Benjamin Paessler talks to New Business of the Year winner Stephane Barbey who launched the unique Pioneer Popup earlier this year

Tucked away in a leafy corner in the idyllic village of Broad Chalke, which lies just outside Salisbury, Stephane Barbey, 42, and his wife Hannah, 38, run a small business called Pioneer Popup.

Stephane is originally from Normandy and Hannah hails from Salisbury and, in their own words, "convert old and tired caravans into a brand-new space that allows your dream to take flight.”

The spaces can then be hired out, or eventually bought outright. 

All the materials, they use are locally sourced, recycled, up-cycled, or unwanted.

Their business is truly a unique one.

Salisbury Journal: Stephane and HannahStephane and Hannah

Stephane said: "Very little goes to waste. Nothing is too broken to be of use. There is beauty and life in the broken and the unwanted if we have eyes to see it."

This ranges from old tractor parts found on a farm, pieces of an old tumble dryer that no longer worked, and wood that came from the nearby Chalke Valley History Festival, that was to be thrown away.

Indeed, even the roof of one the caravans is lined with old Ordinance Survey maps. Stephane adds: "I am also proud to say that we are waste negative and very close to being carbon neutral".

Their dream was inspired when Stephane and Hannah were travelling.

"I had a stint as a travel writer", Hannah says, who now home-educates their two children.

"That was how we got into caravans, because we spent a lot of time travelling in motor homes, and we were thinking about ways we could convert them into something different.

Salisbury Journal:

"And then the next day, a friend of ours, out of the blue, asked us if we wanted a caravan. As a result of the travel writing, I started teaching French baking and I was just thinking how nice it would be to convert the caravan into a baking studio."

Stephane turned the old caravan they were given into a baking studio for Hannah to work in.

It was then suggested that they could turn the caravans into kitchens for people to hire.

Stephane said: “The initial idea was actually to convert old buses, but I thought it would be too big and complicated. With caravans, you can just put it outside someone’s house, plug it in, and away you go.”

The business is still in its infancy, winning the New Business of the Year Award at the South Wilts Business of the Year Awards held in Salisbury in June.

Salisbury Journal: Inside one of the kitchens Inside one of the kitchens

So far, Stephane has worked on four caravans of different sizes.

One has been turned into a kitchen, the baking studio for Hannah, a illustrator's studio, and another mobile kitchen with a bed in the back.

Stephane said: “The illustrator’s studio is nearly finished. That’s a much smaller space. It is a space for him to sit and work, but there is also a work space where he can stand up and sketch, as well as storage and things like that."

The first project Stephane completed took the best part of 11 months, or around 400 hours of work.

He said: "Everything takes time. It takes time to bring a rotten and rusty caravan back to life.

"It takes time to lovingly prepare old pallets for use."

DIY is in the blood for Stephane, who previously helped his dad build a couple of houses in France.

"I suppose I am quite hands on. I don’t like saying it because it’s quite negative, but I suppose I am a jack of all trades, master of none. I can put my hands to most things. I have the ability to do pretty much anything, to a good enough degree. And then when its required, I will get someone else in, so I’ve done all the electrics and the plumbing, but I will then get the electrics tested by an electrician. I understand enough about architecture, enough about interior design, enough about all these various things to then put it all together.”

Salisbury Journal: Maps on the ceiling of one of the caravansMaps on the ceiling of one of the caravans

Going forward, the focus for now is on expanding the company, which is fast gaining momentum.

In the medium-term, the couple would like to look at converting vintage caravans for people to be able to tow and take on holiday (they are currently looking to restore a 1963 vintage caravan, which they hope will get started next year), and further in the future, Stephane would like to see centres across the country, which would employ local people, and use local materials.

He would also like to explore the possibility in the future of creating pods for homeless people to use.