UCD student to live in campervan due to unaffordable rent

‘I’m hoping, as UCD has quite a lot of onsite parking, I can park there during the day’

Conni Dawson in her camper van in Co Clare. Photograph:  Eamon Ward

Conni Dawson in her camper van in Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward

 

A young musician who is returning to college later this year in Dublin has decided to live in a converted campervan due to unaffordable rent.

Conni Dawson (28), who is originally from Northern Ireland but is now based in Co Clare, was working as a full-time harpist before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

She had recently broken up with her boyfriend and couldn’t afford to rent by herself in Cork city where she had been living and was staying with a friend.

“I had bought the van in February 2020 with the idea of going touring in it across Europe over the summer and then I got stuck in Co Clare for Covid,” Ms Dawson told The Irish Times.

“When it all happened we thought it would be a couple of weeks so I went there and figured it would be a nice place to hang out for a short while.

“As it became more and more apparent that the music industry in particular probably wasn’t going to be coming back in a hurry, I started looking at my other options and decided to go back to university.”

Ms Dawson is going back to college in September to study landscape architecture at University College Dublin (UCD). She is currently living in the van in Co Clare and is planning to continue to do so while studying in the capital.

“I have the van done up, it’s lovely. My plan is to stay in the van while doing the course basically. It’s four years and I don’t know if I’ll manage all four years in it but I genuinely cannot afford rent in Dublin,” she said.

‘Exhausting’

“As I was at my parents’ house during Covid I’m also not eligible for funding for university . . . if I wasn’t in the van then I just wouldn’t go as I’m not willing to take out a loan to pay for housing for four years.

“I’m hoping, as UCD has quite a lot of onsite parking, that I can park there during the day and then just need to drive out and find somewhere to park it for the night and then drive back into university. It’s going to be exhausting. I would much rather have a house but it’s just not doable.

“It’s going to be a lot of moving about and planning where I’m going next.”

Ms Dawson said she did some travelling in the campervan last summer and found that Ireland “isn’t exactly the friendliest of places” for van life.

“I’ve friends over in the UK and they get on grand with it but there’s always that connotation here of, ‘Oh are you one of the Travellers’, and they can be a bit unfriendly,” she said. “So you try and be inconspicuous as best you can so you don’t stay on any spot too long.”

Ms Dawson said while the campervan can be cold at times, she feels great comfort in owning where she lives.

“For all that it is a little bit unusual and it is tricky on some things, I do actually feel a lot more comfortable in this than renting an apartment because this is mine and there’s a lot of comfort to be had in that.

“If I could get something, for €300 or €400 a month I would rent, but it’s just not affordable, especially not on student money.”