Flat or House or…? The Remarkable Thriving Through a Crisis

Living in a Caravan Rather than a Traditional Home

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Flat or House or... Caravan?

As the UK dives into the worst recession ever recorded, you’re forgiven for not seeing the bright side. It has left nothing in your life unchanged, and our survey (mentioned later here) has shown that your living choices are no exception. In the good old flat or house debate, many of you have opted for houses with more space further away from the city. But, for one adventurous duo, a third option was too tempting to ignore.

Thinking Differently

Our respondents Andrew and Chloe (names altered to protect identity) in Yorkshire, saw the March 2020 lockdown as an opportunity to start working towards their dream. For them to buy a plot of land and build their own fully self-sustaining eco home fuelled by solar and hydroelectric power.

"The idea is that there would be running water nearby like a small river so we generate most or all of the energy ourselves."

- Chloe Lister, PhD Student - 8th December 2020 Tweet

The project could take years and tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of pounds and was out of their reach for now. Andy, part time music producer, part time courier and full time charmer was ready to get his hands dirty earlier. Using his gift of the gab he took the first step towards their dream and snagged a bargain Citroen Relay van worth £5-6,000 for £3,000. 

His idea was simple – live on the road in a caravan to save money and keep in touch with nature. All while delivering some parcels on the way and spending some quality time with his partner, Chloe.


Flat or House Survey: Living in a Caravan


It would take some work to get the un-kitted van ready to double as a moving home. So, with woodworking at school as his only previous experience, Andy rolled up his sleeves and started working in July.

The Journey Begins.

"The only place we had to park the van was at a slight angle on a very muddy entrance to some woods."

Chloe Lister, PhD Student - 8th December 2020 Tweet


Living in a Caravan - The Build
Finding places to park to complete the refurb was not easy

Andy started with the van parked on an inclined surface, leaving him an up-hill battle from the start. He had the electrical wiring, a cupboard, a toilet, a kitchen and a bed to build into the van. He was a natural, breezing through the first steps of building the wooden base into the van as a frame. 

But, it was only when he started installing the cupboards that he realised the frame was lopsided! Yet, as a man on a mission he soldiered on. Andy found some flat ground and parked the van there to adjust the frame into its perfect position. At this point he knew that he would need backup for the more difficult tasks ahead. So Andy called in the family Sparky: Chloe’s dad. With professional guidance, he learned quickly and, impressively, it wasn’t before long that he finished the wiring alone. 

With Andy’s newfound skills, Chloe’s assistance and flat ground below their feet, things started to come together quickly. Their shiny new portable home was ready in only 3 months. This was around the time that Chloe’s tenancy was coming to an end which meant it was time for an adventure.

"I can't think of another way to put it other than to just go for it because if you spend all the time planning then you'll talk yourself out of it"

Chloe Lister, PhD Student - 8th December 2020 Tweet

Caravan Life: The Perks

The camper-van had all the couple needed: a kitchenette, large bed, cupboards, an incredibly efficient heater and internet. That is everything, except a shower which they use their gym memberships to access. But the road lifestyle’s main attraction was the perk. 

Van life is cheap, with less than £350 overall monthly expensesMoney is usually short on a PhD budget. However, Chloe is saving at least 2/3rds of her monthly doctoral loan and, like many, continuing her research remotely. In other words, she has an extremely sweet deal considering the ever-changing scenery.

Flat or House or Caravan? You can work remotely and save on rent!
Chloe working on her PhD while enjoying the beauty of nature


Andy and Chloe’s days are packed with both inner and outer journeys. Podcasts such as Sh***ed Married Annoyed and The Astral Hustle play while they travel to their newest destination. That is, as restrictions allow, of course. Some Northern hot spots that have satisfied the duo’s wanderlust are Whitby, Formby, Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales. 

Chelsea Leadley exploring the countryside
Breakfast at Sunrise

At a time when many people are feeling trapped on this island, the homely couple have grown to love their country more. The last time Chloe exited British borders was when she was 4, riding the Euro-tunnel.

"I don't think we're super bothered about going abroad at the moment. I'm very much a Yorkshire person."

Chloe Lister, PhD Student - 8th December 2020 Tweet

The Realisation

Living in a caravan, you can change your garden at any point
Not a Bad Choice for a Front Garden


But, not all of van life has been so pleasant. The biggest shock they had was the sheer volume of rubbish they produced. Initially, the caravan only held 1 bin which was quickly filled with general waste, cardboard and plastic. Knowing the huge impact that plastic pollution has on the environment, they needed a solution. 

The nature-friendly solutions for now are extra bins and installing solar panels as a renewable energy source. However, ultimately, the urgency is rising to build that green home for themselves from sustainable materials. The DIY home will be made from cob – a natural mixture which keeps a home warm in the winter.

"That's something that a typical house, brick and mortar, can't do"

Chloe Lister, PhD Student - 8th December 2020 Tweet

The Road Ahead

So, the big question on everyone’s lips is would they do it again? Their answer is a resounding yes. They’re arguing less than expected, saving money and all while they wind down to nature. 

Sleeping to the Sunset in a Caravan
Sunset Lullaby


Chloe and Andy’s experience has changed their perspective forever. Chloe says there is no way they will go back to living in a traditional home. The next steps are finding a studio for Andy to develop his music and saving for their dream home. Chloe tells me that even when the home is built, the caravan will never be sold. It remains a memento for their children to experience when telling them about this bold chapter of their lives.

"We can tell them about all the adventures and disasters that have happened"

Chloe Lister, PhD Student - 8th December 2020 Tweet

Flat or House Survey Results

But it isn’t just Andy and Chloe who have found their living environments to drastically change during the pandemic. As such, we wanted to discover how you have all been impacted and surveyed 107 of you across the UK. 68% of you have moved home since the dawn of the pandemic.

Data Visualisation of percent moved during COVID-19 pandemic

The household income of the group we studied was comparable to that of the UK population.


Household income on flat or house study
Household Income

Flat or House? The Responses

The type of flat or house people occupied prior to moving during the pandemic is as below.

Pay close attention to the spread of data. Do you notice how the accommodation type matches almost exactly with the income breakdown?
Data Visualisation of Flat or House Prior to Moving During Pandemic
Dwelling Prior to Move


Now look at the flat or house living situations after the move.

Data Visualisation of Flat or House after moving during the pandemic
Dwelling After Moving

Interestingly, you can see that in the population surveyed the largest change (14%) is in those who are moving to flats. In following, we performed a subgroup analysis and noted that people with household income <£25k were most affected by this.

Flat or House Survey: £25k Household Income Group

The reasons for moving in this group related around 3 separate topic areas which are summarised below.

Flat or House Study - under £25k reasons for moving
Reasons for moving in the <£25k household income subgroup

Flat or House Survey: £100k Household Income Group

Taking a closer look at the £100k+ household income subgroup, the reasons for the move were as below:

Flat or House - over £100k Reasons for Moving
Reasons for Moving in the Over £100k Subgroup
Our hypothesis was that the majority of people would be moving further away from the city. The rationale for this was crowding centrally and increased space for a lower price towards the outskirts. Of the 86 participants that responded, the change in distance from the centre is shown below.
Flat or House Study - How did the distance to the city centre change after the move?
Change in Distance to Centre after Moving


Our responses were more balanced than expected, likely because some participants wanted to be closer to work to prevent long commutes. One participant quoted a compelling reason for moving further away from the centre.

"I think the pandemic has increased my sense of local community and has made me want to live somewhere where I can feel like part of a small community such as a village or very small town"

- Survey respondent, Brighton, 12th September 2020  Tweet

What Did We Learn?

This survey supports the findings that your housing preferences have changed since lockdown. It has helped us to get a feeling of the challenges that you have faced during these difficult times. But, if there is something that this country is known for, it is banding together in times of crisis. We can learn a valuable lesson from this survey, Chloe, Andy, and our respondent searching for community. It is that even in the most difficult times, there is beauty to be found if one simply looks for it.

Please note – a more detailed breakdown is available to those who request it via contact@cashhouse.co.uk.

About The Authors

This article was written by Dr Sermed Mezher MbChB (Hons) MRes, experienced property investor, published author in Global Paediatric Health and The Journal of Medical Ethics, and medical doctor. He is the founder of cashhouse.co.uk

It was co-authored by Sara Badri BA in Graphic Design, MA in Media and Cultural Studies. Community Researcher at Shabaka Social Enterprise.

Sermed has a special interest in educating people on how to improve their situation. He believes that physical and financial health are intimately linked.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Russell

    I really fancy the van life but my better half would never agree so it has to be a house for me until I can be a bit more persuasive.

    1. Dr Sermed Mezher

      Haha well I’m sure your persuasive skills aren’t the limiting factor here! It’s a big step to take, especially if you have a lot of stuff. I’d struggle to get all my things into a caravan, that’s for sure.

      How did you find the blog, by the way?

  2. Nia Hayes - ShunCy

    It’s been over a decade since the market crash of 2008 and the recession that followed. The economy has been steadily on an upward trajectory, and while there are some signs that we may be reaching a tipping point, the market doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon.

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