Converting a lifeboat station in Tenby

Converting a grade II-listed lifeboat station on a South Wales beach proved challenging

By Luke Tebbutt | 7 August 2020

The Grand Designs lifeboat station, located on a very public site and at the mercy of the elements, presented a set of unique challenges. But as its location provides unimpeded view across Tenby harbour, plots don’t get much more spectacular than this.

It took Tim and Philomena O’Donovan seven years just to start the conversion project. This would involve negotiations with the Crown Estate to buy the freehold for the beach strip, a first for the UK, to Tim’s knowledge. They also had to bid against others, including a café and a lobster hatchery, to prove they had the wherewithal to convert and maintain the Grade II-listed lifeboat station.

Lifeboat house on wooden pier overlooking South Wales beach and stunning mountains

The building is Grade-II listed, so the exterior cladding was replaced like for like. Photo: Chris Tubbs

Slow progress

Next came the hard part: getting steel, glass and other heavy materials on site, with no road access – just a coastal path and the beach. Most had to be transported across the sand and craned up the 40ft-high pier, which meant regular dashes between the tides. Not a bad thing necessarily – after all, there’s nothing like the immovable deadline of high tide to encourage speedy work.

However, once all the materials had arrived, things became very slow. Trying to fit straight steel and skirting boards into a warped Edwardian building was a challenge and a half. Subsequently the initial nine-month build time for the Grand Designs lifeboat station would double to 18 months.

Grand Designs lifeboat station wooden walkway with railings leading to red doorway with window porthole

Local residents have been visiting the building since its restoration. Photo: Chris Tubbs