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We live in ‘Caravan City’…locals moan about rubbish piles & our beds are like coffins but it’s too pricey to rent a flat

WITH its expansive fields, river valley views and tree-lined paths, it’s easy to see why David Attenborough once called the Bristol Downs the “jewel in the city’s crown”.

But locals are despairing over the growing number of people choosing to make the lush green area their home – by setting up camp in vans and motorhomes.

Adrian SherrattA scenic area of Bristol has been dubbed ‘Caravan City’[/caption]

Adrian SherrattIt’s now the city in the UK with the largest number of people living in vans and caravans[/caption]

In 2024 the scenic south west city was not named in the annual Sunday Times Best Places to Live round-up for the first time in the guide’s 12-year history – having previously topped the list in 2017 – in part due to its “ruthless” property market.

According to 2023 figures, Bristol is the most expensive place to live in Britain outside London.

It’s the lack of affordable homes that have forced hundreds of people to give up on conventional living and turn to a life on wheels.

A recent report from Bristol City Council says there are now up to 800 inhabitants of vans, motorhomes and caravans around the Downs – made up of Clifton Down and Durdham Down.

It’s now the city with the largest number of van dwellers in the UK, and angry residents say they are “disgusted”.

The free parking makes life easier for those living in the 650 vehicles – a figure which has quadrupled since 2020 – in the area, recently dubbed ‘Caravan City’.

Helen Morris, 79, has been walking the Downs area for 40 years, and lived there since 2013. 

She tells The Sun: “I think it’s disgusting that they are allowed to live here. 

“They’ve parked directly on our road in the past and I’ve called the police because of the noise and mess.

“They make such a mess with their rubbish, I’d like them to disappear and think the council should do something about it.

“I don’t feel safe to walk over the Downs anymore. 

“The people who live here don’t want them there at all. It’s ruining the area.”

Fuel costs £7.50 a month

Maths tutor Callum is one of the people 40 local residents have petitioned to have removed from the parking area where he lives.  

A couple of years ago he was paying £600 for a Bristol house share, but was working so hard to make ends meet he suffered from burnout and retreated home to Scotland.

He then returned to Bristol and has converted an old horse box into a stylish mobile home, featuring double-glazed patio doors at the back, a custom-made bath and storage racks for his bike and guitar.

Callum, who did not wish to give his surname or age, says: “I decided to buy a van to beat the housing crisis. 

“I plan to save for a house or a piece of land somewhere, but it might take me 10 years.

The people who live here don’t want them there at all. It’s ruining the area

Helen Morris, Downs resident

“I like the freedom and the idea of van life, but it’s a lot of work.

“My electricity in the summer is free. In the winter I run a small petrol generator which costs about £7.50 a month, and get free water from the garage. 

“I have money set aside for if things go wrong – it could be the engine or a parking ticket.

“Here we’re very lucky – you get five hours and then you’re supposed to move, but the parking wardens don’t come back and check.

Adrian SherrattA lack of affordable homes that have forced hundreds of people to give up on conventional living and turn to a life on wheels[/caption]

Adrian SherrattMaths tutor Callum is one of the people 40 local residents have petitioned to have removed from the parking area where he lives[/caption]

“Sometimes people get charged £25, but only every couple of months.

“I have a bike and run a car, which I use to get water, dispose of any waste and do my shopping.

“I have a wood-burning stove and a bathtub which is like a big plant pot. I fill it up with two or three litres which goes through the outlet to a pump, pushes it through a series of filters and a pressure relief valve, goes to a back boiler of my wood burning stove, where it has direct contact with the flames.

“It then goes round a copper coil around the flue. I built it myself – the water circles back to the bathtub so I can have an infinite, luxurious bath.

“A lot of the money I earn is going to my pension – I had zero pension because I’ve always been spending it on rent.”

Different culture

Adrian SherrattCallum says he likes the freedom and the idea of van life, but it’s a lot of work[/caption]

Adrian SherrattHe’s been clever with storage and even has his own custom-made bath[/caption]

Callum says the ‘caravan people’ are different to the ‘van dwellers’.

“It’s a slightly different culture,” he explains. 

“Van dwellers tend to be explorers – we come and go, creating more space for other people. Generally we’re a bit tidier and cleaner.

“I think the van people have chosen this life, while the caravan people have been forced into this life, that’s not their fault.

“I do quite like them, although they’re different from me.

Van dwellers tend to be explorers – we come and go, creating more space for other people. Generally we’re a bit tidier and cleaner than caravan people

Callum, van dweller

“Van dwellers risk getting tarnished by the same brush, although some of the caravan dwellers will pull other people up over mess or rubbish, and they have disciplined a few people and threatened to tow their caravan away.

“It’s not as comfortable as living in a house, there are sacrifices, and there’s more jobs involved, but I quite like that because you see how much waste and rubbish you create.

“It’s more of a tangible life.”

Anthony Evans, 27, was brought up in a van and says while he could afford to rent a house or flat, he doesn’t want to.

His caravan is one in a row of around 10, although some are padlocked and have large piles of bin bags piled up nearby.

Adrian SherrattCallum says the ‘caravan people’ are different to the ‘van dwellers’[/caption]

Adrian SherrattAnthony Evans was brought up in a van and says while he could afford to rent a house or flat, he doesn’t want to[/caption]

The freelance steel fabricator says: “I’ve lived here for about six months. I was born in a truck on a site and when I was about six, my mum moved back into a house.

“When I was about 13, I moved into a caravan on my own.

“I love it. We try and keep the place clean and tidy and do our recycling, and I’ve asked the council to provide more bins we can use so we don’t attract rats.

“I’m only on Bristol Downs because we don’t get moved on and there’s a bit of a community, although not as much as some places.

“Before I’d have been in a yard, unused warehouse or a field somewhere, but would always get moved on.

“I pay very little to live. I obviously don’t have rent, the fuel for my wood burner is from the local woods, my generator costs about £25 a month in fuel, and food depends if I’m eating out or cooking here.

“I think it costs me about £200 a month to live, and because of the lifestyle I’ve got money saved. 

“I have enough to rent a house, but I don’t want to pay rent or bills and I don’t want to make some other landlord rich when I’m working hard.

“I’ve got friends who let me use their bathrooms and washing machines and my post goes there. 

“My two children who live with their mum come and stay here sometimes. They like it, we go in and out of each other’s caravans. It’s a bit like a little village.

“It might not be what some people would call a home, but it’s home for me.”

Made homeless by landlord

Adrian SherrattThe number of caravans is small compared to the number of converted vans[/caption]

Adrian SherrattSome caravans are padlocked and have large piles of bin bags piled up nearby[/caption]

The number of caravans is small compared to the number of converted vans, which range from old horse boxes to big, brightly coloured trucks inhabited by entire families. 

A flatbed truck with a port-a-cabin attached was among the more unusual portable properties we spotted. 

Yoga instructor and massage therapist Amy Dickson, 33, took out a loan to buy her £19,000 motorhome.

We had two months to find somewhere, but when you have no savings it’s a bit like, ‘What do I do?’ We were behind on bills and just muddling through. Two of the people I lived with are now homeless – one of them is parked over there living in his car

Amy Dickson

Amy became homeless when her landlord evicted her and the other four people she house-shared with.

She has put most of her belongings in storage, and makes good use of the small space, creating a bohemian vibe with incense and plants.

Amy explains: “I house-shared for about four years, but it wasn’t a great house because it was covered in mould. I think the landlord wants to do it up and sell it.

“We had two months to find somewhere, but when you have no savings it’s a bit like, ‘What do I do?’ 

UK’S MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES TO LIVE IN

A 2023 study by chartered surveyors Stokemont found these cities are the most expensive in the UK to live in…

London (£3,075.14 – estimated monthly cost of living for a single person in the city centre, including rent)
Bristol (£1,913.86)
Edinburgh (£1,735.90)
Manchester (£1,682.63)
Leeds (£1,604.77)
Belfast (£1,567.48)
Newcastle (£1,557.90)
Southampton (£1,547.50)
Glasgow (1,539.22)
Liverpool (£1,532.77)

“We were behind on bills and just muddling through. Two of the people I lived with are now homeless – one of them is parked over there living in his car.

“The other one is living with a partner for the short-term.”

Amy says the first night she spent on her own – after a fellow homeless friend moved out – was an experience, but she loved it.

“I couldn’t believe how noisy it was, lorries and traffic passing all through the night,” she recalls.

“But I liked it because it’s like white noise. It’s nice to hear there are people around – if I was somewhere really quiet I’d be terrified.

Adrian SherrattAmy Dickson took out a loan to buy her £19,000 motorhome[/caption]

Adrian SherrattAmy says the first night she spent on her own – after a fellow homeless friend moved out – was an experience, but she loved it[/caption]

“The bed’s kind of coffin-like above the driving seats, but it’s cosy.

“I have a hose I can fill up at my sister’s house which holds 20 litres of water, which lasts five days with the taps and shower.

“Until I can save enough to have solar panels and the inverter, I’ll have to travel to campsites where I can charge. I got a quote for £2,500, which I can’t afford.”

Amy says while she’s not sure where she’ll end up, she’s excited to be finally living on her own, having previously been unable to afford to do so.

“I can find out who I am when I’m not trying to people-please,” she says.

The bed’s kind of coffin-like above the driving seats, but it’s cosy

Amy Dickson

Amy admits the amount she’s paying back on her loan probably costs the same amount as rent, but she feels more secure knowing “no-one’s going to be able to kick me out anymore”.

“This is my space away from working and grinding. This is mine,” she says.

“Now I can go on the trips I couldn’t afford the petrol and the accommodation for before.” 

The council’s official policy states that it will support and manage vehicle dwellers in places that are “low impact” to local residents – including areas such as the Downs.

Adrian SherrattThe council’s official policy states that it will support and manage vehicle dwellers in places that are ‘low impact’ to local residents – including areas such as the Downs[/caption]

Adrian SherrattSome residents argue the lines of caravans spoil the views[/caption]

The report said there should be a city-wide response and accepted that people living that way is not “a passing fad” but also “not a problem which needs to be solved, and not something which can be ignored”.

It added: “Vehicle dwellers are citizens of our city and need to be respected and represented as such, with equal access to services as would be available to any other resident or visitor.”

Recommendations include investigating providing more permanent sites, setting up a task group to explore options, and offering training to elected members on the subject.

But some 40 residents have written to Bristol City Council council slamming its report as “woefully inadequate”.

Some complain about a lack of traffic enforcement while others have concerns over rubbish, sanitation and the look of the Downs.

But others are sympathetic to their plight. Resident Kate Rick, 70, says: “If people need to live in a caravan because they can’t afford to rent, they have to live somewhere in these difficult times.

“I walk the dogs around the Downs and don’t mind them being there, they have every right.

“They don’t cause any disturbance and are not doing anybody any harm whatsoever.”

The Sun has reached out to Bristol City Council for comment.

Adrian SherrattSome caravans are decked out in brightly coloured artwork[/caption]

Adrian SherrattSome locals complain about a lack of traffic enforcement while others have concerns over rubbish and sanitation[/caption]

Adrian SherrattBristol is reportedly the UK’s second most expensive city to live in behind London[/caption]

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