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Down the line

THE area around Hull in east Yorkshire could well be described as the hub of the caravan industry. Many manufacturers are based there and, with a number of suppliers to the industry also in the vicinity, between them they provide jobs for a fair number of the residents.

One of the oldest companies in the industry is Swift, now a large group that manufactures touring caravans, motor homes and, since 2004, caravan holiday homes. It is the only manufacturer to operate its own, modern transport fleet, specially designed to transport its units direct to dealerships, giving total quality control from manufacturing to delivering to the end customer.

Swift was founded in 1965 by the current chairman's father and is still a family business, but is operated by a board with over 160 years' joint experience in the industry. It employs around 900 people, 370 of whom have worked for the company for more than ten years.

The Swift site at Cottingham, to the north west of Hull, is 87 acres, and buildings on the site add up to 607,127 sq ft.  A new factory costing £6.8m was opened in 2006 by Alan Johnson, one of the local MPs and now a cabinet minister in Gordon Brown's government, and this is the largest single factory complex in Europe, with a 126,000 sq ft assembly hall. It is just part of a continuing investment programme as the company has, for example, invested more than £20m in the last decade in new factories, computer-operated machinery, and the latest technology.

Whether it is touring caravans, motorhomes or caravan holiday homes, the Swift group believes its products are of the finest quality, and it aims to provide comfortable and enjoyable holiday and leisure experiences that can be repeated time and again.

In 2004, when the group began to build on its success with the launch of its range of caravan holiday homes, it was a venture that represented the company's biggest investment since it started manufacturing motor homes in 1985. The Swift caravan holiday home range was launched with the Début and Vendée models. These have since been discontinued and replaced by the Chamonix range, while the Moselle was added in 2005. Swift currently has 42 sales outlets in the UK and also exports to northern Europe via Belgium.

The caravan holiday homes are currently built in an old factory on the east side of Hull, but as part of the company's continued and extensive development plans on its Cottingham site, which includes new access roads and offices, construction of a new 90,000 square feet factory to build caravan holiday homes will start soon, allowing for an increase in the product range and volume.

Increase in the product range? Do I anticipate that lodges will be made as well? And possibly twin units? We might know the answers to these questions in 2009!

Down under

We visited the factory to watch a Chamonix caravan holiday home being built. This range is built on an AL-KO chassis and that's where we began our visit, as the AL-KO assembly factory is nearby. AL-KO has made chassis for many years for Swift's touring caravans and motor homes and has recently applied its expertise to produce chassis for caravan holiday homes and lodges as well, using the same principle of a galvanized chassis designed to produce optimum strength, rigidity and stability,  with the minimum of weight and maximum corrosion protection.

AL-KO is a German owned company, and has been producing chassis for caravan holiday homes since 2001. It uses a fully modular design that can be adapted for a variety of body lengths and widths and has several significant advantages, both simple and more technical. It's available in kit form, for instance, to aid transportation, and also has adjustable extension and axle positions. Naturally, the chassis is fully compliant with NCC (National Caravan Council) regulations.

The single and twin axle chassis are assembled in the same factory. Some of the components are delivered direct to Hull from AL-KO's plant in Germany, while others are delivered from its main factory in Warwickshire. Some of the steel components are delivered galvanised, while others are raw and are galvanised by local Hull companies.

The first procedure in the manufacture of a Swift holiday home is for AL-KO to assemble the central chassis axle section, followed by the main bearers. The cross bearers are then added and measurements taken across the diagonals to ensure squareness before the bolts are torqued up. The AL-KO chassis can extend its length in 25cm increments.
Once the metalwork of the chassis is complete, the timber floor bearers are fitted to the chassis, then they are stacked, five high, ready to be transported to the Swift factory by a haulage company.

Zone One

There are three zones in the Swift factory and a number of building processes take place in each zone. In fact, there are 23 processes from start to finish and two production lines run parallel through the plant.

The fully galvanised chassis is brought into Zone One, floor insulation is laid on a waterproof membrane, then the floorboards are added and screwed down. The service holes are drilled out ready for pipe work, plumbing and gas pipes. Pipes under the floor are insulated.

Next, pre-cut vinyl is laid on the floor in the kitchen and bathroom areas. Export models normally have vinyl floor covering throughout.

The internal partition walls and pre-assembled items, such as the fireplace, are mounted and fixed on the floor. The external wall panels incorporating steel reinforcement for snow loading grade B (required throughout the UK, France and Germany) are fixed to the floor and pre-assembled furniture for the kitchens, bedrooms, etc, are installed. The outside sections are insulated using polystyrene. The walls, floor, and roof are insulated to EN1647 standard Grade 2.

Zone Two

In Zone Two, first fix electrics using pre-wired fittings are installed ready for connection to the wiring loom at a later stage. First fix plumbing fittings are fitted.

The roof structure is made in two sections which are assembled in a separate workspace using pre-assembled roof trusses and ceiling board. These are stacked ready for lifting into position. The first roof section is lifted into position and fixed, followed by the second roof unit, and the wiring looms are installed in the roof space. Due to the limitations of the existing factory, it is necessary to make the roof in two halves and the outer wall in three sections. Once the new factory is operational, the roofs and walls will be in single sections.

Now the coated steel pantile roof tile sheets, ridges, GRP bargeboards and large capacity gutters are fixed, followed by the tough-textured, sandstone colour horizontal sheets of exterior aluminium cladding.

Exterior UPVC double glazed windows and doors are fitted and there are full height front windows to lounge, dining area and main bedroom. Second fix plumbing work is concluded.

Full electrical, plumbing and gas tests are carried out. Meanwhile, internal fittings like coving, wall hung mirrors are fixed and completed.

Zone Three

In Zone Three, the final zone, the finishing process starts. Carpets and underlay are individually fitted to lounge, dining area, hallway and bedrooms and there is final finish work to be done - including carpet trims to be fitted and loose furniture to be loaded and positioned in the unit. The Chamonix really now does look much more inviting, and curtains are hung and soft furnishing items fitted.

Inspections are carried out and any remedial work can be done at this point, which is then followed by a first clean. Quality control inspectors then do a thorough check on the caravan holiday home, and any more necessary remedial work can be carried out before a final clean is done.

No job is complete without the statutory paperwork, and then the Chamonix was moved to the despatch area to await collection by a transporter en route to its final destination. Once it is loaded on to the transporter, it becomes the responsibility of the transport company.


• For the 2008 season there are new models and upgrades of style and specification across the ranges. All Swift caravan holiday homes are now fitted with two carbon monoxide detectors.

• The entry level Burgundy gets a new 28ft x12ft model, which was shown for the first time at the Holiday Caravan Show at Beaulieu in September. This addition takes the line-up to four and the contemporary interior has new wood grain furniture, domestic quality internal doors and a new modern framed mirror over the fireplace in the living area. Prices range from £17,700 for the 28x12 2 bedroom model to £20,540 for the 35x12 3 bedroom model.

• There are three models in the popular Moselle range, which has been redesigned for 2008 with, in the company's words, "stunning interiors including sumptuous designer sofas, ambient lighting and rich Verona Oak wood grain furniture". An element of green credentials appears, too, as new energy saving bulbs make the lighting 45% more efficient. Prices range from £22,563 for the 35x12 2 bedroom model to £23,868 for the 38x12 model with three bedrooms.

• The top-of-the-range Chamonix, "an affordable trendsetter" according to the information on the company's website, has luxury touches, like silver-coloured light switches and mains sockets, and gets two brand new models - a 38ft x 12ft two-bedroom with en-suite shower and a 38ft x 12ft three bedroom layout which costs £33,195. There is also 38ft x 12ft en-suite toilet two-bedroom layout which costs £32,755.

• All of the layouts include the option of having French windows. Verona Oak wood grain furniture appears in this range, too, as well as Velux roof lights and provision for a flat screen TV, which may ensure this range is popular with the more discerning customer. It has new contemporary domestic-style internal doors, with matt chrome fittings, a well-equipped kitchen, with metal drawers, a spacious washroom and a smart master bedroom.

• A domestic style combi condensing gas central heating boiler and hot water system with a 24 hour timer is installed, which has a maximum capacity of 80,000 Btu/h(23.7kW). There are radiator thermostats in the living area and bedrooms. A smoke alarm is fitted and there are two carbon monoxide detectors, one in the dining area and one in the hallway.

• The prices quoted are ex-works, include VAT but exclude delivery and siting and any other costs as determined by the manufacturer, distributor, dealer or park owner. Swift Caravan holiday homes are manufactured in accordance with British and European standards and certified by EN regulations EN1647.

• Please note that caravan holiday homes are designed for holiday accommodation and not for permanent residential all-year-round use.

Contact details:

Swift Group Limited
Dunswell Road, Cottingham,
East Yorkshire HU16 4JX
Tel: 01482 847332
Website: www.swiftleisure.co.uk

AL-KO Kober Limited
South Warwickshire Business Park,
Kineton Road, Southam,
Warwickshire CV47 0AL
Tel: 01926 818500
Website: www.al-ko.co.uk

This feature was published in the November 2007 issue of Park & Holiday Homes magazine. 

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