At the beginning of last year it came time for us to reassess what we needed from our car, as the poor old ‘blue car’ (our 10 year old Renault Scenic) was beginning to feel a bit of a squeeze! Two kids with car seats, two dogs, and also a variety of wheely equipment (day-to-day wheelchair, off-road wheelchair, toddler scooter, bike etc) to transport at various times left us little breathing space. Not to mention that the blue car needed a fair bit of TLC (money thrown at it!) the electric windows had been broken all winter!
The first question was, should we upgrade our accessibility to a WAV (a wheelchair accessible vehicle)?
J is still small enough to lift in and out of the car, so we considered just getting a slightly bigger, regular family car. Perhaps investing in a turny chair (they look fab!) as J is now pretty good at assisted standing transfers from her wheelchair.
Simultaneously, and perhaps seemingly unrelated, we’ve also been finding holidays can be really tricky for us as J needs a safe bed to sleep in. We have to take an inflatable bed with raised sides and always have to run around hotel rooms or holiday homes making everything J safe (which is a similar concept to ‘toddler safe’, but for someone much taller and with a very long reach!)! It can be pretty stressful, and so we dabbled with a bit of camping last year, as we are more control of our own environment that way, and we all really enjoyed it.
We (I say we, but I think it was really just me) had had a slightly mad idea that we could do with a small caravan (again limted by access to our driveway, it would have to be the smallest of small caravans like this cutey here)! We even went to the caravan and campervan show last year and checked some out!
The other thing (which won’t come as a surprise if you read my blog regularly!) which we struggle with on a day to day basis, is a lack of toilet facilities that J can use (changing places type toilets). The older J gets, the more it’s really beginning to limit family days out. It turns my stomach to think of changing J on the floor of a public loo, so we’d been changing her in the car, but that was getting too awkward for space & lack of privacy.
It then dawned on me (I say me, as I think Mr M had this in mind all along!) that we could look for a vehicle that could multitask! A WAV, a camper and a day to day base camp for toileting J (like a super basic Mobiloo of our own!)!?
Having noticed that many of our friends had WAVs that looked incredibly like the modern version of the VW camper van (because essentially the VW transporter & caravelle are the same base model as the camper!), we decided to have a serious look at the VW campervans!
So off we trotted to the VW van dealership to have a look at what they had, the pros and cons of new v old, buying or leasing via Motability, Caravelle v California, Campervan v WAV (and more than a little bit of scrutiny over the dimensions for getting down our lane, and out again!)….. and in the end we decided to invest in a VW California Beach!
Thus our CamperWAV was born!
This Beach is the most basic factory built VW campervan. It has no kitchen or fitted cabinets, so it has the maximum space inside. It’s pretty much the same interior as a Caravelle, but the main differences being it has a rear bench seat that folds into a bed, a pop up roof which creates a 2nd double bed, in built electric hook up point & sockets throughout plus a table and camping chairs that slot neatly into the sliding door and tailgate! It also has integrated blinds, which sounds a bit superficial but they are a winner when it comes to privacy! Essential for when camping, but they enable us to create privacy day to day if needed for a micro changing places on wheels!
We got the wheelchair access conversion done via our VW dealer and again we went for the simplest option to start with – a side ramp with fixings for the wheelchair clamps positioned in the middle section, between the front seats and bench, so that they don’t interfere with the operation of the bench seat/bed.
When the rear bench is pushed to the back of the van, it leaves a good amount of space to enable for a camping toilet tucked in the corner and space for changing J…. we don’t tend to use the bedspace on day trips as it’s a bit of a faff taking out car seats etc.
We are still getting used to it and assessing if the adaptations are quite right for us and what improvements we can make for day to day living and refining our holiday set up!
The only hitches we have had so far are that the seatbelt fixing is not ideal for J’s wheelchair as they are only floor mounted (due to issues finding a good fixing a high level). We’re looking at other options for getting a ceiling fixing at the mo and meantime J is continuing to travel in her specialist car seat.
The wheelchair ramps we have are pretty long, and will limit where can park so I’m planning to look into alternatives for this for the future too! Perhaps an underslung lift, or steeper ramps with winch….?
Also, in a non-adaptations related issue, we’ve found that lots of car parks have a height restriction that a small van can’t fit underneath! So this again affects where we can park. (This includes the city council car park in Cambridge where the shopmobility office and only registered city centre changing places toilet is located!!! So frustrating that a car park that is meant to enable disabled people excludes people with van style WAVs!)