‘Everything’s slow’: Behind the doors of a church converted into a luxe staycation

On a quiet block in the Pyrenees town of Lexton, Grayling’s Gift is a church conversion that encourages quiet contemplation.

With original stained glass windows, a cavernous peaked ceiling, no TV, and very patchy internet, owners Annie and Shane Brereton say it’s an atmosphere that inspires people to relax.

And the boutique accommodation has a vintage clawfoot bath, wood-burning heater and king-sized bed with luxury linen, just to nudge that unwinding process along.

The original stained-glass windows remain intact. Photo: Supplied

“Everything’s slow,” Annie says. “There are no teabags, everything’s about brewing tea, beautiful watercolour paints, books, and things to really encourage people just to slow down.”

It took about 10 months for the Breretons to turn the run-down, 19th-century church into a luxurious open-plan guest house.

“The floors were termite-ridden – you couldn’t even walk on the floor,” Annie recalls.

The conversion in progress. Photo: Supplied

The couple would drive up from their Melbourne home on weekends, sleeping overnight in their converted van so they could do all the work themselves.

Annie and Shane were enamoured with the church from the moment they saw it. Found via an internet search of Victorian properties under 100K (though it sold for more), the couple became its owners within 30 minutes of arriving to see it in person.

“Absolutely no due diligence,” Annie jokes. “We got home and went ‘what have we done?’”

Annie and Shane purchased the original church 30 minutes after first seeing it. Photo: Supplied

But Shane, who’s “an absolute jack of all trades”, was soon at work cleaning bat droppings out of the roof, replacing the rotten floors with salvaged boards from two old houses in Melbourne, and fashioning kitchen cabinetry out of the leftover timber.

Recycled materials are the couple’s first preference when renovating – the church is their second project together.

Annie says their approach is based on “the overarching ethos of reuse and repurpose”, despite the extra time that requires.

The ethos of the build was to reuse and repurpose wherever possible. Photo: Supplied

“We’re both very focused on sustainability and reuse of materials, so renovating old places is right up our alley.”

A closer look at the individual pieces inside the church confirms the lengths the couple went to in finding salvaged pieces they loved.

Corner seating where guests take their meals was made from two original church pews, which Shane transformed into a bespoke piece of furniture. “We’re really proud of using those again,” Annie says.

Grayling’s Gift. Photo: Supplied

The square kitchen sink “we pulled out of a house in Brighton”, and the tiny timber shelf that holds dishwashing detergent was once used to support parishioners’ hymn books.

“That’s what we do,” Annie says. “[The timber] was there, it needed to be reused, and we just saw no need or no value in buying new things.”

And she was thrilled to find a hymn board at the Amazing Mill Markets, 40 minutes away in Ballarat, after searching far and wide for the right thing.

“It’s actually got our little arch windows – exactly the same shape – so it really looks like it’s an original piece even though it’s not. It was such a great find.”

Annie says many of the original church’s artefacts had been removed prior to sale, but there are some pieces they’ve managed to retain, such as bibles from the 1800s.

Members of the local Lexton community have also helped them preserve historic church pieces, particularly their next-door neighbours, former parishioners now in their 80s and “just beautiful souls” who’ve enjoyed seeing lights back on in the church.

Annie says she and Shane are very grateful the community has been supportive of what they’ve done. On auction day, when “pretty much all of Lexton’s population of 200 were at the auction”, she understood how invested locals were in the future of the church – formerly St Mary’s Anglican – after almost 150 years.

“Everybody came up to us afterwards and they were so excited.”

Although the Breretons don’t live there, Grayling’s Gift (named for William Grayling, donor of the church’s land) has become central to Annie and Shane’s lives.

This year they left Melbourne to move closer; their home is now a rural property outside Ballarat, where they can be hands-on hosts and offer a personalised experience for Grayling’s guests.

Bookings have been solid, and Annie’s had to block out a few days in the calendar so she and Shane can do some maintenance at the church, and drink in some of that serenity for themselves.

“It has an energy in it that is just divine,” she says.

Thank you for visiting My Local Pages and reading this story on “What’s On in the City of Brisbane” titled “‘Everything’s slow’: Behind the doors of a church converted into a luxe staycation”. This post was presented by MyLocalPages as part of our local and national events & news stories services.

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Prince Philip’s custom Land Rover: Inside the converted Defender 130

An outdoorsman by birth and by nature, when Prince Philip is escorted to his final resting place it will be in the back of one of Britain’s most iconic vehicles.

Buckingham Palace has confirmed the prince instructed to forego the traditional black hearse in favour of a Land Rover he had custom designed himself.

The leading set of wheels is a converted Land Rover Defender 130 Gun Bus built by local specialists Foley’s.

Known as the oldest family-run company in the world dedicated to the Defender brand, Foley’s delivered a hand-built Defender 130 Gun Bus for the duke to use at Sandringham in 2016.

It’s widely anticipated the duke’s gun bus will be modified to carry his coffin, or another of Foley’s creations – a 130 hearse conversion – will be used.

In traditional British tradition, a “gun bus” is a car or tractor-driven box in which members of a shooting party sit as they are driven around an estate to new shooting locations.

“We have just delivered a totally rebuilt 130 Defender Gun Bus to the Duke of Edinburgh for use on one of the Estates,” Foley’s wrote on Facebook in 2016.

“Built to his specifications in the traditional Deep Bronze Green to an ‘As New’ standard. Built onto a galvanised chassis and hand-built rear body.”

There is some speculation the Defender has been converted to an electric or hybrid powertrain, in keeping with the Duke’s requests for an eco-friendly send off.

Royal Family’s Long History with Jaguar Land Rover

The Royal Family is no stranger to Land Rover’s long lineage of vehicles.

His connection with the car is perhaps most well known for his 2019 crash in which he overturned a late-model Range Rover, but Prince Philip has driven Land Rovers for much of his life.

For her 90th birthday, the Queen and Prince Philip rode in a custom open-top maroon Range Rover powered by a hybrid engine to reduce fumes.

Her Majesty has been known as an avid Defender fan, with approximately 30 vehicles currently used on Royal estates.

Thank you for dropping in to My Local Pages and reading this news update involving State and Federal News and updates named “Prince Philip’s custom Land Rover: Inside the converted Defender 130”. This news update was presented by MyLocalPages Australia as part of our news aggregator services.

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Couples who ditched city life to live in converted buses and how they saved a fortune

You wait ages for one converted bus and then three come along all at once.

From a 79-seater in the North West to a double decker in the South East… not to mention a former school bus in Wales.

Not so much Location, Location, Location – more Vocation, Vocation, Vocation.

These intrepid couples say their luxury conversions provide a better lifestyle and, with average UK house prices at £256,000, save them a fortune.

Here’s how three couple made a good fare of creating a home…

Quitting city life to live off grid

Ailsa and Paul converted a old school bus into a home

Ailsa Gardner, 33, quit city life in Liverpool to convert a giant American school bus.

She and boyfriend Paul, 37, have spent a year living off-grid in leafy Cheshire with golden retrievers Berg and Mari.

The work took them 13 weeks and their monthly rent is now £400 – half of what they paid before.

The bus comes with living quarters – but the dogs are optional

Ailsa, a PR manager, said: “We haven’t done this because we have no other options, we’ve done it because it’s a better way of life.

“We’ve lived in penthouse apartments in Melbourne and city centre flats in Liverpool and are happiest living on the bus with our dogs.”

The luxury conversion comes complete with a hot shower, washing machine, flatscreen TV, double bed, wood burners, fridge and stove – and is parked up next to the couple’s private hot tub.

Busting out some moves in the kitchen

Ailsa, originally from Australia, added: “House prices are ridiculous so sometimes people have to do things like this to get themselves ahead, but it’s not a sacrifice.

“If I was to spend the rest of my days living like this then it wouldn’t be a bad existence.”

Living for free on land owned by dad

Ever wanted to live in a London double decker bus?

Her thoughts are echoed by logistics co-ordinator Charlie Lumbard, 25.

She lives on a double decker with her boyfriend Luke Blackmore, 27, an insurance claims handler, and their pet goats, Monty and Darwin.

The couple, from Chelmsford, Essex, bought the former London bus for £2,500 and spent £15,000 and 12 months on renovations. They moved in in 2017.

This London bus conversion comes with it’s own bathroom

While they used to pay £100 a month board to their parents, they now live for free on land owned by Charlie’s dad.

She said: “If somebody told me I’d be living on a double decker bus I would have laughed, but it is the best thing I’ve done. We love to travel and didn’t want to be tied down with a mortgage.”

The conversion features a full kitchen, a log burner and even a free-standing Victorian bath, which was lifted on to the top deck by a forklift truck through the emergency exit window.

A free standing Victorian bath – and your very own pond

It’s been a labour of love for the couple, who were inspired by George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces TV show.

Charlie added: “It was quite an impulsive decision to live off-grid but luckily my dad had an empty plot of land so we had somewhere to set up.

“At first it was going to be a caravan, then it was going to be a shipping container and then we went to see the bus and fell in love with it.

You can have all the creature comforts you need – on a bus

“We weren’t keen on getting a mortgage. I don’t think either of us would have predicted we’d be living in a tin bus in the middle of a field, but here we are and we absolutely love it.

“I hoped we’d find some money stuffed down the back of the seats seeing as though we had to rip out fifty-odd of them. But we didn’t find a penny!

“It was fully seated with handrails and bells and all the rest of it.

Everything you need – but in a bus

“It’s now fully plumbed, has full electric, flushable toilet and we’re kitted out with everything we need.

“For two winters we didn’t have a log burner and that was unbearable, but now we’re nice and toasty and we take our little luxuries where we can.

“It’s still fully drivable if we decided to take off but for now, we’re settled in for the foreseeable. Living in a house just doesn’t appeal to me. I can’t imagine going back.”

All aboard a dilapidated 40ft American school bus

Talib & Chloe have made a bus into their own home

Nature-lovers Chloe Massey, 26, and Talib Ahmed, 27, paid £8,000 for a dilapidated 40ft American school bus and spent six months transforming it in the first lockdown.

Just six weeks ago they swapped their £600 monthly house rental in Chloe’s home town of Frome, Somerset, for a £200-a-month woodland plot in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Chloe said: “It’s a wonderful sense of freedom with no worries about rent or bills and we have everything we need here on the bus.”

Talib and Chloe in the early start of their renovations

Life on four wheels isn’t a new phenomenon – they travelled around Australia in a camper van four years ago.

Chloe added: “We loved getting lost in nature and after touring Australia, we went on to travel around Scandinavia in a Ford minibus.

“Converting the school bus was really on another level, but we did everything ourselves and we couldn’t be happier with how it’s all turned out.”

There’s a lot more space than you think in a bus with now seats

Chloe and Talib, from Norfolk, fitted a deep-soaking Japanese bath, a log burner, electric oven and solar panels.

To raise funds, Chloe and Talib design and renovate camper vans for other wannabe travellers.

“We created our business, Indigo & Olive, because people don’t want to spend all of their money just getting by,” said Chloe.

“We can literally drive off in our home any time we like. It’s total freedom.”

And there could soon be more on board, as Chloe added: “We can have a family now and feel some sense of security. I think a kid would love this type of lifestyle.”

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Alexandria converted warehouse breaks suburb record ahead of auction by $600,000

Alexandria has a new suburb record with the sale of 111-113 Buckland Street.

A converted warehouse with three bedrooms has shattered property records in the inner city suburb of Alexandria.

The property, with dual street access, sold prior to its scheduled auction on Saturday for $3.6m to a buyer from the inner west.

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This is $600,000 above the previous $3m Alexandria suburb record set with the 2014 sale of 127 Buckland Street, and another $3m sale earlier this year at 10 Renwick Street.

Real Estate

The property has three bedrooms and plenty of warehouse features.

The strong result for 111-113 Buckland Street was also $300,000 above the price guide The Agency’s Brad Gillespie had been quoting throughout the campaign.

Mr Gillespie said it was strong campaign with more than 100 groups from across Sydney inspecting the warehouse.

“The combination of it being very spacious and almost twice the width of any terrace in the area made it popular,” he said.

With 416sqm of internal space, the two-storey home has multiple open plan living spaces, a designer kitchen and grand bedrooms. It also features soaring raked ceilings, a marble ensuite and a four-car garage.

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There is a large studio area.

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It broke the suburb record by $600,000.

The entertaining terrace at the rear of the property backs onto Buckland Lane.

The strong sale comes as the property market is seeing confidence levels among buyers grow off the back of the coronavirus situation looking increasingly under control in Australia and favourable economic measures.

Mr Gillespie said the market has undergone a major shift in the past two months with buyers and sellers looking to transact.

“It is very positive at the moment, and is probably just as strong as what we saw last spring,” he said.

“People are looking to get on with their lives and don’t want to sit around waiting.”


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Former Leichhardt Salvation Army hall converted into character home for sale after 23 years

A converted Salvation Army hall at 54-56 Carlisle Street, Leichhardt, is for sale.

With soaring period ceilings, a Zen-like garden and unique fixtures, this converted Salvation Army hall is unlike most inner west houses.

Built in circa 1916, the former Salvation Army hall also has engineered flooring, a 200-year-old front door from Argentina and a commercial kitchen.

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The current owners undertook a renovation and extension of complex after acquiring it from the charitable organisation 23 years ago in derelict condition.

Listed with Cobden & Hayson’s Ben Southwell, 54-56 Carlisle Street is for sale with a $4.2m guide.

Mr Southwell said the owners have done an incredible job to ensure the converted hall still retains plenty of character.

“They wanted to do something sympathetic to the original design,” he said.

“Everything has been in such a way to ensure it takes nothing away from the hall like the extension, which blends effortlessly into the rest of the hall.”

Real Estate

The kitchen has a commercial gas stove.

Real Estate

There is an outdoor garden.

The four-bedroom house on 378sqm retains original Salvation Army signage, restored ornate cathedral ceilings and a vast open plan living and dining space. The kitchen features stone benches, a commercial gas cooker and privacy screens to shelter it from the rest of the hall.

Behind this is two floors of bedrooms, including a lower level suite with a designer bath and space for a large bed. Upstairs has two bedrooms with built-in wardrobes and a shared bathroom.

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The home retains original Salvation Army signage.

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The main bedroom has plenty of space.

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Mr Southwell said the garden stands out from most other converted warehouses in the inner west.

“Most conversions don’t have any genuine outdoor space, but the owners have designed a garden with north to east aspect and a fish pond,” he said.

Other features of the property include off-street parking for two cars, gas heating, ducted airconditioning and an outdoor barbecue kitchen.

Real Estate

The home is being offered for the first time in 23 years.

Real Estate

There is indoor outdoor living at the rear.

Mr Southwell said this house will attract a different type of buyer than what a typical home in Leichhardt would.

“We’ve had people who were not actively looking to buy, but want to jump on this one because of the history and significance of the hall,” he said.

Before the current owners undertook the transformation, Mr Southwell said the building was used a photography studio and an antique dealer.


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South Australia’s private Flinders Island converted into a haven for threatened species

A remote farming island in the Great Australian Bight is being converted to a safe haven to protect existing birdlife and reintroduce priority mammal species.

Flinders Island is 30 kilometres off the coast from Elliston, South Australia and is privately owned by the Woolford family.

The island, which is the equivalent of 6000 football ovals, has been used for farming purposes by previous families in the past. Whaling and sealing stations were also based on the island, dating back to the 1820s.

Jonas Woolford was very young when his parents bought the island more than forty years ago.

“It’s a merino sheep station, we have run sheep out there, and we also have a house on the island that we rent out for tourism purposes,” Mr Woolford said.

The island has traditionally been used for sheep grazing and grain growing.(Supplied: Woolford family)

“The number of sheep out there is quite low at the moment, there may be a handful there that we keep so the grass is under control to help maintain fire breaks.”

Mr Wooldford said historically, a lot of unwanted pests like mice, rats and cats were brought to the island.

“We’re not sure how cats got onto the island, but we believe mice have been here more recently, unfortunately.”

Mr Woolford said over the years many different families had worked on the island, taking a lot of gear and infrastructure.

An old photograph of men unloading wool on a barge with a tractor on the beach receiving the stock.
Flinders Island barge unloading wool on the beach at Elliston in the late 1960s.(Supplied: John Lewis)

“[But] that’s going to be one of the big things going forward,” he said.

“To ensure that biosecurity measures are adhered to.”

‘Lasting environment legacy’

The Woolford family recently agreed to place a conservation agreement over 3,400 hectares — the majority of the island — with the State Government.

Both parties will establish the project, which has received a combined $2.67 million from the State and Federal Government.

Starting immediately, it will restore native habitats and reintroduce species like bandicoots and threatened native rodents.

A baiting program to eradicate pests will be underway by 2021.

South Australian Minister for Environment David Speirs said the project would also have a huge impact on the sustainability and population of native birdlife.

“Birdlife is probably one of the most impressive parts of the natural world when it comes to offshore islands,” Mr Speirs said.

A seal swimming in crystal blue water.
In the early 1820s, the island had whaling and sealing stations.(Supplied: Woolford family)

From farming to ecotourism

The conservation project is also expected to open up nature-based tourism opportunities on the island.

“Families before us used to crop and grow grain on the island which is hard to believe — it was quite a farming location.

Mr Woolford said it was much easier to move farmed produce off the island historically, when the coast was serviced by many ships and vessels.

Photo of the edge of an island that drops off to a large blue ocean on a clear day.
Mr Woolford says priority mammal species like bandicoots will be reintroduced to the island.(Supplied: Woolford family)

“Now [the island’s location] makes it very difficult to farm out there because of those extra costs to get stock back to land. So that’s why going down this way,” he said.

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