A WAR hero managed to transform an ex-school minibus into his dream home with no experience at all.
Former Army medic Mark Anthony Dawson splashed out £45,000 to convert a long-wheelbase 2015 Peugeot Boxer into his full-time home, complete with a bed, kitchen, shower and sofa.
Despite having “zero” building experience, the 40-year-old did all of the project himself – turning to YouTube tutorial videos when he needed help.
And after it performed “flawlessly” during a five-day road trip in Scotland in October, Mark is now preparing to imminently depart on a three-month tour across Europe.
“I feel like a posh snail – going around with my house on my back," he said.
“A lot of people take to it because of the cost of living but I am quite fortunate that it hasn’t been that.
Read More on Van Conversions
Woman who lives rent free in a van is happier than when living in a 4-bed house
Couple who didn’t want to pay rent bought £8k van & transformed it into a home
“I am using it as a holistic way to heal (from his experiences during his tours of Afghanistan and Iraq).
“It’s the best therapy that I can afford. I’ve been through therapy for years and nothing’s stuck. Travelling forces you into self-realisation.
“A lot of people use travel and solitude to run away from mental health problems but I am using travel to move closer to myself, and re-discover who I am post service"
Mark, who was born in Oldham and grew up in Glossop in Derbyshire, joined the Royal Army Medical Core at 16 and served in Iraq twice including during the 2003 invasion and again in 2004.
Most read in Fabulous
I went to a wedding but my boobs stole the limelight
I threw £10k gender reveal party with Ferrari & JET…then trolls ruined my life
Prince Louis clutches Kate's hand as royal family step out for Easter service
I got a £3.50 Louis Vuitton bag in a charity shop but trolls spotted a problem
He later saw active service in Afghanistan in 2008/09 where he was attached to the Army Air Corps.
LEFT WITH C-PTSD
As well as treating injured service personnel and Afghans, his skills as a medic saw him attached to other units going out on patrol and he witnessed some horrific sights which left him with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).
Following an injury he was medically discharged from the military in 2014 with a full medical pension at which point he was formally diagnosed with C-PTSD.
Upon leaving the military – which he admits left him slightly “institutionalised” after joining at such a young age – Mark struggled to find meaning in his life and gradually sunk into an ever-deeper depression.
This prompted him to sell his house in Glossop and buy a medium-wheelbase 2007 Renault Master called Tilly in 2018 for £7,000.
It was ready to go and he spent months travelling around in it – visiting Spain and Portugal – before his step-father’s deteriorating health and the pandemic led him to return to the UK at the end of 2020.
Speaking about how he caught the van life bug, he said: “I had to recreate myself as a veteran rather than a soldier and nothing calms the mind and soul like travel.
LOVES GOING TO NEW PLACES
“I loved going to a new place every day and watching the sun peaking over the sea horizon whilst swimming.
“They were fantastic days, travelling and experiencing a different culture and warmer climate.
“Sometimes when I was living in a van in Spain, I would look at a map and see the name of a town I liked the sound of, so I’d go there.
“In order to find myself I have to embrace the idea of getting lost. I didn’t mind floating on the breeze and going between very different villages and coastal towns.
“It gave me the mental space to gradually refocus on myself without modern house living where I felt trapped and depressed.
“Instead of sitting at home in the afternoon watching A Place in The Sun, I was living it."
After returning to the UK, Mark occupied himself by sporadically doing firearms performances for TV and film productions as well as working as a photographer for military charities.
But none of this gave him the mental calm and clarity that travelling did, and as the world returned to normality after the pandemic, he bought the long-wheelbase Peugeot Boxer for £19,000 in January 2022.
WORKED ON THE CONVERSION FOR 12 MONTHS
He spent the next 12 months – with a three-month break for his mental health to recover – transforming its bare shell into somewhere he could live.
Despite having no trade skills, Mark turned his hand to electrics, carpentry and plumbing to create the home he wanted.
Its mod cons include solar panels, a TV with a games console, a composting toilet, a full wet room, a king-size bed, a sofa, swivel seats, a dining area, a full kitchen with oven and hob, a large sink and instant hot water heater.
The van also has a skylight, five camera security system, two trackers, hooking locks on each door, all-terrain tyres and alloys, a diesel heater, a fridge freezer and underslung water tanks plus lots of storage.
Mark, known as @Awakened_nomad online, is now a pacifist and peace campaigner, said: “I’ve had huge issues that recently impacted my PTSD and I was excited to get the van finished so I can clear my head and thoughts.
“Van life can be the idyllic lifestyle it is depicted on social media but I know a lot of people who find it very hard – especially if they’re tied to one area.
“But I’ve got a medical pension, my daughter is grown up so I have got an awful lot of time to indulge in early retirement.
“After nearly being killed several times they (the military) have certainly got their pound of flesh out of me.
“Being a medic you see some of the worst things that anyone can see. I still have nightmares.
“I found it particularly difficult seeing things that had happened to children.
“It takes a lot of mental unpacking to deal with that kind of stuff.
“That’s why I’m glad that I’ve had this opportunity to realise who I am and continue this journey of self-actualisation.
“I wanted to give myself the mental space to do that, and I thought the best way to do that was waking up by the beach and hanging out with stray cats.
"Hearing the waves gently crashing into the shore, the sound of a light warm wind in the palms. The sun on my face. Peace and tranquillity."
Mark's story emerged as increasing numbers of people shun traditional housing for living in a van.
At the same time as demand for vans has risen, there has been a shortage of vehicles and parts.
Washington Carrato – who runs removal firm TheManVan – said he receives calls on a "daily basis" from people asking to buy his vehicles.
"Some of them sound really desperate and I would love to help them but I've got to run a business and it's not affordable," he added. "We struggle to get decent vehicles ourselves and the price of everything is constantly going up.
"I can see why the lifestyle is appealing for people but I think lots of them underestimate how expensive and time consuming it is turning a commercial vehicle into a home."
Source: Read Full Article