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Raylands is Jewel in the Crown

Neil Blanch (back) and Ben Gumbrell fix a balcony

We may never see a day when Jeremy Clarkson is relaxing in a caravan as opposed to blowing one up, but for many others they are an increasingly attractive proposition.

The economic slump may have hit package holiday providers, but it has led to a steady rise in caravan sales over recent years as people look closer to home for their holidays. This has helped British tourism, which has been good news for holiday parks across the country. One company to have benefitted is Roundstone Caravans, which has been based in Southwater since 1930.

As well as the business headquarters on Worthing Road, the family-run company operates Raylands Country Park in the peaceful surroundings of Jackrells Lane in the fields between Copsale and Southwater. You’re unlikely to have come across it, but a lack of passing trade is actually pivotal to its success.

The site was bought at auction back in 1979 by Bob Morris – the grandson of Roundstone Caravans founder John William Whitehouse. Bob died last year, but the business is now in the hands of an experienced team including Bob’s son-in-law Neil Blanch, who is married to Bob’s daughter Shirley, long-serving employee Steve Holloway and Bob’s daughter Rosie Kent. Also providing more than a helping hand at Raylands are Sandie Hall, the park manager, wardens Ken and Jenny Watts and groundsman Henry Dewey.

Raylands has always had a licence to operate for only eight months of the year. However, the park has recently been granted a licence for eleven months, giving it a major boost for the future. Rosie said: “We had never applied for the eleven month licence before as dad was happy for the site to go along as it was.

“For him, Raylands was a bit of a jewel in the crown. He was always very careful that any development was done nicely, with plenty of space for people for pretty gardens and he always kept modern caravans on the park. He liked the fact that it would shut down for a few months each year as it would allow time to carry out maintenance and development and rebuild the roads when needed. But you have to move with the times, and we know that some of the other parks in the area have had longer licences for several years now.

“We took a fresh look at the business as we found some people were heading to other sites, not because they preferred them, but because they needed the eleven month flexibility. that was especially true for those who use the static caravans as a second home.

“Demand has grown for holiday parks because people are not just staying in their homes all of their lives any more. They may downsize, or buy a home abroad and need a caravan (in the UK). Some of the people we have here are not coming far but just want to get away from their environment and this is a nice, peaceful, rural setting. You don’t want to be driving three hours to get to your caravan every weekend, so for a lot of people we are a better option than coastal resorts.”

There are currently ninety-eight static caravans on the site. During the early years, there was less than half of that number, with most of the business at Raylands coming from smaller touring caravans, but that trend was gradually reversed as the focus switched to the holiday home style static vans. Nonetheless, touring vans are still welcome on the site on seasonal static pitches.

As most of the people staying on the park are retired or semi-retired people, the decision was taken to make Raylands child-free. Grandchildren often visit and visitors are welcome to bring children, but young families are not allowed to own caravans on the site.This set-up suits the residents just fine.

Peter and Diane Crouch have been residents at Raylands for eight years, using their static caravan during the summer and living near Sarasota in Florida during the winter. Peter said: “It was an impulse buy – we used to have a twin axle touring caravan and would spend the winter in Spain, but we now spend our summers here and we have a place in Florida too. We go there in December and come back to England in June.

“We came to have a look at one of the caravans on the site and suddenly it was a done deal. We tend to be quite spontaneous! It’s nice, you feel safe here. It’s nice to hear a few grandchildren about from time to time, but they can’t stay permanently, which is also nice!

“The beauty here is that we are with like-minded people, we have a nice little club house with good food and entertainment, the tennis court, and there’s a nice walk to Horsham which takes about an hour and ten minutes through woodland. For us, Horsham is one of the nicest towns in West Sussex. We go to Southwater Country Park too, and there are some lovely walks around here - it’s only fifteen minutes into the village. What’s not to like?

“I don’t understand why more people don’t get into caravanning, especially when you hear about housing problems, and older people living alone in homes struggling to make their pennies go around. You couldn’t
want a better lifestyle than this.”

As it transpires, more people are coming around to Peter’s way of thinking, with a steady rise in caravan sales over the last four years. Next year, static caravan sales come with a 5% tax rate, although that is not
nearly as worrying for the industry as the 20% rate initially proposed. New static caravans currently cost around £30,000 whilst second-hand holiday homes cost from about £10,000.

Raylands has helped increase its cause recently by introducing balconies. Rosie said: “'Raylands has responded to owners requests and allowed balconies on the park.  The manufacturers have upped their game over the last few years and now balconies provide a lovely looking decked area which really enhances peoples holiday homes, doubling their space and transforming the way they use them.

“We’ve had some bad weather this year, and you don’t want to come outside and sit on the wet grass below. It is nice to be able to sit on a balcony. It gives the vans a new lease of life. Neil has devoted a lot of time to putting them up.  Dad was very fastidious about the grounds and wanted the park to look perfect all the time. Neil also likes things to look perfect, and dad liked that quality in him. He has great attention to detail and he loves getting his hands dirty. He is respected by the staff as he gets stuck in – he was cutting hedges in the rain this week. He is an ideal manager as he leads by example.”

Raylands Country Park now has three brand new 2012 holiday homes for sale, all on prime locations within the park grounds. These modern homes are fully equipped with central heating and double glazing.

For details visit the website at https://www.raylandscountrypark.co.uk

Peter and Diane Crouch
Sandie Hall
Many caravans now have balconies
The inside of a new caravan

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