The couple dock up to take Badger on a walk. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

By Kate Harrold


MEET THE British first-time buyers who spent £42K on building a BOAT – less than a FIFTH of what it would’ve cost to purchase a starter home.

Small business owner Sylvie Doleman (25) and joiner Ben Lount (25) from Derbyshire, UK, had been wanting to move in together for some time but with rent and housing prices ever on the rise, stepping onto the property ladder felt like a near impossible venture.

With creativity and a love of travelling on their side, the couple decided to invest in a more affordable home – purchasing a custom built 55-foot narrowboat for £18,000. Whilst the build was in progress, they began to collect electrical equipment (£3,000) including solar panels and an inverter, a stove (£250), a cooker (£250), and a Lister ST3 engine (£450).

The interior of the boat prior to Sylvie and Ben’s overhaul. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

The build took roughly a year allowing Sylvie and Ben plenty of time to plan out how they wanted their dream home to look. They spent a further £20,000 on furnishings and building materials including wood, insulation, bathroom fixtures, kitchen fixtures, paint, tools, utensils, decorative items, and soft furnishings.

The couple managed to keep costs down by sourcing second-hand items and by doing much of the handy work themselves – except for the spray foam insulation. The total cost of the build was around £42,000 – less than a fifth of what they might have paid for a starter home.

Sylvie and Ben’s completed boat finally left the dock in August 2020 and since then, the couple have enjoyed seeing countryside scenes along the Trent and Mersey canal, the Shropshire Union canal, and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal system.

Sylvie and Pen photographed with their dog, Badger. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

“We both wanted to move in together and we also wanted a project as we’re quite creative,” Sylvie said.

“We couldn’t afford a mortgage and we didn’t want to spend money on a small flat that we couldn’t make our own.

“We love to travel to new places, so a narrowboat seemed like the perfect idea. We had the boat built from scratch so we could design where we wanted everything such as the windows.

The finished bedroom. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

“Within the first month of receiving the boat, we had the windows in, the batons and ballast completed, the spray foam insulation installed and at this point, we moved in.

“The next job was getting the fire in as it was pretty cold. From there, we followed up with electrics, the kitchen, the bathroom, and the bedroom.

“Living aboard during the DIY process was a challenge – and getting the materials through a tiny door. As it’s a small space, as soon as you start doing something, everywhere is a mess.

Sylvie pictured on the day they received the finished boat carcass – ready to decorate. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

“We made everything from scratch in Ben’s workshop – sourcing materials second-hand. The panelling was an old church floor, the fire was from a farmhouse, and the engine was from an old fishing boat.

“In August 2020, we finally left the boat yard to become continuous cruisers around the network. It’s a scary time taking your home which you’ve poured so much love into out into the world.”

For now, to adhere with lockdown restrictions, the couple are unable to pleasure-cruise and are situated along the Trent and Mersey in Derbyshire.

The duo’s home certainly comes with a picturesque view. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

When the current rules are eased, Sylvie and Ben hope to travel around the Welsh and Northern canals – and couldn’t recommend narrowboat living more.

“Boat living gives you great freedom,” Sylvie said.

“If we want to do something different, we untie our ropes and move our home.

The couple have solar panels so they can live completely off grid. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

“We’ve both also become much more grateful for things like water, wood, coal, heating and sunny days – so we can put on our record player – which we used to take for granted.

“We have to fill up with water around every two weeks.

“Enjoying the countryside during the pandemic has been a benefit. We usually have to move every two weeks but with the lockdown, we can’t pleasure-cruise. We just travel to the next facilities station.

The couple painted the exterior of the boat Green and added planting and a wooden tree mural. Mediadrumimages / @the_holm_oak

“If you have a dream of wanting to live alternatively, go for it. There is a massive community out there with lots of helpful and supportive people.

“It’s been the best decision we’ve made. We live a conscious life and we’re more eco-friendly now.”

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