Who are you calling trailer trash?

Mobile homes have an

image problem in the

US (Paula Jones, dumb

rednecks with guns).

Here 200,000 are proud

that an Englishman's

home is his caravan

As John Higgins lovingly tends the flowerbeds outside his Gretna home, there is nothing in his demeanour to suggest he sleeps with his close relations or slips into Klansman's robes for weekend relaxation. Nor, for that matter, does his wife Irene resemble a big-haired waitress who takes in serpents at her local church. Yet if the couple lived in the United States, rather than the Scottish borders, they would be suspected of all these things.

To use American parlance, the Higginses are trailer-trash. Their crime? They live in a mobile home.

Despite its origins among the Dust Bowl migrants of the Great Depression, the trailer park isn't a uniquely American phenomenon. The Castles' home, Cherry Tree Park, overlooking the Solway Firth, is among hundreds of residential sites across the UK providing low-cost housing for some 200,000 people.

Apart from the absence of plastic pink flamingoes cluttering their yards, the British trailer parks are largely identical to their Deep South counterparts. They are found at the end of quiet country lanes or on the outskirts of towns, lurking like outcasts from decent society, and populated by an uneasy mix of permanent home-owners and transients who rent by the week.

"There is a huge difference between the owners and renters," complains Irene, who moved to the park six years ago after selling her old-age residential home in Barrow. "We keep things spick and span and spend money on our homes, but the renters' places are absolutely horrendous. We don't mind them if they're decent people but most are just riff-raff. Drugs and fighting are the worst problems, We've had more drugs raids in the past month than ever before. But the owner doesn't care as long as his rent money keeps coming in."

Of the 40 trailers pitched at Cherry Tree Park, half are rented and half are owned. Wandering around, it's easy to distinguish between the two. The rented trailers, mostly used as DSS accommodation, stand unadorned, as homely as a row of Portaloos. Only a few have hot running water and their unkempt yards are littered with empty gas bottles.

The private properties, by contrast, display all their owners' middle- class pretensions. Some have added garages and conservatories. At Irene's, stone lions stand guard on her gateposts and gnomes jostle for space by a wooden wishing-well.

"We call our part Park Lane and the other part the Gorbals," says Geoffrey Salter, the Higgins's neighbour. "Look at that scrapheap over there. It's a damned disgrace. It devalues my property and there's nothing I can do about it. It would cost me pounds 4,000 to up sticks and move to another park - but what's the point? It would only be out of the frying pan and into the fire."

Geoffrey has been living at Cherry Tree Park for 11 years - and trying to get out for eight. But with the timber-and-plywood structures so cheap to manufacture, there's little re-sale value for second-hand trailers, even Geoffrey's "des res", decked out with a mock-pine facade "to give it the feel of a real Finnish log cabin".

Geoffrey's Nordic motif is just one example of the trailer's chameleon- like qualities. For all the aesthetic deficiencies of its ugly, design- free frame, there is a variety of optional extras to mask its bland uniformity, including bay windows and gables, as well as the standard brick "skirt" to hide its wheels.

At Cheshire's Haydock Park racecourse, the full range of mobile home accessories is on display at the industry's annual northern sales exhibition, where rival manufacturers have turned out in force to unveil their latest products.

With prices starting at just pounds 20,000 for the most basic, two-bedroom model, business is brisk. During the day, a stream of curious punters traipse through 30 "show centre" trailers erected around the site, each bearing optimistic names such as The Devon Cottage (fake beams and leaded uPVC windows) or The Chatsworth ("gold-finish curtain poles, brass TV-aerial point").

"Last year was awful," confides salesman Keith Griffiths, standing outside The Canford, its front door flanked by soaring pillars. "Princess Diana died on the day of the show. It really killed the figures."

As chief sales manager with Wessex Park Homes, Keith's job is difficult enough without the burden of untimely royal deaths. "Trailer park is a phrase we don't mention in this profession," he admonishes. "We prefer to call them residential park-home estates."

Such brazen re-branding appears to be working. Eighty per cent of trailer- dwellers are now retired or semi-retired, drawn to the mobile home as a cut-price alternative to buying a bungalow.

"We're looking to free up some capital by selling our house and buying something much cheaper," explains Roy Deegan from Wakefield, as he inspects The Alpine Lodge with his wife, Bonita. "Being retired, we just want a place with minimal up keep where we can get sonic peace and quiet. We're both very keen birdwatchers."

Once built, the Deegans' trailer will be towed to the park of their choice, hooked up to utilities and charged a weekly ground rent of between pounds 15 and pounds 25, with around pounds 10,000 of the trailer's price passed on to the park owners as a sitting cost. Cherry Tree Park is one of many sites owned and run by gypsies - though Romany plots are increasingly being bought out by specialist management companies, which redevelop them for pensioners by landscaping the grounds and banning children. "The parks used to be a place where disreputable types could lie low," says Keith. "They're gradually changing, but there are still a lot of nomads in the business."

British prejudice may never rival American trash-bashing, where jokes about Jerry Springer red-necks have reached government level ("Drag a dollar bill through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll come up with," sneered Clinton aide James Carville about Paula Jones). The stigma of the trailer park is all-pervasive.

While the mobile-home population in the US has swollen to more than 18 million, the figure here has remained static for more than a decade, mainly due to restrictive planning policies passed by local councils. Effectively, the trailer's British advance has been stopped in its tracks. "There are a lot of old-fashioned attitudes towards the sector which has limited its growth," laments John Boston of the British Home Parks Association. "Councils won't grant us the same rights as ordinary builders to buy land, because they associate us with the old days."

At Clifton Park, near Luton, the prejudice lingers despite new ownership. "This place used to be a right old knocking-shop by all accounts," says Kenneth Baseley, a 74-year-old living at number 10. "Reputations are hard to get rid of. There's a gypo living at the top end of the field who's always outside fixing his motor. The locals can be a bit sniffy, and unfortunately we all get tarred with the same brush."

At Clifton, gentrification is nearly complete. The few remaining rented trailers have been banished to a remote corner, while every few days brand-new trailers are delivered to furnish the growing takeover by the Saga set. On a sunny day, as the Clifton residents prepare for the park's best-kept garden competition, the scene seems a long way from the truly menacing trailer parks of the Alabama badlands with their barbed-wire barricades. "My children were horrified when I told them I was moving here, but now they've seen the place they love it," chips in Ronald Broom, another retiree, pausing briefly from watering his geraniums. He is as neat and tidy as his house, his white socks as spotless as the carpet. Only his wiry hair makes a desperate bid for untidiness. "It's full of people just like myself," he says.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?