‘Why I left my Golden Triangle flat to live in a van’
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Christopher Allen had his own business and a flat in Norwich's Golden Triangle, but gave it all up 12 years ago to live in a van.
Now, the 53-year-old claims to have saved more than £70,000 in rent and bills, and says he has no regrets about leaving his property.
He is one of several "van dwellers" who can be found parked on side streets and car parks in and around Norwich.
And he says it is a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly popular, with houses costs driving some people away from the property market.
It comes as residents living on Whitlingham Lane in Trowse complained to Norfolk County Council about the number of people living in vans in their area.
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Mr Allen said: "When people see you they think it's all doom and gloom because you live in a van, but I love it.
"Twelve years ago I gave up my nice flat in the Golden Triangle, gave away all my stuff I didn't want and put all of the money into a bank account.
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"I did it out of choice. I thought if I am going to do it, it's now or never."
The father-of-one previously lived in a flat on Earlham Road, opposite The Mitre pub, before moving into a caravan and then a Ford Transit van.
Aged 40 at the time, he was running his own gardening business and had returned to Norwich after a stint in London to look after his mother who was ill.
"It is a huge change of lifestyle," Mr Allen said. "But you get people of all ages and backgrounds doing this, including people who have just left university and retirees.
"Looking after a van is much easier than maintaining a property. I enjoy the simplicity of it."
His van, which he intends to replace in the coming months, is fitted with a double bed, a propane-fuelled heating system and a kitchen unit.
He said while some people buy camping toilets, most join a gym in Norwich to use their shower and toilet facilities.
Mr Allen said the rise of the so-called "gig" economy also made the lifestyle more sustainable.
He earns money by working flexible hours as a delivery driver for companies like Amazon, Deliveroo and Just Eat.
Because his cost of living is so low, Mr Allen claims he can work less and still live comfortably.
"I have saved more than £70,000 in rent and bills through living in my van over the years," he said.
"You can live well and still work part-time. I now have more free time to see my friends and family, or go for long walks in the countryside."
The rise of people living in vans around Norwich made headlines this month after residents living on Whitlingham Lane complained about a drastic increase in numbers over the past 18 months.
When the EDP visited the area in June, there were about 16 caravans and campervans parked up.
Persistent complaints from residents resulted in Norfolk County Council serving "direction to leave land" notices to six caravan owners.
Mr Allen said the location had become popular in recent months as it is advertised on a website dedicated to people who live in vans.
He said Norwich's relaxed evening parking restrictions also made the city a popular destination.
Mr Allen said: "The thing about Norwich is also that after 6.30pm, the whole city is virtually free to park in until 8am, and then you have two hours free, so it becomes 10am."
Other cities in the UK have also seen an increase in people bunking down in vans, caravans and horseboxes.
Last year, Bristol City Council estimated there were up to 200 lived-in vehicles on its city streets.
A former Rolls Royce engineer and stonemason were among those living in vans after being priced out of Bristol's housing marking, national newspapers reported.
It resulted in Bristol council drawing up a policy to deal with people living in mobile vehicles.
Mr Allen said while rising rental costs was partly behind the increase in "van dwellers", he said social media also boosted the lifestyle's popularity.
On Instagram, there are more than 5m posts featuring the hashtag #Vanlife from people who have modified their vans to live in.
Mr Allen, who often parks on Whitlingham Lane, believes he has another 10 years to go before he returns to brick and mortar.
He said: "When I started this I thought 'I'll give it a year and see how it goes'.
"I'm 12 years in now, so I will probably continue until I'm 60 and then rejoin the rat race."