How we turned a dilapidated caravan into a blissful weekend escape
Hands up if, amid the travel uncertainty of the past year, you’ve found yourself wishing you had a neat little holiday home on wheels parked on your driveway. Nothing fancy, just something in which to hit the road, head for the hills and then lay your head, waking up somewhere where wellies – as opposed to a face mask – is the one thing you wouldn’t set off without.
You’re not alone. Nick Lomas, director general of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, says that new members rose by 14 per cent last year, “and that has increased even further this year, with May being our best-ever month”.
Research from the National Caravan Council (NCC) states that buyers who had never owned a touring caravan before accounted for 37 per cent of its registrations last year. And interestingly, in March this year it recorded that the upswing in demand for pre-owned tourers in the retail market was double that of the same month in 2020.
Perhaps an upcycling project of an old tourer has already infiltrated your Instagram feed; the hashtag #caravanrenovation has experienced a 184 per cent year-on-year increase in posts from 2020-21. Those doing away with tired-looking, pine-clad interiors are documenting their paint transformations and soft furnishings makeovers while the rest of us scroll through wistfully.
And it’s these DIY enthusiasts bringing down the average age of the caravan owner – which has been typically dominated by a semi-retired bunch – and raising the cool factor of a carefree, low-carbon getaway.
“We are relatively confident that for most, this is not going to be a short-term fix,” says Louise Wood, spokesperson for the NCC. “Often it [a caravan purchase] was something already being considered, but Covid brought their decision forward. Caravanning also really facilitates the ‘get up and go’ mentality of the growing trend for more frequent, shorter holidays.”
Willerby, the UK’s largest manufacturer of static caravans, usually has three months of its production line filled out. Having taken a year’s worth of orders in a month, that timeline currently stands at 18 months. “We’re seeing younger families made up of 30- to 40-year-olds with young children coming in at the more affordable bottom end of our range,” says Chloe Lidster, the company’s head of marketing.
The lower end starts at around £25,000, and as statics are usually bought with a holiday park plot, this forms part of the cost. “Those who holidayed in them as children in the 1980s are realising that they’re a totally different ball game now,” explains Lidster. “They come with central heating, double glazing, dishwashers, wine coolers… and they can be shared with family or friends to facilitate shared ownership.”
Lidster doesn’t recommend attacking a renovation with quite the same gusto as Emma Palin and friends, while a caravan is in its warranty period (usually 10 years). But if you are lucky enough to have snapped up a roving wreck (and well done, as they are going like proverbial hot cakes), let those who have gone before you inspire you…
Club Jupiter, Margate
‘We saw a static as a creative business opportunity’
Interiors stylist Emma Palin, 30, along with interior designer Whinnie Williams and Telegraph columnist Anna Hart, bought a 10-year-old static Willerby caravan they christened Club Jupiter on a holiday park near their home town of Margate last August.
They’ve spent the past 10 months transforming it into a Palm-Springs-inspired getaway that sleeps six and has just opened for bookings. Models similar to theirs start at around £24,000.
Our reputation precedes us on our caravan park! The community of people here is incredible, and no one has seen anyone do anything quite like what we’ve done to our static. During lockdown, work was a bit dry so myself, Whinnie and Anna would meet weekly to discuss potential business ideas and liked the idea of doing something up.
When this static came up on RightMove something just clicked – we’d all grown up going on caravan holidays and have such fond memories. We saw it as a creative business opportunity. Statics at the cheaper end of the market sell quickly and it’s a first-come first-served when they arrive on site – we raced down to secure Club Jupiter and haven’t looked back.
We wanted to create a unique space where groups of friends could come and have a memorable time, so there’s a huge lounge space for eating, drinking and dancing. With the decor we’ve pushed the boundaries in terms of what people would expect: there’s a room that’s entirely a double bed with a mirrored ceiling! But it’s not style over substance; we’ve been precious about every aspect and that’s why it’s taken so long to complete.
We’ve had a few bumps along the way – like when the wallpaper peeled off the day after putting it up because of the change in temperature. But we got around that by mixing the paste with PVA glue, and with tiles we’ve siliconed them as opposed to using traditional adhesive.
By chance, as Whinnie was salvaging a heart-shaped shower tray out of a skip, she got chatting to a builder who it transpired lived on our site, so we hired him to help with all the things we couldn’t do ourselves.
We’ve loved turning the concept of the caravan from something that’s perceived as boring or for retirees into a supercool holiday. When I was a child you went to a caravan park because you couldn’t afford to go abroad, so celebrating this slice of British culture at a time most people can’t travel feels right.
To follow Club Jupiter's story, follow: @clubjupiteruk on Instagram.
'Mollie' the camper, Garforth
‘We sleep better in our free caravan than we do at home!’
Caroline Gale, 56, from Garforth, near Leeds, and her husband Neil, 57, undertook an 800-mile round trip to Cornwall to obtain Mollie, a two-berth Vanroyce 365-2 being given away for free on Facebook Marketplace last autumn.
We like a bit of a project, and this 28-year-old caravan was certainly one. It had three holes in the roof where it had rained in and so we inherited a lot of damp. The previous owners didn’t want it any more and were paying to store it, so that’s why it was being given away. The toilet didn’t work very well and the floor was spongy, but through making good ourselves, we now have a damp-free caravan that feels brand new inside.
There’s a great community on Instagram – we get a lot of ideas and share tips through it. I’ve used a spice rack as a shelf in the loo because it’s much narrower and I’ve found that Hemway chalk paints are the best and cheaper than other brands.
I’m not sure I’d recommend driving across the country to buy a caravan without seeing it! We had a bit of previous experience because we bought our first caravan at the start of the first lockdown in April 2020.
We usually holiday abroad several times a year and when it looked like that wasn’t going to happen, we hoped a caravan would be a good alternative. Every time restrictions were eased, we’d book a stay at a campsite in the UK.
We eventually sold it because it was too big; next year we plan to travel Europe for four weeks and Mollie, which I named after my grandma, is lighter so it’s easier to tow and will cost much less when it comes to ferry crossings. We’ve been lucky with the weather so far and as we tend to eat outside, we took all the seat cushions out of the seating area and managed to fit a double mattress to create a fixed bed.
We treated ourselves to an expensive mattress and sleep better in the caravan than we do at home! Our longest trip so far has been a six-day road trip to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. We count down the days until we can go away and it’s always even better than we think it’s going to be – you’re in such lovely surroundings and it’s so relaxing.
To follow Caroline's story, follow: @thegoodlifevan on Instagram.
'Winnie Bea' the camper, Wigan
‘I’ve renovated our weekend escape for less than £600’
Rachel Richardson, 38, from Wigan, bought Winnie Bea, a Lunar Lexon for £1,800 via Facebook Marketplace in 2019. Having upcycled the interior, she and husband Mike, 58, and their daughters Nellie, 7, and Olive, 4, regularly retreat to their site on the edge of the Lake District.
Our motivation for buying a caravan was once my eldest daughter had started school and we were quoted £4,500 for a family trip to Turkey. Even with our site fees (which are £850 a year plus £200 for winter storage) and the cost of the van itself plus everything we’ve bought for it, we still haven’t spent that.
Winnie Bea (taken from our daughters’ middle names), was immaculate but dated. I wanted to make it our own so I’ve overhauled the inside on a budget. We’ve relaid vinyl flooring throughout, repainted all the ceilings, walls and cupboards using Frenchic, sprayed the sink, upcycled the cupboards with rattan inserts, tiled the splashback in the kitchen and bathroom with self-adhesives and changed all the light fittings.
I’m one of five children; growing up, a holiday was a luxury and so we always went away to static caravans, but I didn’t have any practical experience as such. Anything we haven’t known how to do, we’ve taught ourselves by watching YouTube tutorials.
I was quoted £500 to have the seats reupholstered, which I couldn’t justify as that’s almost a third of what the caravan cost, so I made my own with throws from The Range, some wadding and plywood – I think it came to £85. In total, I don’t think we’ve spent more than £600, right down to the cutlery and all the essentials.
Winnie Bea came with an awning and it’s like having an extra room. We tend to cook outside on a large Teppanyaki grill – it’s great for barbecuing, making fajitas or pancakes as a breakfast treat, and the girls help prepare the ingredients.
We spend our days out walking or swimming; there’s not much here except for washing facilities but for us it’s all about exploring the outdoors rather than sitting in a clubhouse.
The girls sleep in the dining area, which converts into a double bed, and our king size bed is separated from them by a sliding screen. We feel so lucky to have this escape. What’s great is that having a permanent site means we can come here at the drop of a hat. Often we’ll set off after school on a Friday and can be here in time for tea.
To follow the adventures of Winnie, follow: @for_the_love_of_winnie
What to consider when buying a second-hand caravan
⇢ Where to buy
From Facebook Marketplace to online auctions, there are many places to scour for a bargain. The Caravan and Motorhome Club has a classifieds section on its website, as well as a comprehensive buying guide online for what to look out for.
⇢ Take a damp meter with you
Damp is the curse of every used caravan. Take a meter with you and be cautious if all the windows are open – it’s a common trick employed to mask the smell.
⇢ Any holes?
For example in the floor or roof. Often a seller won’t tell you.
⇢ Tap into your manufacturer for help
If you’re struggling to locate something specific, like a light fitting or mattress, they might be able to point you in the direction of a supplier.
⇢ Embrace the community
Follow hashtags and accounts on Instagram for hacks and DIY tips from seasoned renovators, as well as YouTube for tutorials.