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Caravanning for the elderly and disabled

Caravanning has been found to be an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable way for hundreds of thousands of people to appreciate a relaxing time away from home – either in quiet and tranquil retreat or in the company of family members.

According to statistics compiled by the National Caravan Council (NCC), more than 50 million nights are spent in a caravan in the UK each year – whether in the country’s 330,000 static and holiday homes, the 550,000 touring caravans or 205,000 motorhomes.

If that presents a welcome break or escape for so many individuals, there is no reason at all why it should not also be appreciated by the elderly and disabled.

Just as with any other type of intended occupant, however, some thought may need to be given to the particular needs, requirements and restrictions which some elderly or disabled holidaymakers may have.

This brief guide is intended highlight some of those considerations, whether you are renting any type of caravan in which you want the elderly or disabled to enjoy a holiday or whether it is your own caravan you are looking to adapt for those purposes.

So, the guide is organised accordingly:

Remember, too, that here at Cover4Caravans we have a wealth of knowledge about practically every aspect of caravanning, in both tourers and static caravans. So you might also want to browse our website for subjects of particular interest.

What you need to consider if renting a caravan

If you are elderly or disabled, or you have a friend or family member who happens to be, an ideal way of sampling the joys of caravanning is to rent a static holiday home every once in a while, as and when the opportunity arises.

Well-appointed and scenically attractive parks for static caravans may be found in just about every part of the country, many are in secluded rural areas, but perhaps the best known are those close to popular coastal areas and resorts.

As a result, holiday parks such as this come in all shapes and sizes, offering a range of different amenities and may be suitable for enjoyment by all kinds of visitors, depending on their age or the nature of their disability. As we have noted on one of our pages here at the Cover4Caravans website, there are more than 2,000 static caravan parks dotted about the UK.

All that is required is a little careful thought in advance to the type of park and caravan which might best suit the elderly or disabled.

What then might you want to take into consideration when renting a caravan for such a holiday?

Accessibility

The great thing about a static caravan if you are elderly, infirm or disabled is that the accommodation they offer is all on the same level. You might want to think of it as more like a bungalow near the sea, or your favourite inland getaway, rather than a rambling upstairs and downstairs cottage.

In terms of accessibility, though, the first thing you need to put your mind at rest is actually getting into and out of the caravan. By its very nature, a static caravan is still a caravan in that it has a set of wheels, which naturally elevate the living quarters some way off the ground.

Depending on just how infirm or disabled you are, therefore, you might want to ensure that any caravan you choose to rent has genuinely easy access by way of a ramp (if necessary, for wheelchair access), with grab rails fitted where appropriate.

At the top of any such ramp, of course, the door needs to be wide enough to allow access by a wheelchair and you may find that a sliding door is much easier to manage than a conventionally hinged one. Obviously, the same goes for any interior doors.

Once inside, you are likely to be surprised by just how much floor space a static caravan may offer – especially if it is a so-called “double”, where two caravans are effectively fitted side by side. The overall dimensions of your static caravan, therefore, might give you overall accommodation that is between 40 and 60 feet long by as much as 20 feet wide.

Just as with any other kind of living space, it may need to be adapted to suit the mobility needs of any occupants, with handrails fitted at strategic places, for example.

Certainly, some static caravan holiday parks already have adapted, accessible caravans for guests who may have limited mobility.

One of the features of any caravan – static or mobile – is that its layout and the way it has been fitted may vary from one model to another. Adaptations for disabled or use by the elderly and infirm, therefore, might be incorporated with relative ease.

Bathroom layout and fittings, for instance, are likely to be important, whether you are considering a caravan or any more conventional living space. Static caravans, too, may be adapted to meet whatever standards and facilities you require – including, for example, trapeze lift handles in the WC/shower room.

Although many holiday parks may say that their rental caravans provide disabled access, therefore, you might want to ask just what this means. “Disabled access” may imply quite a few different features – from the barest essentials, to a fully thought-through adaptation. If you have particular requirements, therefore, it is worth asking the park management just how its caravans have been adapted.

Another approach may be to select the caravan you rent through a specialist site such as Disabled Holidays, with listings of static caravans to rent that are especially suited to the elderly or disabled. Each listing has a detailed description of just what facilities are offered.

Campsite or caravan facilities

As we have suggested, ease of access and a suitably adapted caravan are likely to be the critical factors when choosing a static holiday home to rent. Much depends on your actual age – how old is elderly, for instance – or the extent of your disabilities.

Similar considerations apply to your choice of campsite or caravan park.

Of course you want to choose a park located in the area of the country you want to visit – and the overall number of parks in Britain gives you a wide selection. If you walk with a stick or frame, or are a wheelchair user, though, you might prefer a site that is on relatively level ground rather than having to negotiate hills and steep inclines in any direction from your temporary home.

Similar considerations may apply to the facilities and amenities provided by the particular park you choose. Depending on the site, these may be quite extensive.

If there is a swimming pool, for instance, does it allow easy access for the disabled or are there quieter parts of the pool, roped off for use by the elderly? Many caravan parks make a feature of the fishing facilities that are offered, so if you are in a wheelchair or walk with any difficulty, is there easy access to the lake or riverside from which to enjoy your sport?

If there is a shop or restaurant, can you get into it in your wheelchair? If you want to use the clubhouse, the website Pitch Up points out that the bar might be easily accessible on the ground floor, but entertainment in the evenings might be on an upper floor. Is there a lift, or do steep stairs have a safely fitted handrail?

Considerations for your own caravan

So far, we have considered some of the factors you might want to bear in mind when renting a static caravan if you are elderly – however that might be defined – or if you have a disability of one kind or another.

Similar considerations apply, of course, if you are considering the purchase of your own holiday home – with the added consideration of this then becoming somewhere you are likely to want to return to again and again. Where you might have been prepared to put up with certain limitations and restrictions if going on a one-off holiday to a rented caravan, these may be less acceptable if you are planning to buy.

These days, however, the ingenuity of caravanning design means that there are also ways you might want to continue touring even when you become elderly or have a disability of some sort.

You have a choice of joining the half a million or so touring caravan owners in the UK, or the estimated 205,000 owners of motorhomes. Motorhome Motability, for instance, campaigns for the enjoyment of motorhome mobility for the elderly and disabled.

Although there are some differences, of course, in the factors that might favour a touring caravan over a motorhome, of course, let’s look at some of the innovations and features that make either of these more than just wishful thinking for the elderly or infirm.

Useful gadgets

Anyone who has had to manoeuvre a touring caravan into place is likely to appreciate how tricky this might be. Whether you are able-bodied or not, reversing a caravan onto its pitch at a campsite or onto to your driveway at home might be a driving skill it seems you might never master.

When it comes to manhandling your fully-loaded caravan into a confined space or more exactly onto your camping pitch, however, things can become tricky still – and especially tiring if it is a bulky, large or heavy caravan.

A very useful gadget for any touring caravan owner – but especially for those who are elderly or infirm – is a motorised caravan mover. These work in a very simple way, using motorised rollers which are fitted against the tyres of the caravan. Movers can be fitted to a single axle caravan, a twin axle caravan, or even those with four-wheel drive.

There are a number of suppliers of this kind of caravan mover, but Midland Caravan Movers, for example, pride themselves on a service which includes step by step advice and guidance to customers on the use of the device.

The wheels on a touring caravan or motorhome, of course mean that access inside is up off the ground. Lightweight, portable ramps are available, which simply need to be put in place once you have stopped and want to get up into the accommodation.

Alternatively, you might want to invest in a portable lift, which can be run off any 12-volt battery system.

Whether you choose ramps or an electric lift, of course, you need to be comfortable with using these under a range of different camping conditions and on a selection of different campsites.

An important consideration, if you have a touring caravan, is going to be carrying water to and from the onsite supply to your caravan and for taking waste from the loo to the emptying point.

A note prepared by the Camping and Caravanning Club, suggests that mobility scooter users might have the advantage in being able to just hook up the relevant container behind their electrically propelled vehicle – provided you are able to fill and to empty the containers once you get to the relevant service points of course.

Owners of motorhomes may have the still further advantage, suggests the Caravan and Camping Club in that these typically have relatively large water storage tanks already on board. Motor caravanners, therefore, may require less assistance than those towing a touring caravan.

A handy gadget for the owners of touring caravans is a simple attachment to your battery-powered electric drill, which you can then use to lower and raise the van’s stays once you arrive at your pitch.

As far as mobility scooters are concerned, you might want to invest in one that is capable of being folded – such as a Luggie – and fitted into a convenient storage space – or even the boot of your car.

The alternative is to fit your scooter onto a rack attached to your touring caravan or onto a trailer towed behind your motorhome.

Experience will have shown you what kind of everyday living aids you might need to use at home – gadgets such as kettle-cradles or one-handed tin-openers, for instance. It is a good idea to keep these in your caravan or motorhome on a full-time basis rather than having to remember to pack them each time you go away.

If you are buying a touring caravan, access to the towing vehicle is just as important as access to the ‘van itself. Provided you choose a vehicle with sufficient headroom, there are even drive-from-wheelchair systems available.

Whatever vehicle you are intending to use, make sure to check – with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that you have the relevant driving licence for the towing vehicle, its weight, transmission and the ability t gives for towing a trailer.

Adaptations

The extent of any adaptations that need to be made to your caravan of course depend on your level of infirmity or particular disability. If you are going to need reasonably extensive adaptations, of course, you might want to approach one of the several firms specialising in those for the disabled.

Although most modern touring caravans are built with accessibility for the disabled or infirm already in mind, some of the further additions might include things as simple as extra grab-handles, handrails and other mobility aids.

One of the more common adaptations, for example, is arranging for the WC and shower to be in the same interior space – so that you have somewhere to sit whilst taking your shower.

Indeed, the overall layout of the interior of your caravan may be critical. You might need to widen – or remove altogether – some of the doors to allow wheelchair access and consider replacing the entrance itself with a sliding door. Adaptations might also include the removal of fitted furniture and features so as to give yourself and your wheelchair room to complete a full circle inside the caravan.

It is worth remembering that, depending on your disability – if you are a wheelchair user in particular, or in receipt of a Mobility Allowance – you may qualify for a VAT-free purchase of either a touring caravan or a motorhome.

Summary

It is impossible, of course, to produce a definitive guide for every elderly or disabled person who wants to enjoy a caravan holiday – your age, infirmity and degree of disability makes every difference to your general mobility and the scope for adapting a static or touring caravan or motorhome to your use.

If you want to experience many of the joys of holidaying in a caravan, with all the amenities and comforts of a well-appointed park or resort, you might first want to make a trial run by renting such a holiday home, before investing in one of your own.

Increasingly these days, however, touring caravans and motorhomes are made with the needs of the disabled and the elderly in mind, or are manufactured to specifications that may be specially adapted for such use. An array of different gadgets is also available to help make life just that little bit more easy and safe.

Taking all these factors into consideration, therefore, there may be no reason at all why you should not continue to enjoy caravanning into a good old age or with whatever disability you may have – whether that is in a static caravan, a touring caravan or a motorhome.