How one couple escaped to live in a shipping container

Tad and Fiona had enough of rising living costs and bills, so they made a drastic life change

Our wandering scribe Peter R went to meet them

A light sheen of early morning frost glistens across the grass and the ribbed markings of tractor tyres are rock solid to the touch. Next to a large metal shipping container stands a thickly woven canvas, doubling as a tent. A small whisp of smoke rising gently from a hole at the top.

Last night was cold. Not quite freezing, but cold. The tent, surprisingly, has held its warmth. For the past year this shipping container, along with the accompanying structures, has been home to Thomas “Tad” Fearn, his wife Fiona, their young son Frankie and not to forget the dog, Juniper.

dog in the forest

The pressures of life led this family to the wilderness

As the crush of life increased, the bills, costs and charges continued to relentlessly drop in to the mail box of their small rented flat on the outskirts of a large southern UK city. Whenever living in a shipping container, in the comparative wilderness, is more preferable than their previous arrangement, it would appear to be a case of society gone wrong.

However they ended up here, the family are happier than ever before. When their rental tenancy ran its course, rather than negotiating a renewal they looked for other options. Better options. Options that many would perceive as being a little wacky.

“This is our second winter here so we are more experienced than before,” says Tad. “The cold weather can be harsh. Keeping Frankie warm and comfortable is the main priority. We’ve worked a pretty good setup though.”

A wood burning stove provides warmth and comfort

A large wood burning stove acts as the hub of the container. Like a de facto aga, providing warmth and cooking capabilities. The tent is a scaled down day-to-day living quarters and more economic during the day as it is smaller and easier to heat.

All of their clothes and linen holds an earthy, smoky smell, but the ventilation means there are no breathing issues. A meaty stew bubbles away gently on the stove, held up by square metal beams, over a fire of sticks and one resilient log.

Life costs are sky rocketing

Tad repaired bicycles in a previous life, spending what he earned on home, heating, commuting and food. Fiona stopped her part-time job in a bakery when Frankie was born. What little money they had was spent on the necessities of life. Cash was tight and there were no luxuries.

“Tad would get up early and go to work, then cycle home and work on doing up old bikes at our flat so he could hopefully sell them on for a bit of extra cash,” explains Fiona. “Everything was covered, all the bills, but we never had anything left over to save or spend on dinners or fancy clothes. It wasn’t like that.”

One day Tad was fixing a mountain bike for a customer who told him about “alternative lifestyles” and people living on houseboats, in garden sheds or lorry trailers.

“It was both eye opening and inspirational,” says Tad. “I knew these things existed but I didn’t think people actually lived that way. At least not in this country. I didn’t see it as an option for us, or something that just anyone could do”.

“It was a shift in consciousness alright!” laughs Fiona. “Tad does have some strange ideas and I thought it was another one. The more we talked about it though it made sense in our situation. If other people like us could do it then why couldn’t we?”

costs of life

Looking for potential new spaces, off the grid

Tad threw out some feelers and was put in touch with a contact who had two potential dwellings. An old bread van or a shipping container. The container was already on a piece of farm land, situated behind some woodland and originally intended to provide winter shelter for cattle. It had never been properly utilized, however, and the farmer was ready to just let it be.

Rather than rust away into an eye sore, that would eventually disappear under the growth of roots and wild plants, Tad pitched the idea of breathing some new life into the structure.

“He thought we were bonkers for wanting to do it but accepted that we were decent, trustworthy people and not looking to squat or wreck the place so he said give it a go,” says Tad.

He continues: “There’s a small stream running behind it for fresh water and lots of unkempt forestry around for us to gather firewood. The natural resources are amazing. It’s not always pretty. The scenery is beautiful in the summer but very intimidating and demanding in the winter months.”

The shipping container is used for storage and sleeping

The shipping container is for sleeping and storage. The tent serves as a kind of living room or daily quarters. Thick rugs, well cared for pot plants and other baubles adorn the area.

“It’s a bit messy, but it’s home,” smiles Tad. “We aspire to be minimalists but as you can see it’s not exactly working out.”

Keeping the tent secured to the ground (using wooden stakes) has been imperative after some strong wins last year nearly took it away. Flooding from excess rainfall is also a concern, as Tad points to the corners that have let in water in the past.

Clothes are washed in pots of heated stream water and the work never stops. Summer will be spent preparing for winter by ensuring there are ample supplies of fuel and food to survive and thrive.

It’s Fiona’s turn this week to clean out the compost toilet. Bag and spade in hand, she pulls on her faux fur boots and trudges off into the woods to dispose of the waste.

She grins back into the tent, “What a glam life!”

Cleaning waste in the woods. What a glamorous life!


Ignoring the media and negative culture

As the sun sets they will retire to the shipping container, light some candles, brew some tea or coffee and read a book. Batteries power the clock radio that also brings in the occasional news bulletin. However, both admit to avoiding news, politics and current affairs as much as possible. A wise choice.

“We don’t want that type of negativity out here,” confirms Tad. “Why do we need 500 TV channels pumping in nonsense all day? We have plenty of stuff to do without ceding our imagination, time and attention.”

“We live in the beautiful surrounds of nature,” agrees Fiona. “What more could you ask for?”

— END —

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