15 October 2020
Hélèna Parker-Clark and Sam Hamilton are onto something. Their vans might not look out of the ordinary from the outside but open the double doors at the back and you might be surprised to find a double bed, shower, sink and DJ decks all fully integrated with beautiful birch plywood.
Their new startup, Scandivans transforms ordinary working vans into luxury bespoke campers that give their customers the freedom to adventure in style.
Hélèna: We started off building our dream in the midst of lockdown in Wales. We were very lucky to be in the beautiful countryside on a farm with the tools around us. We realised we were on to something and when the time was right to move back to Manchester we asked a few of our very close friends to help us out, a joiner, an electrician and together we made Scandivans.
Sam: The workshop that we’re based in is a shed. It’s full of young people working in design, textiles and a lot of interesting people in a small workshop that all feed off each other, it’s quite exciting.
I was a landscape architect. I did my degree and my masters here in Manchester and have been working for the past couple of years in the Northern Quarter. When I started building the first camper I realised that’s what I wanted to do, so I quit my job and I’ve really enjoyed it. While I was at uni I spent most of my time in the workshop, I’ve always enjoyed doing stuff with my hands. I feel like I’ve been sat on a computer for the past seven years so it feels great to be in the workshop making stuff.
Hélèna: The principle of our design is based on hygge, which is the natural flow of beauty from inside to out. We wanted to create a space on the road where you open the back doors and feel like the outside natural beauty flows to the inside of the van. Neutral colours, minimalism, the soft feel of materials and sense of calm. We want the van to feel as organic as the landscape in a way.
When we were thinking about naming ourselves one of the first things we typed into Google for a bit of inspiration was ‘Scandinavian style vans’ and we kept going back to the same search. It was then that it clicked, we both looked at each other, going ‘Scandivans!’, that’s what we want.
Sam: A typical camper is a classic working van that someone might not see as anything else from the outside but inside it’s insulated and panelled. We use birch plywood because it’s got a really nice finish.
We’re designing one for a customer who’s moving to Devon. She’s just having the back really open with simple wood panelling because she’s going to use it as a photography studio. She’ll park up at beaches with nice views out the back and then take pictures of the children’s toys she sells. Then there are other people who want two showers, one for them and one for their dog, boilers, gas hook ups and DJ decks.
That’s the challenging part, making a high spec van still feel simple and minimalistic and that’s the bit where you have to get creative. You have to hide everything. It’s like an iPhone; it looks beautiful from the outside but there’s a hell of a lot going on inside, that’s the hardest part.
Typically we’ll find the right vehicle for our customers but they can bring their own van to us too. The lower end of the vans we create start from around £14,000 including the van, going up to around £30,000. The price really is dictated by the vehicle a customer wants. It’s a big investment so reliability is key and the lower the mileage the better.
Hélèna: We started the first van on 13th May and moved into the workshop in July. Then we launched the website and put an advert on quirkycampers.com and it’s just exploded, it really has. We received 20 or 30 emails over the weekend. The instagram has been a huge help, we already have 1,800 followers. We’ve found that there’s a big online community for campers and we’ve also had loads of really positive interactions with the Ancoats community, they’ve been brilliant and we’ve found some really good, smaller companies to work with around here.
Sam: Everyone has been so positive about what we’re doing, people have really bought into it. We’re in a big yard and one minute there’s a 15 year old kid over saying, ‘I love what you’re doing, mate. It’s sick!’ and the next there’s an 85 year old man coming over telling us he loves our van. Everyone appreciates them which is quite nice.
Hélèna: My background is travelling, as ridiculous as that sounds. I left home when I was really young, just a teenager. I lived and worked in Australia, Fiji, Bali, China. When I came back to the UK it didn’t really feel like home to me, it was like a foreign land. I was just about to leave again right before I met Sam. He’s now my new adventure I suppose. We’ve talked about this so many times; we always felt like we were searching for something and personally, travelling didn’t give me the answers, I came home and I was still looking. On the farm, working on that first camper, we found it. It just clicked.
There’s a saying in my family, ‘If you really want to do something you’ll make it happen, if not you’ll make an excuse’. Every time I’ve hit rock bottom, whether it was searching for food in bins in Oz or when I was lost in China because my plane ended up in the wrong place, your instincts kick in and that’s when you grow up. You want to take a risk and are prepared to accept the consequences. So when we set up the business, we knew that we could lose our home but we’re prepared to do it. It’s that attitude that we’ve both got. Both of our parents have their own businesses so I think that’s been drilled into us, we’ve gone through the highs and lows with them.
We know we’re onto something, whether it’s a success or a failure. People want to explore, they want to travel and we believe that with our campers, people can travel in style.
You can read more about Hélèna and Sam’s fantastic Ancoats startup, Scandivans on their website. Find out more here www.scandivans.co.uk
Interview and images by Christian at Blossom.