Photos of the derelict Honiton Mill
The Old Mill produced flour until 1968. Credit: David Rhodes

As part of Empty Homes Week, East Devon District Council (EDDC) is sharing the story of one-man who makes a living bringing derelict buildings back to life that no one wants.

David Rhodes, from Colyton, bought the Old Mill, in Mill Street, Honiton, before the pandemic, not knowing what was in store until he put the keys in the lock.

The listed building dates back hundreds of years and was used as a mill, producing flour until 1968 – when there was a big flood that damaged the mechanism working the mill wheel.

It was then converted into a residential home around 1980, before it became empty around 2008 and has slowly fallen into a state of disrepair.

Mr Rhodes has breathed new life into five buildings across the South West in the past 12 years, making the most of the low-interest loans available thanks to EDDC’s partnership with Lendology – which allows people to borrow funds for home improvements and adaptions, renovating empty properties and improving energy efficiency.

In the last year, the Old Mill has been given a new roof, had stonework repaired and had the entrance changed, pathing the way so passers-by will soon be able to enjoy seeing the historic mill wheel – which is set to have special repair works.

Once completed, the property will be a three-bed house, as it was in 1980.

Mr Rhodes said:

“I have been a builder for 25 years and have been renovating empty properties for the past 12 years.

“I really enjoy the variety the work offers, not only the building work, but the planning and legal side of things.

"I was a landscape architect for five years – so these types of projects allow me to bring all my skills together.

“There is a lot of unknown with historic and listed buildings that can make them really hard to deal with, which keeps developers away.

"No one really wants to touch them.

"There can be a lot of loopholes to jump through.

“I like to make all the properties I work on as sustainable as possible, future proofing where I can with solar panels and heat source pumps – coming away from gas.

"I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing I am bringing them back to life.

"It is widely known how many homes we need in this country and it is nice to make homes out of buildings already there.

“Empty properties can be real eyesores, and terrible to begin with, especially in this location, if you go past the Old Mill it really sticks, being in such a unique location.

"I hope when it is finished it will make it nice for the community and complement the history of the town.

“I would highly recommend taking advantage of the Lendology grants if you have the experience to do so.

"You need other funding, but it really helps at a time when banks just cannot offer the same interest rates on loans.”

Councillor Dan Ledger, EDDC portfolio holder for Strategic Planning said:

“The Council is committed to reducing the number of long-term empty homes in East Devon.

"We will proactively work alongside any empty home owner with a solution based approach to bring their properties into use.

"We have seen in this case how a local builder has taken the opportunity to purchase and do up an previously empty historic building in Honiton; with some help of the Councils’ low cost loans company Lendology.

"Bringing long-term empty properties back into use is an important matter for the Council.

"It’s essential we maximise the use of these properties to provide much needed accommodation and reduce the negative impact they have within the community.

"If you own an empty property or know of an empty property please contact the Council’s Environmental Health private sector housing team.”