thePOD: The Details
Background, Planning, Construction, Operation, Web Support and Finance
Back in 2004 we were experimenting with lodge design, pushing the boundaries of what could be done if ever there was a change in the established and fairly conservative approach to building holiday lodges - our very own ‘grand designs’.
One of the sketches we produced during this time was a simple arched shape shelter that over a few days of working out optimum sizes and some tricky construction details provided the map for where we are today. However a sketch is one thing, the real object is another, so a prototype was built for evaluation. We quickly realised that we had created something special but our lodge building commitments at that time postponed our developing the POD any further.
Our initial thoughts were to try and establish enough POD’s, in enough places in the Lake District National Park, to stand as a viable touring ‘network’ for hikers and cyclists – noble thoughts, but strict planning controls and a wooden structure that did not fall into any particular planning category is a tricky number!
This slow evolution has however allowed us time to build many useful contacts and the opportunity to register the POD design with the Patent Office.
It was October 2006 when we finally decided that we would go ahead with the POD ‘project’ and a further 11 months before we had a breakthrough when the Eskdale Camping and Caravanning Club site was granted planning permission for ten.
The POD is universally highly regarded and will make a significant contribution to peoples’ enjoyment of outdoor recreation. It has many special qualities that result from our ‘art before profit’ approach to what we do - after all, you could make a camping hut from a few sheets of plywood!
ONE SIZE FITS ALL
We have been asked if the POD is available in different sizes and the short answer is no. The POD is a bit of a handful to build. The curved roof means in effect we are sort of ‘upside-down boat builders’ as we similarly have to machine a lot of the components from templates. The size we have adopted is we believe the optimum for its purpose. If it was bigger, it would lose some of its charm and possibly become more of a planning issue. Any smaller and it would start to feel cramped. We have made some ‘tweaks’ through feedback from the sites where POD’s are in use, e.g. we have lowered the door threshold, made the back window / vent slightly bigger and extended the front porch cover by 250mm. One thing to remember is that the POD has to be supplied fully constructed. Flat pack is not an option as the roof construction is a specialist operation. Beyond this we have to ensure that we have a structure that we can move around with reasonable ease. Having said this and because we are design lead, don’t be surprised if we have some sort of new concept ‘micro lodge’ in a couple of years time.
As mentioned earlier, hikers and cyclists are on the list and anyone who is out to primarily enjoy the countryside on a smaller budget. In the Lake District there has been a notable increase in small family groups on cycling holidays – typically mum dad and two children. Accommodation up here is not wholly friendly to this group. There are communal camping barns and Youth Hostels, expensive hotels, bed and breakfast and campsites for the tent or caravan experience. The POD uniquely provides a homely personal space for a bit of fun and the growing and learning that enriches family life whilst being protected from the worst of the weather should it turns bad.
It is quite likely that a group of users will emerge that just want to enjoy the calming and meditative qualities the POD offers - people who want to connect with nature, but have outgrown tents and don’t like the styling and cultural impositions of the modern caravan!
One thing we do know is that there are very few people that are not wowed by their first sight of the POD and a good proportion of these are going to be tempted to try them out. Also if the rains of 2007 are a sign of global warming and things to come then PODs are likely to become even more popular!
This is an issue that will affect some sites but not others and while every site will have its own planning history and conditions, we can offer some guidance as to how this new concept is being viewed.
Firstly and going back to the site that pioneered the POD planning process – Hollins Farm in Eskdale. The site is located in a ‘sensitive’ part of the Lake District National Park. The site owners have vision and integrity and in a short period of time have created a really excellent camping facility in one of the most beautiful valleys in the British Isles. The proposal to augment their site with 10 PODs was fortunately well received. A primary consideration was impact. The POD is smaller and favourably ‘unobtrusive’ when compared to a conventional touring caravan and indeed it is smaller and less ‘intrusive’ than some modern and often brightly coloured tents. However, where tents etc. would come and go, the likelihood that the PODs would remain in position all year round needs consideration, especially with regard to an appropriate location. i.e. where open parts of the campsite would be a ‘matter of concern’ the landscape impact is likely to be negligible if they are set amongst or shielded by trees.
Consideration was given to the aesthetics of the design and materials as being appropriate for such a location and also there is concern that there has been a decline in the availability of low cost accommodation in the National Park. Customer demand for static caravans and lodges as second homes has often been at the expense of camping facilities.
The camping hut may well offer an antidote to this decline.
The status of camping pods in planning law is considered to fall within the statutory definition of a caravan as set out in Section 29(1) of the Caravan Sites & Control of Development Act 1960:
Any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer) and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted, but does not include any tent.
Camping pods are a recent phenomenon with presumed no previous case law. In this case, and due to them likely to remain on site permanently, the planning assessment was based on ‘policy with regard to static caravans’, which in this case was contrary to the local development plan. Planning approval was granted for a ‘departure from policy, based on a number of justifiable reasons’ as outlined above and the added amenity provided by the proposal i.e. encouraging ‘tourism without traffic’.
A number of conditions were also attached to the grant of planning permission requiring details of the precise size, design and colour of the camping pods to be submitted, and approved in writing, and stipulating that " none of the PODs shall be replaced with any other structure(s) or caravan(s) differing from the approved details etc.
More details are available on the National Park website www.lake-district.gov.uk application 7/2007/4058.
The POD is a wooden insulated structure using premium materials throughout. Overall it is nominally 13 feet long, 8 feet 6 inches wide and 8 feet high.
It starts with a substantial base framework of treated 6” x 2” softwood to which are applied two coats of Sadolin preservative stain. The floor deck comprises phenolic mesh faced, birch plywood panels fixed to the frame which provides a very durable base whatever floor covering is used. This ply is designed for use as truck body linings!
The back and front ‘bulkheads’ are panels constructed with a treated timber framework clad with 19 x 125 redwood weatherboard. These panels are insulated using Second Nature sheep’s wool insulation batts. The ‘barrel’ of the POD is premium quality, slow grown, unsorted 25 x 125 T&G redwood cladding. All the cladding is treated with wax / oil based products from Osmo which should make for easy maintenance.
The whale jaw bone shaped ‘ribs’ that feature as facia boards are again made from slow grown 45mm thick redwood finished with three coats of Sadolin Superdec in a ‘bleached oak opaque’ colouring. The ribs are produced by scarf jointing and then gluing and dowelling the cut out components together. The rib ‘blanks’ are cut to shape using a Mastercraft CNC router before hand finishing and decorating.
The ‘barrel’ is wrapped in a specialist insulating reflective foil membrane that allows the timber to ‘breath’ while outside of this the structure is stiffened with laminated ply counter battens and treated timber roofing battens.
We use a roofing system called Oberon supplied by Decra Roofing Systems which originates from New Zealand and offers a 25 year warranty. It is a ‘panel’ system which has a core of galvanised steel with several coats of acrylic materials and a granular top coat, all of which provides extremely good durability and a good deal of sound deadening against heavy rain. The profile and colour of this material is very tactile and looks variously like timber shingles or a new ‘turf’ roof as found on crofters cottages.
All the fixings used are galvanised and corrosion resistant. The outer cladding is fixed with stainless steel nails to maintain appearance and longevity.
The front doors are in effect French windows. We use toughened glass double glazed units (to reduce condensation) and we can supply these with or without the leaded multi-pane effect.
All the ironmongery is premium quality heavy duty polished brass, while security is provided by a 4 lever lock.
A small back window is provided at a high level with a handle and friction hinges to allow appropriate ventilation and more light into the living compartment.
We can provide the POD built on a single axle steel chassis if required. (Contact us for further details).
PRESENTING THE POD
This is an interesting conundrum which is likely to have a range of solutions.
It will depend on who is renting them and how well they respect the POD and its’ contents. Some of our discussions on the subject have lead to the idea of perhaps having some PODs with a very basic set up for the rough and ready types and then have some dressed up with carpet / rugs, mattresses, cushions, heating, lighting, refrigeration and microwave! with your ‘reception’ allocating accordingly!
We currently have two PODs set up pretty much along these lines. In both cases we have provided a blackout roller blind to the door to provide some privacy and to shut out light, together with a piece of dark brown carpet similar to ‘carpet tile’ (which can be easily removed for cleaning) and a couple of doormats. The sensible half way house would be carpet + mats + blind and a 2 bar 400/800w quartz halogen heater if power can be provided. The power rating of these heaters (3.5 Amp) is perfectly good to provide a comfortable heat even in freezing conditions. This type of heater also produces a very bright orange glow which negates the need for lighting. Another alternative would be a mini oil-filled heater (600w) such as the Delonghi Bambino.
If you are considering providing refrigeration there is a range of cool boxes by Waeco (see www.jacksons-camping.co.uk/waeco ) some of which would not intrude too much into the area of the living space and have silent running. Most of these items we can provide as extras or we can advise you on our sources.
The thing to remember is everybody wants to enjoy their ‘camping experience’ and most have a ‘comfort zone’ - providing that enjoyment will undoubtedly provide the ‘smile lines’ that will add up to enduring success.
If your site is likely to generate the necessary ‘footfall’, then the POD is one of the best investments available - especially if you can benefit from an all year round or long season license. For a relatively modest cost you are acquiring a facility that if properly managed and maintained will give decades of use. Even if the purchase involves borrowing (with repayments at say £450 per quarter), you are still likely to be realising more than a tent pitch over and above the finance cost! After the repayment period you would benefit from an income which is typically double that of a tent and not anything like as weather sensitive. Established rates currently vary between £25 and £35 per night per POD with premium rates applied over bank holidays.
There is another angle which could be applied on some sites which is that of either having PODs available for seasonal rental, or to sell PODs with a long term pitch agreement. Beach huts come to mind and the current trade in holiday lodges. No one has yet gone down this route, but it’s easy to see how a privately owned and personalised POD would appeal to some.
PROMOTION & ADVERTISING
As things stand we are investing in targeted, national and regional advertising to raise public awareness of the POD and to encourage the establishment of user groups. Key to this effort is the maintenance of a user website www.thepod.info which contains all the relevant and up to date details of where PODs are located and what benefits they offer.
Our U.K. map serves to inform potential users of the status of sites with PODs and gives ‘pop up’ contact details. We will also be showing a number of sites that are likely to acquire PODs in the next 12 months or so.
The timing of a lot of this effort is critical as it is still early days and we have to use the ‘newness’ of the concept to maximum effect. At the moment we are contacting potential operators around the U.K. to gauge the level of interest, always being aware that some sites are definitely going to be more suitable for PODs than others.
The advertising campaign has no direct benefit to us other than establishing the concept in the public domain. However this will produce the customer demand that will in turn encourage site owners to invest in the PODs that we build. The cost of the advertising will, for the time being, come from profits from the sale of PODs. (It’s a bit like being part of a franchise, only it’s free of charge! Please bear this in mind if we get to discussing prices).
We propose to monitor the effectiveness of this promotion and take operator feedback, for somewhere down the line it may be in the interest of everyone to contribute a small amount of money to boost the level of advertising. Conversely the POD could become popular and well established enough not to need much advertising.
We think that there is probably room for in the order of 2,000 PODs on campsites in the U.K. If this proves to be true there is a fairly assured, revenue funded, advertising stream for a few years yet.
If you are looking to raise finance there are clearly a range of options available to successful businesses. Our own investigation into this area has raised questions mostly due to the lenders not having any established figures for assessing the asset value of what they are lending on – the POD is a new thing and there is no data like for example the value of a caravan, nor are they fixed to the ground like a building. The nearest ‘likeness’ we have found is ‘Portakabin’ style, construction site accommodation!
We are currently in negotiations with a few companies who are looking into providing finance or leasing options specifically on the POD. Please contact us if you wish to find out more.
We are building PODs to order with a current capacity of around 150 PODs per year. We have had some very good feedback from a number of site owners who have either placed orders or have given intent subject to planning etc. Most sites are looking to order multiples of PODs, so we would recommend that if you want PODS in 2008, you had better order soon for Easter is coming early.
We are dealing with a few sites in the Lake District that are currently pursuing planning / development permission that may well account for a good proportion of our 2008 building programme.
With regard to payments, with each order we will take a 20% deposit of the total amount. Our invoice for the balance will be issued, and full payment must be made, prior to delivery. If at the time of ordering our waiting list for PODs extends beyond three months we would ask for a token fee of £100 to register the order which will be refunded against the final invoice. In this instance we will confirm your order and collect the 20% deposit 8 weeks prior to the proposed delivery date with the final payment made as above. Where multiple orders are delivered in batches, each batch quantity will be separately invoiced relative to the agreed delivery dates.
We will post our terms and conditions and standard sales contract on the www.newfoundland-lodges.co.uk/pod website in the near future or, if required, post out copies.
The POD is fast becoming ‘hot property’. Despite our only going into production in October 2007 we have already been told by several very experienced operators that they believe there is a very bright future for our product.
At the moment the sites that are coming on board are clearly aware of ‘trends’ and either want to be seen to be ahead of ‘the field’ or have reflected heavily on the effects and implications of the poor weather conditions that prevailed through last season. We do live in changing times and increasing numbers of our own population as well as foreign visitors are looking for the holiday experience with a difference tempered by their growing environmental awareness. We have been told that types of camping hut already exist in certain parts of continental Europe - one Dutch visitor was curious as to why PODs were not available throughout the country.
The POD is designed to sleep 4 persons, although we believe 5 mountain bikers survived a night in one in Yorkshire. At Westmorland County Show last September, 14 local school children managed to cram themselves into one of our ‘show PODs’ before their teacher put a stop to the experiment. Don’t underestimate how versatile they can be. Currently our manufacturing base is located in the south end of the Lake District, it is however becoming clear that we need to put some show units in the south and especially the south west of the country, possibly near Bristol and perhaps close to the New Forest. When this occurs we will put the info on the website and contact you again directly.
We are now advertising regularly in Camping magazine and have recently taken space in the BBC Countryfile magazine, Lakeland Walker magazine and the Cumbria Tourism: Guide to Camping and Caravanning.
The Eskdale site is one of the new Camping and Caravanning Club franchises who are benefiting from a two page article on the POD in the Camping & Caravanning Club 2008 year book that is issued to some 250,000 club members.
Finally do keep an eye on www.thepod.info it is still being developed and refined, but is a fair indicator of where the project is going.
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