MENTION mobile homes and most people think of draughty caravans with chemical toilets.

But modern mobiles, or park homes as they are known, could not be more different, with their fitted kitchens, carpets and proper plumbing.

With prices starting from about £140,000, they are an affordable way of living and popular with older people who are downsizing for their retirement.

Debbie Barwick and her husband Tony, 49, did just that when they moved to Hayes Leisure Park, just off Burnham Road, Battlesbridge, a year ago.

The couple decided to rent out their house in Benfleet and move into the two-bedroom park home.

Homeowners can only live on the park for ten months a year, but this is perfect for them as they have a small holiday home in Spain.

Debbie, 48, said: “You don’t have the same expenses as when you’re running a big house. In a silly way you think you’re on holiday all the time.

“The people here are lovely. There’s not one person who you could walk past without saying hello to.”

Over on Canvey, the community spirit is one of the things Helen Skinner loves about living at Kings Park Village in Creek Road.

The 71-year-old moved to the park four years ago from Romford, where she had been living alone in a bungalow following the death of her husband five years earlier.

She said: “Once I moved here I wished I had done it sooner.

“It is so friendly and you never have to be alone. If ever you’re ill, someone will always notice they haven’t seen you about and come and check on you.

“As you get older that sort of thing gives you peace of mind.

“It is also very safe. You know you’re not going to get mugged on the way home.”

To live at Kings Park Village you have to be aged over 50 and Hayes Leisure Park is also aiming at an older market.

Although the prices might seem within budget for younger people trying to get on the housing ladder, banks will not give a mortgage for a park home and most people buy them outright or part exchange with their existing homes.

Richard Sigsworth, manager of Kings, said: “Most people who move here sell the family home when the children have left and buy a park home with the proceeds.

“Some do it to downsize, but a lot of people do it because it’s the nice village atmosphere. They say they have lived on an estate for 30 or 40 years and known three or four people. Then they come here and within six months they know 80 or 90.”

The 750-home park has been operating since 1959 and is managed by Britannia Parks, which has 29 similar parks across the country.

This year 20 more homes were added to the site and demand has been picking up as the recession subsides.

Hayes Leisure Park manager Howard Jones says business is good despite the recession.

The site, which overlooks the River Crouch, is slowly being transformed from a rundown caravan park to a 29-acre luxury park homes village.

Mr Jones said: “It’s an amazing site with wonderful views. They have been selling very well.”

There were about 400 mobile homes on the site when it was taken over and renamed Hayes Leisure Park about two years ago.

There are now 250 homes as bigger, more static structures move on to the site.