Shire Conversions may be a newcomer to the healthy ecosystem of small UK van converters, but its co-owner Darryl Healey is an old hand, with more than two decades of experience, having worked for IH and Vantage.

The design and overall feel of the Phoenix 3’s interior are comparable to those of Vantage’s ’vans, and the layout is similar as well – a rear lounge with two facing settees, which convert into a double bed at night, and a compact front lounge made up of a circular-leg table and swivelled cab seats.

Where the Phoenix 3 goes its own way, however, is in including a third berth, designed for a child. The solution is novel – a small (1.3m x 0.71m; 4’3” x 2’3”) bed base that can be set up just rear of the cab seats, at floor level. To overcome the difference in floor heights between the cab and the habitation area, a short leg slots into the base of the bed to support the rear nearside corner.

In addition to this mini-berth, Shire also provides a third belted travelling seat – the middle section of the nearside lounge settee can be lifted out and repositioned in order to create a rear-facing belted travelling seat, which is quite comfortable for an adult and should be ideal for a child.

We also really liked the mostly LED lighting arrangement – Darryl is working to have full LED lighting by the end of the year. This will involve individual switches for each light fixture and two master switches near the entrance, one controlling the lights in the ceiling, and the other controlling the lower tier of lights in the locker bases. This clever solution allows you to specify your lighting provisions by using the individual switches to determine which lights go on and off when the master switches are flipped.

In other areas the Phoenix 3 more than holds its own against the competition. It gives the impression that it has been designed and built with sincerity – Darryl himself tours in a Phoenix 3 with his child. It’ll only work for couples with a very small child, but for those looking to accommodate their little one in a compact camper, while retaining as much storage, kitchen and washroom space as possible, the Shire 3 is in a category all its own.

READ MORE: February 2013 issue of Practical Motorhome. Reviews: Roller Team, Shire and Auto-Trail

Our tests and ’van reviews make essential reading if you’re building up to a big new purchase. In the February 2013 issue’s big live-in test, we examine the four-berth Auto-Trail Tracker RB. Plus we review the budget European six-berth Auto-Roller 746, while Gentleman Jack tests Shire’s built-to-order Phoenix ML