Driven to DIY: 'We converted a 1997 double decker school bus into an off-grid living space for £28,000'

Driven to DIY: 'We converted a 1997 double decker school bus into an off-grid living space for £28,000'

Lamorna and Gareth Hollingsworth bought their 25-year-old bus for £5,000 in 2020 and spent two years converting it

Emma Magnus2 minutes ago

Not many people’s homes can move. Or generate their own electricity. But then, not many people live on a double decker bus, converted into a home in a two-year labour of love.

In December 2019, Lamorna and Gareth Hollingsworth were in a transition period. They had returned from a year’s travels —a delayed honeymoon where they had travelled from Canada down to Mexico in a campervan they’d converted themselves— and were renting with friends near Hereford to be closer to Lamorna’s parents.

They had enjoyed the freedom of a van, and, now that they were back in the UK, the time had come to make a decision about where they were going to live.

“We had this idea first of all to get a campervan,” says Lamorna. “That quickly turned into something a bit bigger…The next thing we knew, we were on eBay looking at buses.”

The bus when they first bought it
Lamorna Hollingsworth/@we_bought_a_double_decker

After months of research —searching on eBay, joining bus conversion Facebook groups and making trips to “bus graveyards” around the country— Lamorna and Gareth found their perfect bus.

It was a 25-year-old former Brighton and Hove double decker that had been put to use as a school bus in Sheffield. It cost £5,000.

“This ticked lots of boxes for us in terms of the age, the condition, the person we were buying from, the layout. They said they could drop it off for us because we didn’t have the correct driving licences at the time,” says Lamorna. They had budgeted £20,000 for the conversion, which included the cost of gaining a licence to drive it.

By March 2020, the bus was theirs, and task of converting it into a home lay ahead. It would not be easy.

“The bus was literally as if it had just dropped off a load of children,” says Lamorna. “There were scratches on the windows, chewing gum under the seats, old bus tickets. To make it habitable, we had to put in everything that you would need in a home.”

Inside the bus before the renovation started
Lamorna Hollingsworth/@we_bought_a_double_decker

Lamorna, a nutritionist, says her “DIY skills were non-existent” before the project. On day one, when they ripped out the old seats, she hit herself in the face with an adjustable spanner. “Blood went everywhere. I was like: ‘I’m not sure if I’m cut out for this’,” she says.

“When we say blood, sweat and tears went into the bus – it actually did.”

Fortunately, Gareth, who works in the solar industry, is handy with a toolset and is a patient teacher. Together, they gutted the bus, insulated it and installed a full kitchen with storage, compost toilet and shower, double ottoman bed, washing machine, boiler and custom-made water tanks, located underneath.

In order to live off-grid, Lamorna and Gareth fitted six solar panels to the roof of the bus, along with a lithium battery unit and inverter. Their oven runs on gas, and can be fitted with LPG, the gas typically used in caravans.

The couple put their kitchen, bathroom and multi-functional living space —featuring a wood burner and foldaway dining table— on the first floor of the bus, with the entrance at the front by the driver’s seat.

Upstairs, they built an office with the desk looking out from the front windows, a living room and Lamorna and Gareth’s bedroom.

Behind the bathroom, they also created a utility cupboard, which is accessed from the outside of the bus.

Where possible, the couple have tried to use recycled or repurposed materials, integrating as many original features of the bus into the design as possible.

The bus’s former stop buttons are now the light switches; the emergency button on the outside of the bus is a doorbell and a ‘Please mind your head’ sign has been moved to the bathroom, where the height is restricted. The original route is still on the front of the bus, along with the driver’s mirror and windows.

“It is a bus at the end of the day,” says Lamorna. “We saw some conversions that looked amazing, but they were like caravans or tiny apartments. We wanted to keep the fun of being on a bus to keep the five-year-olds in us alive.”

The couple have retained some of the bus’s original features

There are other playful features too, designed to maximise space. The door to Lamorna and Gareth’s bedroom is a bookcase which opens when a certain book is pulled.

Their larder, likewise, is concealed behind a white panel where originally the bus’s luggage storage was located. When the panel is pushed, the cupboard slides out.

Despite estimating six months for the build, it took over two years — during which time Lamorna and Gareth lived in a static caravan on the farm where the bus is parked. In total, the conversion cost them £23,000 – just £3,000 more than they had originally budgeted.

“I really enjoyed the process,” says Lamorna. “One of the things I loved about doing it is the fact that we’ve got to know each other better, and we’ve learned new skills.”

The kitchen and living space downstairs
Lamorna Hollingsworth/@we_bought_a_double_decker

The couple finally moved into the bus with their Border Collie-Spaniel cross, Maya.

“We felt excited when it was finished, but also a bit nervous as we’d not lived off-grid before. Things like using a composting toilet, having to refill our water tanks and being very careful with our electricity consumption all required some adjustment.”

So far, their design, which was intended to maximise space and provide all the amenities of a house, is working – although having people round requires more organisation.

“It doesn’t feel squashed. It doesn’t feel like a tiny home or a small caravan. It’s a good amount of space.”

The office upstairs
Lamorna Hollingsworth/@we_bought_a_double_decker

Since the build, Lamorna and Gareth have stayed on the same farm outside Hereford to be close to family, where they pay a small rent.

“It’s a really lovely area. There are lots of beautiful walks; it’s great for dogs; you have the freedom of being able to nose around all the fields. I like to paddle board, and we’ve got the River Wye round the corner,” says Lamorna.

Long-term, they plan to take the bus around the UK, and then further afield.

For Lamorna and Gareth, the process has not been easy – but it has paid off.

Would the couple recommend a DIY bus conversion to others? “Do it, but do it with your eyes open. It will probably take you longer than you expect,” says Lamorna.

“You don’t have to live in a house because that’s what everybody else does. There is another way.”