Think the contestants have a daunting task ahead of them? Spare a thought for those behind the scenes! We chat with the show's Executive Producer, Julian Cress, to find out what's ahead.
"We always bite off more than we can chew," says The Block's Executive Producer, Julian Cress
How did you guys come to purchase the property?
The Gatwick was listed for sale probably a couple of years ago now. We were initially interested, but we couldn’t pay what they were asking. It was taken off the market for a while, and we resigned ourselves to not getting there. But we were recently approached by the family who own it.
Yes. The daughter of one of the twins (who own the building) actually got in touch with me, and said that her Mother and Aunty were really starting to struggle with managing it. They were getting older, and they were having a lot of issues with the tenants - they were exhausted. They had performed an incredible service to the community over decades of work there, but they just couldn’t do it anymore.
Which is fair enough. So you offered to take it off their hands?
They said, ‘Is there any way The Block would be interested in purchasing the building?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I thought it would be a fantastic project for us, and we were happy to help rescue them as well.
The Gatwick's dilapidated facade, which will soon be brought back to life courtesy of our contestants. Photo: 774 ABC Melbourne, Simon Leo Brown
What year was this?
This was late 2016. And then that began a long conversation, which probably went on for about six months, at least. Ultimately, the challenge was that there were a number of long-term residents of The Gatwick who had been living there for decades in some cases.
And you needed to re-home them?
That’s right. The building had really fallen into disrepair and these people - they had nowhere else to go. By that stage, they were certainly not living well, in a very dilapidated building. They were sharing bathrooms with drug addicts, and it was pretty untenable. So we started working really closely with the State Government and the local council, plus the various stakeholders within the not-for-profits within St Kilda - that process took a good nine months.
When did you guys actually take possession?
We didn’t actually purchase the building until we found alternative accommodation for everyone inside, so we actually took ownership around August of 2017, and then submitted our plans to council for renovating. We then started structural work at the end of last year - that meant we had a very short time frame to get it ready for filming in February.
What was involved in getting it up to scratch?
Well, we discovered once we owned the building that it was structurally in a pretty bad way. So it required a huge amount of preliminary work, putting in structural steel to hold it all together. Obviously it had 80 hotel rooms in there, so it was a building that was held together by a lot of internal walls and we wanted to create open-plan apartment living. Once you start taking out all the internal walls, that requires a lot of structural work to hold the building together. Thankfully we were able to get it all done in time for the contestants coming in.
You guys don’t make things easy for yourselves...
We always bite off more than we can chew. But, actually, we didn’t know going into it that it was going to be the biggest construction project we had ever attempted. But we found out pretty quickly once we owned it! But that’s The Block for you!
So why should we all be getting excited about this year’s renovations?
It’s interesting, the scale of the building - it’s huge. And the apartments that we have created for the competition this year are just massive in size. They are nearly 300 square metres each. To put it in perspective, we had contestants in this series doing a room in a week that is larger than the ENTIRE apartments we did in Series One. You take the entire apartment that Gav and Waz did in 2003 in 12 weeks - that whole apartment would fit inside the living/dining room this year!
You don’t mind a challenge!
No. But that certainly didn’t only create a big challenge for us, it also creates a massive challenge for the contestants. Because, essentially, they are doing more floor space in six days than Gav and Waz or Phil and Amity did in 12 weeks!
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