Wheel-chair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB

Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB
Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB
Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB
Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB
Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB
Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB
Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB Wheelchair friendly Swift Sprite Quattro FB

This Swift Sprite Quattro FB may look like any other at first glance, but in fact it is something a little extraordinary.

Fully kitted-out to cater for a couple’s disability requirements, this impressive caravan has enjoyed many helping hands to get it on the road.

There’s a certain freedom to camping that perhaps many take for granted. For Pam and Malcolm, their customised Sprite Quattro FB caravan represents more than just the opportunity to holiday, but a freedom from the constraints of living with a severe disability.

And the story of this one-of-a-kind Sprite is also the ultimate example of ‘pay it forward’. RV Direct owner Allan Rees has played an integral role in getting this caravan road ready for its new owners – with hours of free labour just the tip of the iceberg of his involvement.

"Our son Darryn has been in a wheelchair for 16 years following a car accident, so this project has been extremely personal and I consider it a privilege to help Pam enjoy a better quality of life," says Allan.

"I’ve been in the motorhome and caravan industry for several decades and this is an absolute high point for me."

Allan is keen to help more people in New Zealand who are confined to wheelchairs enjoy camping and is taking on the agency for the customised Swift caravans.

"It is not a money making venture, I’m doing it because I find it personally rewarding. If even a few more people each year can have their lifestyle improved, then it’s all worth it."

Allan’s involvement came about purely by chance. He was visiting the UK Caravan Show last October when he spotted a wheelchair lifter on a motorhome.

"With my personal interest in disability and camping, I went to find out more and got chatting with the owners of Coachbuilt GB. I discovered they were custom-building a caravan for a couple in New Zealand and told them I’d like to help and would take care of getting it to New Zealand and road ready for them."

Swift Sprite9

Coachbuilt got in touch with Malcolm and Pam, and when Allan returned to New Zealand, he travelled to meet them.

"The journey really began from there," says Allan, "and I’d like to think we’ll be lifelong friends."

Built in the UK, the Gilbert’s caravan is the first of its kind Allan has been involved with and he is understandably emotional about the process and outcome.

"I completely relate to the restrictions Pam lives with. When you’re in a wheelchair and require a special bed and bathroom area, there are not a lot of holiday accommodation options and it’s easy to be trapped in your own home."

For Pam and Malcolm, the Sprite Quattro FB is the culmination of more than a year of careful planning and hoping. It also represents a significant investment of more than $100,000.

"We sold our boat to help pay for it, we did a lot of research beforehand so to actually see it finished is definitely a relief," says Malcolm.

"We’re really grateful to everyone who has been involved, particularly Allan as there were a lot of formalities to go through in order to import the caravan, get it signed off and road ready in New Zealand. He took care of all of that for us, as well as sorting compliances and duty concessions, saving us a lot of hassle and money.

"We arrived at his yard to find all the complicated side of things taken care of, the grooming and setting up had been done and even the wheelchair ramp was ready for use."

Thanks to the expertise Allan has built around his business RV Direct, he was able to take care of the importation and carry out the finishing touches once Coachbuilt had completed the construction, saving Pam and Malcolm thousands of dollars including duty and freight discounts, gas and electrical compliance and on road preparations.

And the ‘pay it forward’ mindset was shared by fellow industry expert Colin Bates, owner of Leisureline Caravans.

Allan got chatting with Colin at a Mustang meeting (a shared passion) about the Gilbert’s caravan, the story behind it and about Pam and Malcolm.

"Being ex Taranaki himself, Colin was immediately onboard and said ‘what can Leisureline do to help’. With no hesitation, he took care of all of the labour required to install the satellite and self-containment needs," says Allan.

Approaching the eight year benchmark since Pam suffered an aneurysm, followed by brain damage as a result of medical misadventure, the couple’s life has been turned upside down. Once an alarms technician, Malcolm is now a full time carer for Pam, who was formerly a horticulturalist and landscape designer.

Due to the requirements of Pam’s condition, even visiting friends is an exercise in logistics.

"The wheelchair rarely fits in people’s homes, we can’t use their restrooms and we can’t stay overnight," says Malcolm. "But now with this caravan we can travel to see friends and family, bringing all the facilities we need with us."

Pam beams with excitement as she explains their first excursion is to the South Island for a spot of salmon fishing.

While the Quattro looks like a standard design at first glance, there’s nothing ordinary about this creation. First indication of something different is the barely noticeable but sizeable support beams on the roof exterior.

Swift Sprite2

These allow for an electric wheelchair gantry to run down the centre of the caravan, so Pam can be lifted out of her wheelchair by harness and transported through the caravan to the custom designed bed and bathroom area.

Requiring turning during the night, cutting-edge technology ensures Pam can sit up on the customised bed with the push of an electronic button. And the central gantry means she can be lifted from the bed into the bathroom and shower area.

While the Swift left its factory as a fully kitted out Quattro FB, it has undergone extensive renovations (at Coachbuilt UK) to cater for Malcolm and Pam’s specific requirements.

"We looked at getting something like this built in New Zealand but no one seemed to be able to cater for us," says Malcolm.

A Google search revealed the specialist services being carried out in the United Kingdom and Malcolm got in touch to set the process in motion.

One of the downsides to the arrangement is that any caravan or motorhome brought in to New Zealand privately receives no official follow-up support – which is where Allan stepped in.
"I’ve given Pam and Malcolm the reassurance that because I brought it in, this vehicle will qualify for Swift factory support for the life of the vehicle in New Zealand."

With a global reputation for quality, Swift is the UK’s leading leisure vehicle manufacturer. While the hallmarks of the traditional Sprite interior are evident, including a stylish woodgrain finish, the back half of this Sprite has been completely stripped out and reconfigured to accommodate a customised electric operated bed, and a shower and toilet with enough space to allow for a commode chair and a wheelchair access.

The kitchen is remains original, while the front area has been redesigned to allow for more spacious aisle space, so Pam’s wheelchair can turn and be part of the entertaining area. The traditional two long seats have been altered to create an L-shaped seating space which can transform into a double bed.

The main door has been enlarged and a wheelchair ramp replaces traditional steps. Directly inside is enough room for the wheelchair to turn, and access to the gantry and lifting mechanisms.

Such precision planning has needed to be meticulous, given that Malcolm designed the bedroom and bathroom floor plan at home, relaying the measurements to the team behind the build in England.

"I created a life-sized replica with masking tape at home, and we pushed the wheelchair through the various aisles and spaces to ensure it fit properly. A few inches here and there could have resulted in a disaster."

So it is with a huge sigh of relief, and more than one set of tears of happiness, that Malcolm and Allan watch Pam ascend the ramp into her new caravan, successfully turn the wheelchair and confirm that all the hard work has paid off.

Originally a six berth caravan, it is now perfectly equipped to cater for two people’s individual needs. While there is much to impress, the real feature to admire is the fact it enables a couple to continue their dream of travelling New Zealand and enjoying holidays most of us take for granted.

"A lot of people out there won’t understand the significance of this journey but there’s no doubt it’s a life changing exercise – for everyone involved," says Allan.

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