House For Half The Money. She is married to her business partner Graham Swift and has four sons. Here she talks about the programme, the trials and tribulations of planning permission and her dream project
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE NEW SERIES?
It’s really exciting actually because the market is moving, so what you’ll see in this are families who don’t want to burden themselves with huge debts but want a lovely house. I guess there’s something very exciting about taking a house that nobody really wanted and turning it into a house that everybody wants.
ARE THERE ANY HIGHLIGHTS WE SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR?
We’ve got two or three stories where families have pooled their resources, so you’ve got three generations all living together. There are a lot of people whose families are expanding at the same time as doing the builds, so there are a lot of building site babies, as I call them. One thing I recognise looking at the families when they finish is how having space that works for you makes your life easier and happier.
ARE DIFFERENT GENERATIONS LIVING UNDER ONE ROOF BECOMING MORE COMMON?
Yes, more and more people are doing it and there are massive advantages to it – the support that the older generation can give to the younger generation, and the other way round. The old people in this country are an untapped resource. We see them as a drain, but they’re not. They’re only a drain on resources if we treat them like that. Actually, the older generation have wisdom, knowledge and experience, and they can be unbelievably helpful and a very calm influence. It shouldn’t be underestimated what they can bring to the party.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR ANYONE TRYING TO CREATE THEIR DREAM HOME?
I guess my top tip would be don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s about making the space work for you, so if you can do that, you can make the outside look like anything you want.
YOU’VE SEEN A LOT OF REVAMPS, DO YOU STILL GET SURPRISED BY WHAT PEOPLE ACHIEVE?
Yeah… The people it works out perfectly for are the ones who have amazing builders. Builders are heroes and, actually, the real success stories are when there’s usually a hero of a builder hanging around somewhere. And vice versa – if you get not such a great team of builders, it’s an uphill struggle from the beginning.
IS IT GETTING EASIER TO GET PLANNING PERMISSION?
It is getting easier, but the system does still need some modification. I feel sorry for planners because they’re inundated. We need to get rid of paperwork; the previous government was obsessed with it, and laws and forms. There are a lot of picky, pernicious rules and regulations we don’t need, so just get rid of them. Planning is getting better, but it’s got a long way to go.
DO YOU GET MUCH TIME TO WORK ON YOUR OWN PROJECTS?
Not so much development work at the moment because we’ve got a lot on. I’ve got four kids and Tepilo, which is an online estate agents, and MySingleFriend, which is a dating website, and actually we are having a massive basement extension at the moment. It’s with a wonderful company called Premier Basements who I met while filming and I asked them if they’d come and work at my house. It’s weird in a way to have it happen that way, but it’s taking up a lot of time at the moment.
HOW ARE THE FORMATS FOR YOUR SHOWS DEVISED? DO YOU HAVE ANY INPUT?
I guess initially people came to me. I now work with a really brilliant production company and creatively, I have a lot of input. We’re working on another series at the moment called Clicks And Mortar, about the emergence of online estate agents, which is really fun.
DO YOU HAVE A DREAM PROJECT YOU’D LIKE TO GET GOING?
Oh God, so many. It never stops. I guess my pipe dream is to do a voice in a children’s film. I’d be so proud because the kids would love it. At the moment they think what I do is really boring.
YOU’VE RECENTLY BEEN AWARDED AN HONORARY DEGREE…
It’s funny because I didn’t have a very good relationship with education when I was growing up, and I guess I regard it more highly now. So as a result, I desperately try to encourage my children to do what I didn’t do, which is listen. Every time I meet someone, I learn something else because you learn about another problem or an issue, and that’s a great privilege. And I think education is that – it’s gathering all that knowledge. I’m a massive fan of vocational study, and I think one of the great tragedies in this country is that there’s a shortage of apprenticeships and we don’t have technical colleges anymore. I don’t really get that because I think that’s the area where we should push education.
WHAT ELSE ARE YOU UP TO?
I’ve just had a book come out, it’s called Sarah Beeny’s 100 DIY Jobs. Other than that, we’re in the summer holidays, so I’m hoping to hang out with the kids.