Labour of love and learning behind renovation

Apprentice James Barrow at Site Pizzeria, Todmorden.

Apprentice James Barrow at Site Pizzeria, Todmorden.

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There are restorations, and then there are RESTORATIONS.

And bringing the former Gorey’s merchant tailor’s premises not just back into use as a business but with a care and attention to detail second to none, the renovation of 43, Rochdale Road, Todmorden, into Site Pizzeria has been a three-and-a-half year labour of love and learning.

Business partners Natalie Barrass and Olly Bamford bought the premises, which had most recently been five bedsit flats and was in a state of very poor repair, at auction for £75,000.

Olly recalls they thought it would take a year to do the premises up, but in the event it was three and a half - yet it was time she, Natalie and friends who helped them begin and complete (almost, there is still a little work to do) the renovation would not have missed, and all that before the business, which has thrived since opening four months ago, could open its doors to the public.

Natalie recalls floorboards were rotten throughout, fungus was growing on every wall, joists needed replacing and 60 tonnes of earth needed removing from the basement to achieve a workable head height. After sourcing many quotes they realised the only way to afford to return the building to its full potential was to do the work themselves.

This included knocking down 30 stud walls, removing four structural walls and digging all that earth out of the basements literally with shovels.

But wherever possible materials were saved and re-used rather than going for landfill - or sending it to landfill and having to buy it all again! The result is that the renovated building has seen brick and stone loving reusued, keeping it in sympathy with the original building and giving Site Pizzeria a real ambience.

With friends helping, building techniques were learned as they went along.

Olly said: “Most of us were learning on the job but we were willing and although generally it was a lot of hard work, it was fun too and there was a feeling of care.

Natalie added: “People pitched in knowing it was massive in terms of the amount of work. It was as much about friendship as renovation, with people putting in a couple of hours here and there.”

“The restaurant consequently is only a small component of the building,” said Olly. “It was a lot more work than we anticipated. I would have said it would take a year but it took a year and a half.

“We started off thinking we could decorate it but we ended up stripping it right back.

“The basement was the difficult one and while undertaking work we also had the flood, so we had to work in flood defences and build flood walls. The restaurant was more straight-forward.”

While it was ongoing Olly held (and continues to hold down) her full time job, while Natalie gave hers up to keep work ticking over, a much-used whiteboard detailing jobs needing doing, lists of volunteers and which would be best suited to each task, and then managing a new team, the restaurant staff. Improving signage and marketing are next on the jobs list after successfully establishing Site Pizzeria.

The old materials are evident thought the renovation, and Site Pizzeria is named as a term of affection for the team during the last three years. In the dictionary site is defined “a place of activity”.

Olly said: “It seemed ludicrous to me that we wouldn’t keep the materials. A lot of the stuff can add character and in setting up an environment it evolves - some stone, for example, we have used as flagstones outside.

“It made us think more creatively, developed our skills, knowledge and team-working. We got so much better as time went on and we enjoyed it.”

Having developed the building, they are now developing the business.

Natalie explained that she lived in a few pubs in the town run by her family when she was young and had looked back at getting into the catering industry but not with an eye on establishing a business before this.

“Nothing had prepared me for the last three months, it’s been absolutely brutal!” she said. But continuing the feeling of teamwork, several Site employees have not originally been from a catering background but having seen renovation work develop wanted to be a part of the project. Investment in training followed, two weeks of free pizza were given out to potential customers to try, and, as Todmorden is a smokeless zone, got England’s only compliant wood-fired pizza oven specialist Jay Emery, of Dingly Dell Enterprises, to build the oven.

With it came a lot of Jay’s experience in construction and use of these to make authentic pizza. For Olly and Natalie’s part they had, says Natalie, felt there was a demographic in Todmorden which was not currently catered for. The result has been a food restaurant growing in popularity and already subject of a very positive restaurant review in our sister paper The Yorkshire Post.

“I think we have been right about that, and we already have repeat customers,” said Natalie.

You can find out more about the restaurant at www.sitepizzeria.co.uk, and can book by calling 01706 81560.