Britain's old holiday caravans to house Kosovo homeless

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The Independent Online

Britain's 300,000 caravan owners are being asked to donate any second-hand or elderly caravans to Kosovo.

Britain's 300,000 caravan owners are being asked to donate any second-hand or elderly caravans to Kosovo.

A 200-strong convoy, driven by the owners themselves, could soon be heading to the Balkans to bring winter shelter to thousands of people left homeless by last year's war.

Caravan associations have indicated that they are sympathetic to the idea and will seek to lend their support when it has gained impetus.

Once in Kosovo, the caravans will be used to house families around the town of Mitrovice who returned home after the war to find their properties in ruins. Many are living in tents and warehouses, which aid workers warn will provide little protection against the weather in winter, when temperatures often drop below freezing for days at a time.

The plan is being co-ordinated by Lee Barton, a caravan owner and former naval communications officer, who decided to act after watching a video of the conditions in which people in Mitrovice were living.

"Up to 30,000 people will not have proper shelter this winter and caravans are ideal because they provide warmth and they're big enough to house large families," said Mr Barton, who is based in Truro, Cornwall. "The key thing is for the caravans to be roadworthy. They don't have to look pretty because the people we need to help aren't interested in looking pretty right now. The stove doesn't have to work. They only have to be waterproof."

While a top-of-the-range four-berth Buccaneer Schooner costs almost £20,000, second-hand models and trade-in values can be as little as £500. Mr Barton said: "People may be thinking of trading in their old caravan which isn't going to fetch them all that much. Instead, they can donate it to us.

"Others may have a caravan that's been sitting in their gardens for a few years and hasn't been used. They could get rid of it by donating it to Kosovo."

Mr Barton is seeking financial support from banks to cover the fuel and transport costs of the 3,000-mile journey and has approached caravan dealers to persuade them to donate some of their second- hand models. He has already been promised three caravans by a West Country dealer. He also intends to use the interior space of the caravans to transport warm clothes and blankets.

In Kosovo, the caravans will be handed over to local grassroots charities which will distribute them, mostly to some of the many one-parent families created by the number of men killed in the conflict.

Mr Barton added: "We are aiming for 200 caravans, with the first 50 going out by the middle of next month. We need all of them in place by the end of November as winter is coming on quickly."

If his plans take shape, the Caravan Club, Europe's main touring organisation with 800,000 members, has said it will lend support by advertising the campaign in its journals and newsletters for members.

"If the vehicles are roadworthy they will provide housing, which is great," said a spokeswoman for the club. "If you have an old or second-hand caravan, instead of trading it in you could help to provide shelter for needy people in Kosovo."

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