No dogs, no kids, no worries

The residents of Deanland have swapped bricks and mortar for a life in an idyllic 'park home' community. But woe betide if you break the rules, discovers Christopher Middleton
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The Independent Online

Today is packing day for Neville and Gill Hollands. They're jetting off to South Africa for three months and are filling their suitcases with some of the warm weather gear they usually take to Spain (where they like to spend at least four weeks of the year). Sounds like the lifestyle of the idle rich, except that the Hollands aren't some high-earning couple, but a pair of Sussex pensioners aged 68 and 73. He's a retired bank manager, she used to be a secretary - and the reason they've got the money to go travelling measures 50 feet by 20, stands on a patch of concrete in the middle of the countryside - and was delivered on a lorry.

Today is packing day for Neville and Gill Hollands. They're jetting off to South Africa for three months and are filling their suitcases with some of the warm weather gear they usually take to Spain (where they like to spend at least four weeks of the year). Sounds like the lifestyle of the idle rich, except that the Hollands aren't some high-earning couple, but a pair of Sussex pensioners aged 68 and 73. He's a retired bank manager, she used to be a secretary - and the reason they've got the money to go travelling measures 50 feet by 20, stands on a patch of concrete in the middle of the countryside - and was delivered on a lorry.

Like an estimated 200,000 other Britons, Neville and Gill are the proud owners of what some people might call a large trailer or caravan, but what they prefer to call a "park home". It's one of 390 similar homes dotted discreetly round a forest-screened, 150-acre site called Deanland Wood Park, four miles north of Hailsham. Not only does their home have no stairs, the accommodation is generous, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, a kitchen and a living room - and it cost them just a fraction of what they got for their bricks-and-mortar home in Guildford. The rest they banked - which is why they can now afford to spend four months of the year swanning around foreign countries.

Forget all that stuff about mittened pensioners eking out a weekly pittance in damp-ridden tenements: the Hollands are off to Cape Town for non-stop sunshine, cricket and bowls. They're not going to be alone, either; two more Deanland couples are wintering out in the Cape. The maths isn't hard. If you can buy an already lived-in park home at Deanland for £70,000 after selling your own house for £250,000, you've got £180,000 of spending money or pension top-up left. "Owning a park home is like an equity release scheme, really", says Steve Whitehead, whose family have been running Deanland for the past 50 years. "The difference is that instead of an organisation like Help The Aged getting a chunk of the money, you get to keep all of it!"

So, what's the catch? Is the reason everyone goes abroad that Deanland (known locally as Dreamland) is the kind of place you want to escape from? Not a bit of it. In terms of facilities, the place is better served than many UK neighbourhoods. It's got its own shop, pub, snooker hall, bowls green, doctor's surgery, swimming pool and social services day centre - all within OAP walking distance.

As for activities, it offers an art club, a hiking group, darts club, woodland walks, and a bowls club with 55 members competing for the 12 places in the Deanland team. Every week there's a quiz night, a jazz night and a big band night, plus outings to Eastbourne Theatre and coach trips to Rye and Tenterden. Oh, and coffee mornings till they come out of your ears.

"We'd never dream of going back to live in the outside world now," says 63-year-old Doreen Flynn, who, with husband Peter, bought a brand new home in Deanland last year. Mind you, the Flynns were lucky. They were able to get hold of one of the three or four precious sites that the Deanland management release each year, for the construction of a brand new park home (replacing an older-style model). "It arrived here on a lorry, ready to live in," smiles Mr Flynn, a retired electrical engineer. "Beforehand, we made two or three trips to the company that makes these homes (Omar, in Milton Keynes), and we were able to specify not just the configuration of the rooms that we wanted, but the carpets, curtains and furniture, too. "The whole thing cost us £140,000 in the end, but as you can imagine, we still had a fair-sized chunk of money left over from selling our three-bedroomed house in Crawley." So with no mortgage to pay, the Flynns' only regular outgoings are electricity, gas and council tax (a low-rated Band B), plus the monthly £141 "pitch fee", for water and general site maintenance. With a 10-year warranty on the house (30 years on the roof), they're free not just of money worries, but home repairs and maintenance, too. The only thing they're not free to do is have a dog, or a relative under 16 coming to live with them - and it wouldn't be a matter of them getting politely told off for either of those misdemeanours. Move a greyhound or a grandchild into your home at Deanland - and you're out. "Those are our two cast-iron rules, and if you break them you're in breach of your agreement," says Steve Whitehead. "Although the residents here own their homes, we retain ownership of the land those homes stand on. So if anyone steps out of line as regards the no-dogs-no-children rule, we can go to court and re-claim their pitch."

The more you probe, the more far-ranging the Deanland management's powers seem to be. No one, for example, is allowed to paint their home a colour thought to be "out of keeping" with the rest of the park. Fences are strictly forbidden, as is the growing of vegetables and the playing of loud music. Washing can be hung out, though not at weekends or on Bank Holidays, and cats are strictly limited to one per home. As well as wielding the power of pet-veto, the Whiteheads also have a say in who they let into the park in the first place. In fact, if they think the people you're selling your home to aren't suitable, they can actually scupper the sale. "Yes, we do have a role in interviewing the prospective buyers," says Steve's father Keith. "We can't refuse someone unreasonably, but if we can show that their arrival will prevent our existing residents from peaceful enjoyment of their property, then we are within our legal rights to stop the transfer."

Is there not a danger, though, that this makes Deanland claustrophobic? "Not at all," laughs Gill Hollands. "That's one of the great things about living here. We've all got so much in common." As demonstrated by the proliferation of plastic moles and fawns to be found popping up from front gardens and peering out from behind flowerpots; at Deanland, cutting-edge is a term that refers to lawnmowing rather than design. As for the street names, they're suburbia in welly boots: Robin's Reach, Heron's Way and Badger's Walk, not to mention Sunset Avenue, Honeysuckle Lane and Woodpecker Way. Do the residents resent the high cosiness factor? Absolutely not. Freed from notions about the glamour of urban street culture, the Deanland-dwellers get on with the business of enjoying their later years in a leafy setting. Plus grandchildren can actually come to stay - though not for too long. "After a fortnight, questions would start to be asked", says Steve Whitehead.

In fact, the eerie lack of young faces is something many of the residents positively relish. "There's just two things we don't get here that you get in the outside world," declares Neville Hollands. "And that's the constant fear of crime, plus the constant noise of local kids riding their bikes around and smashing things up. "Where we lived before, we'd have been very worried about going off on holiday for three months and leaving the house unoccupied for three months. Here, we don't even give it a second thought." Mrs Hollands beams: "Honestly, it's like every day's a holiday. I wouldn't leave here if I won the Lottery."

Deanland Wood Park is near Hailsham, West Sussex. For enquiries about new-build homes (up to four a year) or existing homes for sale (20 a year), contact the management on 01825 872359. For information on the 1,500 park home sites in the UK, contact the National Park Homes Council (01252 336092; www.parkhome-living.co.uk).

THE RULES

* No fences

* No greenhouses

* No vegetable-growing

* No dogs

* No children under 16

* No driving above 10mph

* No rabbits

* No tents

* Only one cat per home

* Homes to be re-painted in a colour approved by management

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