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That Van Life... Millennial Freedom or Homelessness Dressed Up Pretty?

After hearing the wonderful Raynor Winn speak about her book The Salt Path last week, this article about 'van homes' particularly caught my eye.

The Guardian's Owen Jones puts a different spin on the Instagram-able gorgeousness of #vanlife - the accusation of "yet another attempt to glamorise a national scandal." He suggests that as a relatively wealthy nation, the UK is dismally failing to meet our population's basic need for shelter. This all sounds a little over-dramatic, but he does have a very valid point...

Is the cost of housing forcing our generation to live in make-shift accommodation, or is the rise of blogging and social media simply advertising the opportunity to choose an alternative lifestyle? Where I live in Falmouth, it's pretty acceptable to announce that you're living in a converted van on the headland, or a quirky houseboat on the river. The choice would be respected and seen as free-spirited or brave.

However, I wonder how many of these 'free-spirits' would still choose the nomadic lifestyle if rental prices were more in line with average salaries in the community. If living in an actual house presented a reasonable, cost effective option, how many would give up the van life, even just for the cold winter months?

Raynor Winn spoke openly about homelessness in Cornwall at her talk in Falmouth Library last week, and the discussion took an interesting turn towards the definition of homelessness. Audience members spoke about the un-counted: the young couples and working professionals who live in shepherd's huts, horsebox homes and garden rooms. Do they count? What about serial sofa-surfers? Or seasonal workers with a 'live-in' job? The word 'homelessness' often conjures an image of weather-worn individuals sitting on urban street corners or huddled in shop doorways - but perhaps this is taking too narrow a view.

It's a difficult subject to talk about, partly due to fear of causing offence. Some of the immaculately converted vans and houseboats are a work of art - demonstrating innovative architecture and a a truly desirable living choice. I wouldn't want to risk offending their inhabitants by suggesting that they are 'homeless'. Their homes are beautiful, unique, and often very expensive!! House-Box are a company based in Glastonbury who make absolutely stunning off-grid homes, some of which can set you back around £35-70K. To me, this price-tag suggests a conscious lifestyle choice as well as (or instead of) financial motivation. The craftsmanship and quirkiness of these vans is exceptional.

Obviously there is a huge ongoing debate about the lack of affordable housing in many areas of the UK, with accusations of generational disparities as well as class divides being blamed as part of the problem. I'm interested to know how much the individual's mindset defines how they feel about their living situation. How much does self-perception matter?

Raynor Winn points out that she and her husband Moth could have got onto a waiting list for housing - but this would have mentally felt like stopping, being trapped and standing still. For them, walking was moving forward and making progress.

In my eyes, #vanlife is the same thing. It's about young people maintaining agency and independence and feeling in control. If your fairy-lit interior happens to be making you money on Instagram as well...umm, bonus?


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