Original article from Kent Live
A property which gained notoriety after featuring on a memorable episode of Channel 4's Grand Designs is now being renovated.
Sarah and Rob Burch are the couple to have taken on the doomed project – and to re-imagine it into something a little less catastrophic than the original.
The 86-metre houseboat was once moored on the shore of the River Medway, but after years of dispute with builders and difficulties getting the construction even halfway finished, the project was abandoned.
Back in 2011, four years after the airing of the original episode in 2007, the barge washed up on an Essex beach, strewn with graffiti and allegedly having been used for shelter by squatters.
From there, the boat faded into memory, a relic of late-2000s TV nostalgia – that is, until now.
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The pair, from Essex, are the owners of the barge's new home – Priors Boatyard, in Burnham-on-Crouch, and also operate a company called Steel Frame Buildings – so they have some very relevant expertise.
Once plagued with structural issues, with windows of wildly different sizes, and constructed partly from foraged materials, the boat is set for a complete revamp, dealing with many of the basic issues that plagued the original project.
Their plan is to make some basic repairs and cosmetic fixes, before designing a 'bespoke living area', 'incorporating an ultra modern open plan area, a rooftop garden, and an outside kitchen and bar area'.
It's even set to have a lower level added to 'allow access to the water for watersports'.
This all sounds promising, especially when you look back at what the boat once was.
In fact, Chris Miller – the original owner of the barge on Grand Designs – said in the Channel 4 show that, "you can not design this project – before we got here, we didn't even know what the [super]structure was going to be made of."
According to Sarah, the condition they found the boat in left much to be desired:
"Unfortunately, the majority, if not all, works need to be completely restarted.
"Much of it has been done on a tight budget, and with a lack of knowledge on how renovations on boats will have very different methods to that of on a terra firma building.
"Plumbing and electrics are non-working and/or unsafe, and a leak from water tanks in the hull caused extensive damage to the bow end of the vessel.
"Electrics mixing with water, especially salt water, is never going to be great."
The work is not all from the failed grand designs project – as some if it was performed at some point between 2011 and 2021, but the plan is to start much of the renovations 'from scratch'.
The story of how it came into the hands of the Burch family is itself a story.
Looking for a new property having had their children grow up and leave home, they struggled to find a place they were keen on.
Sarah said that her husband is behind the decision to turn the former wreck into something new altogether.
She said: "He's boat mad – he's much more keen on the idea of living on a boat than me.
"I was actually away when my husband saw the boat advertised, and didn't even realise it was the ecobarge until speaking to the agent.
"He was pretty excited, me not so much."
It wasn't exactly love at first sight for Sarah, but the pair are now all in on the project and have a clear vision for what they want to do – whilst not completely getting rid of what made the Ecobarge what it was.
"I don't know why, I think I liked the airy space at the top and how cosy the hull was.
"It's actually very light in there considering it's the bottom of a boat!
"I suppose a lot of people would love to design and build a super modern building from scratch etc, but what won me over was the boat – it's a little bit of history and crying out to be loved."
Though it's new home will be a little way from Kent, the Ecobarge will always be a slice of Medway's pop culture history.
Hopefully the next time it gets the public's attention, it'll be for the right reasons.