top of page

An Inspiring Van Life Story

"Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."

Andy, Charity Van Man.

Van “Abled” Life.

I’d like to write a few lines about my experiences as a disabled van-lifer (part time). The hope being to inspire any would be Van-ables who might be hesitant to give it a go.

Firstly, if you are feeling a little reticent or even daunted, you are not alone. I had my van, a Mercedes SWB Sprinter from Motability, for over a year before I took the plunge and started any modifications.

My van was given to me by Motability for use as a drive from wheelchair vehicle and I have to start by giving them huge respect. They have literally saved my life; had my first MS attack when I was on an errand (I had Motability cars through spinal injuries before MS and needing a wheelchair) and because I was out in their vehicle, got myself to hospital, which was only a few miles away then, before collapsing and being unconscious for a few weeks.)

Back to the build:

I was a bit lucky on the “inspiration” score as necessity forced my hand. Where I live is quite remote and as I said in this video it started to become difficult to do the 172 mile round trip to the main general hospital without being completely exhausted. However, I didn’t dive into a “big build”. I started with a simple set up at the back that allowed me to mount a cooker to make a cup of tea. The “big build” aspect at that time was creating the bed.

Charity Van Man

It isn’t that scary, honest! First, I realised that I had no skills in this area, (and felt I’d never be able to come up with something), so I searched YouTube for “van builds” and “building out beds” etc. I found some great vids but still felt I wouldn’t be able to do it. To me, these people all seemed like zen masters, possessing secret knowledge unavailable to mere mortals. I watched a heck of a lot of vids and was lucky enough to come across, Paul Sellers. Although he doesn’t make anything specifically related to van builds, he is a master craftsman at woodwork, trained, tried and tested. His videos are a great confidence builder to inspire you to have a go.

Then, I came across a guy called, “Mel” on YouTube whose explanations were simple enough for me to follow. I went out and bought a couple of single beds from a local charity shop, about £10 each, and stripped them down for the wood. I now know I could have bought enough 4/2 from B&Q to do the job, but I was a novice.

Here's the thing, I don’t have to tell any wheelchair user how we have to adapt and overcome obstacles because that would be stating the obvious. All I can say is, I took my time, gave myself a break and decided I wasn’t going to build Canterbury Cathedral, and plodded on, botching my way, determined to be happy with whatever I could manage. That’s a great help, to relieve yourself of expectation and pressure.

Campervan Cabinet

I think you kind of “learn into it” as you go. There were many tantrums as I sawed pieces too long or short (I live alone so all tantrums were unwitnessed and deniable). Many days of not being bothered because of fatigue. But in the end, it was a project that I “needed” to do and secretly, it was quite good fun.

The hardest thing was clear thinking, being methodical and preparing to do the work. I can be impatient and want things to just materialise. Sometimes I would say to myself, “how would Paul Sellers do it?” and try to emulate those that can. That was key, if in doubt, go back to the videos that inspire and study.

The next thing was deciding to the charity fundraiser. It had been on the cards since 2019 but van problems and Covid put everything on the back burner. I wanted to do something to raise funds for a few charities that are dear to me, as I think we all would, if we had time.

The MS Trust is a fantastic charity that provides specialist nurses, a wealth of information and support for people at all stages of disease development.

Scottish Autism is a charity that I wanted to help as I have a nephew who is autistic (I am on the spectrum) and because this charity was almost unique for providing services in Scotland and started by concerned parents. They now run, The New Struan School and I know that they were particular hit by the Covid lock downs and it would be a major blow to lose them.

Last but not least, The Equity charitable Trust. This charity provides training and hardship grants for people who have been in the entertainment industry and looking to retrain or who are in financial difficulties. Many years ago, in what seems a different life now, I went to drama school and was an actor for 5 years. Despite not being in the profession for decades, they stepped in when I needed help and bought me a fully adjustable bed and have sent me Christmas cards every Christmas since. They’re a fantastic group of people whose help those in most need, actors, stage managers, technicians, anyone connected with the industry.

This time, I realised I needed some extra storage space and better means of living as I’d have to spend more time overnight in the van. I “YouTubed” van builds. Again, the key for me was trying to envision a finished product; the space available, what was needed and what would be nice as an extra if achievable. It took hours sometimes, to be able to get the right image in my mind and on paper, of how it should look, what needed to be. I sketched things, toyed with ideas (wanted the latest James Bond “Q” gadget type deals possible).

Thankfully, the practicality of having to enter from a lift, in the wheelchair, saved me from over extravagance. (That and the fact that I did it on disability benefit with a limited budget).

These considerations helped enormously; the space available and budget. I often went for weeks while I saved for tools and materials, which then gave me the time to keep sketching, watching “how to” vids, imagining and conserving energy. As you can see in this video my hair styles varied wildly with the passage of time (blushing). The major problems I encountered were of general fatigue and realising the importance of accurate measurements.

Disabled campervan

I realise there will be many disabled people who see this and already have the skills required and to those people all I can say is, I think it’s worth it. I have enjoyed a greater freedom. (I took the van away for a trial “holiday” and experienced that wonderful feeling when you wake up somewhere, comfortable in bed, hearing the birds chirping outside and knowing that cereal and a cuppa was at arms reach.)

I am very lucky in that there wasn’t anything structural to the van that needed to be changed (nor would I be allowed to) and being on my own has meant I could utilise the passenger seat and foot well for storage. The only technical thing added was the inverter under the passenger seat so that the wheelchair can be charged from the battery while driving. This cost me roughly £500 for the parts and labour by a company in Inverness but the lead time was so long, I had time to save.

Disabled Van Life

I’ve found that by thinking ahead, I can keep problems to a minimum when in the van. For example, I make sure I don’t need the loo before setting off any a journey to lessen the number of times needed to pull over and stop. (Thetford Portapoti with flush is amazing, maybe too much info!) The privacy curtains I bought from “van pimps” work brilliantly as does the tinted glass (provide by Motability) which is highly recommendable as a disabled person because sometimes it’s hard to hide when a little privacy is needed (more blushing).

The major bugbears are, lack of space (I have to turn in a sixpence from the driver’s cab) and the faff of making the bed up but neither of these are anything but niggles. Compared to the positives, the freedom, the joy of cooking up a wee meal and cuppa on something I built (I still think someone else did it) far outweigh the niggles. I make sure to have plenty of “wipes” around to keep everything as germ free as poss. I keep stocked up on cleaning products, batteries, toilet paper, food, tools in case of minor problems (screw driver hammer etc., nothing major) and keep spare clothing to a minimum. It’s important to have clean clothes but not to over pack. The great thing is, you can find launderettes in most places.

Campervan Storage

Water is important and I have a 10-litre bottle in the cupboard and a “waste water” bottle for the washing up left overs. I would have liked an integrated water system and an autonomous electricity supply but you cut your cloth accordingly. I quite like my make shift solutions to these problems, such as the little battery-operated lights I have stuck everywhere for cosy nights.

The beauty of van-life to me, is that it can be as simple as going camping with a more waterproof and solid roof above you, or as luxurious as a five-star hotel, with all mod cons.

I’m not sure if I could live in my set-up full time but… actually… don’t tempt me.

Best wishes to everyone and happy roaming,

Andy (Charity Vanman).

Please show your support for Andy, subscribe, like & share Andy's YouTube Channel And follow him on his van life journey.


2 comentários

Manon Deslauriers
Manon Deslauriers
13 de jun. de 2022

Andy, your story is amazing and very inspiring. I feel very privileged to have full usage of my arms and legs and a bit guilty of having my van converted by others (I do however make the ceramic tiles for the kitchen area). I have been sharing your story and will share this post as well. Be ready, when my van is delivered Scotland is my destination!

13 de jun. de 2022
Respondendo a

Thank you Manon, you are so kind. Much praise has to go to Wayne from Van Life who has put this post together.

Blimey, don't feel guilty for having someone else build it, it's very time consuming and can be v tricky! I look forward to seeing you up here in bonny Scotland 🙂

bottom of page