A man has followed his dream of transforming an old ambulance into a luxury mobile home in his pursuit of living the ‘Van Life’.
Mark Bonito, 40, from Chertsey, Surrey previously owned a Volkswagen T4 which he skilfully converted into a camper.
This is when he first found a love for family adventures and the the freedom of the open road.
But in April 2019 Mark, who works as web developer, decided to upgrade his crash pad, and refurbish an old ambulance which was destined for the scrapyard into a modern, comfortable living space.
He purchased the ambulance from a local auction for £5000 and spent a further £2000 refurbishing it inside and out.
The emergency vehicle came fully equipped with medical equipment and Mark and his partner Sophie Why, 35, spent days disconnecting, removing and disposing of all unwanted equipment.
A thorough antibacterial clean was also carried out, before the couple were ready to start renovating the inside and equipping it with all the basic living necessities.
Mark decided he wanted to use as many reclaimed items as possible so they scouted car boot sales, charity shops and garage clear outs until they found everything they were looking for.
The bunk bed they settled on was bought at a garage sale and dissected to form a double bed frame, as well as a bench that pulls out to form a second bed.
Additionally, the kitchen area was built mainly from a kitchenette block that was rescued from a skip, and the original ambulance cabinet was adapted to form a good sized sink.
Mark redecorated the outside of the van so it still resembled an ambulance but couldn’t be mistaken for one, and added an LED light bar above the windscreen.
The refurbishment of the vehicle took two months flat out work, and just before the pair were about to set off on their travels they ran into a major complication.
The weight of the ambulance was above the limit on Mark and Sophie’s license, which came as a shock to the web developer, as he had been driving long wheel base vans for 20 years.
He was then faced with months of hard work in order to pass the two written theory tests, and countless lessons in preparation for the practical driving exam.
Now in August 2020 Mark and Sophie finally have their beautiful ambulance conversion on the road, ready for adventures together with their families.
Mark has three children from previous marriages and Sophie has two from a past relationship, meaning they have a lovely group to travel the world with.
The pair came up with the name “Florence” for their Fiat Ducato ambulance after the medical heroine Florence Nightingale, and for their first trip plan to explore the Arctic together in Mark’s new motor home.
Sophie, who works as a radiographer, said: “Mark is always the first to admit that some research should have been carried out, as owning an ambulance does come with its complications.”
“He likes things a little on the quirky side and liked the idea of buying a van that was complete with a good standard of servicing, and fully equipped with gadgets galore!”
“Rescuing a service vehicle that had done a heroic job from being scrapped seemed the right thing to do.”
Mark added: “We love the fact we have a reuse theme with all our reclaimed and upcycled items. Each item bares a memory of where we got it from.”
“We’ve been to Dorset for the amazing panoramic views of the sea, with a 4am alarm to sit and watch the sunrise with a cup of tea.
“We’ve had a few forest adventures, some riverside stays and last weekend we stayed with the children in the South Down’s National Park, which is a dark sky reserve with an amazing view of the stars.
“When we’ve been travelling to these places and there has been heavy traffic, we always say how handy it would be to still have the blue lights. We often get a second glance from other road users too!
“The van has also been great for our relationship. We both have families from previous relationships, so it is great being able to have time alone together in the van but be able to get back quickly to our kids if we need to.”
“I work from the van remotely which is really comfortable. I did all the electrics, heating and internet making it a really lovely space for me to live in.
My kids love it too.
“We have a real passion for cooking, and have our own blog where we share recipes that can be easily cooked in vans whilst on the road.”
“Being part of the van life community is amazing because your not tied down and you can visit the most beautiful places without leaving your home. It is incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”