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James, Off-Grid Engineer

After earning a Masters in Automotive Engineering and working in various roles, James realised his true passion was for adventure. Now, he combines his engineering expertise and love for the outdoors by living and traveling in his self-built van.

Growing up in Grimsby near the Lincolnshire wolds James spent a lot of time running & cycling as much as possible, developing an appetite for exploring new areas whilst pushing himself physically.

With an interest in engineering from a young age James developed automotive skills while competing in the British Karting Championships for several years. Competing harnessed his competitive energy and developed a love of mechanics while the long weekends travelling nationally grew his passion for exploration. Those long weekends karting were James’ first introduction to van life – albeit uncomfortably sleeping on the front seats of a ford transit and eating tuna & beans for most meals. 

After a lesson in reality from his mum, James realised he wasn’t going to be an F1 driver so decided to concentrate on his education and completed a Masters in Automotive Engineering, achieving a university prize for the highest grade (MEng) in his year.

During university James joined the rowing club, meeting like minded people who enjoyed adventure and pushing themselves. Together they coordinated and conducted challenges such as Ironman triathlons (which James had to learn to swim for), cycling to Albania and hiking Scotland’s coast to coast. 

Working full time for around 9 years in the automotive industry, James had various roles including JLR Cooling test engineer, Lead engineer for MHEV components and calibration engineer for Bentley. However he found this way of working very restrictive and the only way he was able to conduct adventurous challenges was to take time off and change positions. 

With Covid, James was given the opportunity to re-evaluate his priorities and understand what he valued. The idea of having a van wasn’t new to James, as a keen climber the two often go hand in hand. James was itching to venture off, run, climb and return when he was ready.

James completed the bulk of the van build from his 1 bedroom flat in Warwickshire, using primarily hand tools. Annoying the neighbours was a daily occurance when building all the shelving units in the living room, along with a large mess. 

Using a lot of “reclaimed” wood that had been hoarded by his dad over several years, James started the build with a basic set up, he quickly found what did and didn’t work. Over the last few years James has made upgrades when necessary, finding the set up that works best.

After being in the van for a few initial months and intending to go back to a ‘normal’ job, James quickly realised that that way of living wasn’t for him and instead, started searching for a way to continue to explore as much as he could afford to. So far that’s encompassed several climbing trips around Europe and exploring all around the UK with lots more to come. 

In an effort to travel, work and improve his carbon footprint, James began working freelance over the winter periods as a tree planter. This allowed him to save money through winter and granted him the freedom to explore during summer. To date, James has planted over 30,000 native broadleaf and hedgerow trees across the UK. 

For James, the only way he was able to explore his interests and experiment with different ways of working, was through his van. Since then, James has had the great pleasure of helping friends and family in several of their own van conversions, be it giving building advice, helping calculate their electrical setups or just sharing where’s best to park.

Working with Nohma has given me the freedom to enjoy what’s important to me. I’m able to wake up surrounded by nature in remote areas and still have access to my work, giving me a work-life balance that I could not have found anywhere else. 

I can now enjoy my hobbies of running and climbing anywhere in the world while getting great fulfilment in talking to new people, helping them achieve their own van goals, going remote or just increasing their access to the countryside. 

James Nevens, Off-Grid Engineer

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