Club Jupiter is comprised of three caravan-obsessed friends,…and when we really care about something, we care about how it is made. As soon as we began our partnership with Willerby, the UK’s biggest caravan manufacturer, we began pestering them about a factory visit, because we wanted to understand every step a caravan takes before it becomes a wonderful holiday home.
We knew that Willerby caravans have been made in Hull since 1946, when a Hull-based entrepreneur, Walter Allen, sensed a post-war craving for freedom and leisure. Within six months of establishing a factory in Willerby, Hull, he had manufactured 800 caravans, the first mass-produced caravans in Britain. Today, Willerby produce 7500 a year, with around 13 different models currently in production. A larger caravan might take two days to construct; smaller ones can be finished in a day. We were really eager to see how this could be possible!
Today it’s not every brand that is willing to grant three nosy strangers full access to their manufacturing process. It’s always a good sign when a company embraces transparency, an “open kitchen” approach that suggests they have nothing to hide. As we realised as soon as we stepped into the Willerby factory and inhaled the sweet smell of sawdust, Willerby actually have a lot to show off…
Back when Willerby first began manufacturing caravans in the 1940s, caravans were fairly basic steel-framed, canvas-walled roofed structures, but every decade, the manufacturing process was refined, with improvements to weather-proofing in the 1950s, bigger lounges and windows landing in the 1960s, and smart modular storage in the 1970s. “The fundamentals of caravan construction have stayed the same at Willerby for 75 years,” said our guide, Production Manager, Tom. “But the process is always being refined, we’re always on the lookout for ways to evolve and improve.”
It was genuinely amazing to see such a huge space occupied by so many skilled workers, as we traced the trip a Willerby caravan makes through the factory. The Willerby workforce is currently 1100, with close to 80% directly employed in production, a crack team of joiners, machinists, furnishers, plumbers, quality inspectors and cleaners. Every caravan completes a circuit of the factory floor on skates – tram-like tracks – stopping at around 30 different “bays”, from the joisting, pipes and insulation and flooring bays through carpetting, roof-ritting, furnishing fits, cladding sides, electrics and finally, after the cleaning bay, “bedding down”, ie packing everything ready to transport the holiday home into the showground and beyond.
One thing that really struck us is that just about every feature and fixture in the caravan is built on-site, bespoke, for each model. As one joiner said to us, “Willerby don’t just make 7000 caravans a year. We make 7000 kitchens, making us one of the UK’s biggest kitchen manufacturers.” This really cements Willerby’s golden reputation as a heritage British brand, and with such a variety of different construction and crafting skills on show, we could see that there is never a dull moment on the Willerby factory floor. And just in case you’re wondering what the Willerby factory <sounds> like, we can confirm that your holiday home was lovingly constructed to a blaring soundtrack of 1980s power ballads by Prince and Madonna. Because this is how a Willerby rolls!
All imagery: Joanna Bongard