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Turning a house into a home

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We need to be ever mindful of what makes a house a home, writes James Pallister

I’ve never been fully convinced of the notion of a ‘memory of a place’, but two recent trips to the North West made me reconsider.

In Manchester, at Mae’s new housing project, I knocked on a door at random and Georgina McDonagh, a 38-year-old beautician and businesswoman, showed me round her flat. McDonagh had waited 12 years to get back to a neighbourhood in which her and her family had grown up.

She chose her new flat because it looks onto the site where her late father used to live. After the houses on the estate were knocked down, she remembers coming across distinctive pieces of crockery in the rubble and dirt. No one else on the estate had that dinner set.

She tells me how her and her dad, an Irish gypsy, used to go travelling in the summertime. Her mum, who didn’t enjoy it, stayed at home and, when he was ill with cancer, her father decided to make a grand carriage for his granddaughter’s first holy communion.

She is now 16, and McDonagh has made a little business renting out the spectacular, Cinderella-style carriage for weddings and events. Jordan and Peter Andre used it to travel to their wedding and the whole cast of Hollyoaks have been in it. Fellow traveller and Celebrity Big Brother winner Paddy Doherty has helped her out promoting it – a nice guy, she says – here he is in a snap on her phone, her and him standing outside her new, architect-designed house.

Much of our enthusiasm for improving our housing stock is articulated in talk of units, habitations per hectare and cost per square metre. We must give room for, and remain mindful of, the stuff of life: the memories, hopes, joys and heartbreak which make a house a home. I’ll pick up the second story in next week’s column.

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