Licence to Alter nightmare to dream accessible bathroom
Louise & Neal in their New Fine & Able accessible bathroom
Last year, engaged couple, Louise and Neal, found their dream home; a beautiful third-floor flat in South West London with a beautiful view. The only problem was a dark and inaccessible bathroom that needed changing before Neal could use it.
However, their estate agent assured them they would be able to turn it into a level access wetroom, so they put in an offer and began the adventure of starting a home together.
Appointing Fine & Able
When Louise came across Fine & Able, she knew this was the company to help them with their bathroom.
"Before we found Fine & Able, all the options for accessible bathrooms seemed to look like an airport toilet. Functional for one use now and then, but this is our home, we have to live with it every day," Louise says.
Neal uses a variety of mobility equipment to support his muscle-wasting condition affecting his core muscles, so they needed to remove the existing stepped shower cubicle and change the layout. “He uses the whole lot – walking stick, frame, and a scooter that we call his passion wagon!” says Louise.
“Alison [Fine & Able Design Consultant] helped us to make the best use of the space. Unlike other places, Fine & Able listened to how I use the bathroom and where I wanted supports,” says Neal.
Louise and Neal visited the Fine & Able showroom in Twickenham to sample products and finishes, but as the country went in and out of covid lockdowns during this time, much of the process happened online. “Alison helped us to imagine what everything would look like with 3D visuals,” says Louise. “The bathroom was so dark and dingy before. Alison helped us make something light and airy,” she continues.
Licence to Alter
The couple were excited about getting the bathroom fitted. But then everything suddenly ground to a halt.
The managing agent for their building rejected permission to adapt. It was the beginning of a battle that ended up lasting six months.
“The freeholder sprung a Licence to Alter on us,” says Louise. The couple had to involve a solicitor and surveyor to help them with this long-winded legal process. Louise says, “I would come home every night to have to go through emails and requests for information to convince them”. Every contact seemed to be more costs and complications. “It was exhausting,” Louise says. “It felt like, at every turn, the freeholder was going out of their way to put stumbling blocks in the way to put us off."
"To the freeholder it was just a shower. To us, it felt like they were saying we couldn't get married because we couldn't live together”
"We could have gone for something else, perhaps a ground floor flat, but as a mobility scooter user, the options for accessible flats are limited,” Neal says. "Ground floor flats tend to be older stock needing a lot of work or are taken up by retail these days". When they found this flat on the third floor, they fell in love with it and the views. "Why shouldn't we have a place we love like everyone else," Louise says. Neal thinks if it hadn't been for Louise's tenacity, it wouldn't have happened. He wonders how many people have been in similar circumstances but given up. Louise is modest, however, and says it was simply that at every stage, despite spiralling costs, it was cheaper and less hassle to keep going than to sell up. They simply didn't have another choice.
Neal thinks the freeholder's reluctance was partly because of the myths surrounding wetrooms. In reality, if they are correctly fitted, they are incredibly safe and watertight. Neal says, "A washing machine causes more likelihood of leakage than a wetroom".
"Fine & Able made it their mission to help us and worked hard liaising with the surveyors and management of the development where we live," Louise says. "Fine & Able could not be faulted and did not stop supporting us. They were exemplary throughout, always staying in contact and advising and communicating via telephone," continues Neal.
After many months of fighting, Louise and Neal finally got the go-ahead.
At last, Louise and Neal's bathroom has gone from dull, difficult, and dingy to light, airy and accessible. Most importantly, Neal can finally move in.
Their humour and warmth throughout the situation are testaments to the couple's character and determination. Louise and Neal even invited the Fine & Able team round for an opening ceremony to officially declare the finished bathroom open for business featuring a toilet roll ribbon and champagne! They joke that they will add a commemorative plaque to the room too!
"The opening ceremony was a thank you to Fine & Able for coming on the journey with us and seeing and sharing the frustrations", the couple says.
Louise & Neal say, "We hope no one else has the same degree of hassle. If our experience can in any way help others, we are very happy".
Their top tips to others in a similar situation are:
- Leave plenty of time.
- Go to the top. Get it in writing from the managing agent and the Freeholder that you will be allowed to make adaptations before committing to buy. Otherwise, you risk lots of solicitor and surveyor costs further down the line.
- Work with a specialist company like Fine & Able who can show credentials about their expertise, and you can be confident everything will be fitted to the highest quality.
- It's not a small project. Move out if you possibly can, especially if you live in a small flat. Louise had to manage living (and working) at the same time as the installation in lockdown.
- Celebrate the mini victories along the way.
- Keep going! It's worth it in the end.
A note from the Fine & Able team
We are delighted to have been able to help Louise and Neal and get them the dream bathroom to match their dream home. Organising a wedding will be a breeze now! Our very best to Louise and Neal for the future and our thanks for sharing their story.
Louise & Neal toasting their new accessible bathroom with Fine & Able Design Consultant, Alison.
Get in touch
If you would like to work with Fine & Able to make your bathroom more accessible, get in touch to book an appointment.