Dale Farm Travellers lose their eviction battle – a recollection
This time, 2 years ago, I was working in Crays Hill School, which is located in Wickford, Essex.
Some years before I arrived to work there, a large proportion of the locals whose children attended the school removed their children after the arrival of travellers on the disputed bit of land of Dale Farm.
When I worked there, around 100 children were on the register, four of which were non-traveller. Daily attendance saw about 60 kids in class, but this decreased somewhat when parents were travelling the country looking for alternative sites and alternative schools in anticipation of Basildon Council’s wish coming true.
For the year that I worked at the school, there was the expectation that we’d all arrive for work one day to find only 4 children arrive. You could tell when big news had reached the traveller site regarding their tireless campaign to stay, because the children displayed emotions of both extremes; either totally erratic, and prone to bringing up family feuds with other children (of which there were a few), or uncharacteristically sombre, and depressed.
Sometimes the girls, who were normally gleeful, would withdraw themselves into corners instead of reading or writing. The boys, usually decidedly macho and taking after their big brothers, would spend the day seeking hugs from the teachers and learning support assistants.
To say this final bid, which has just been thrown out – meaning Dale Farm residents have lost their last-ditch eviction battle – will disrupt those children’s education, is to miss the point that the last few years of knock backs have affected their education, too.
Brendan O’Neill, this afternoon, dispelled a myth:
Reading some of the coverage of Dale Farm, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were illegally squatting on land, that they had nabbed someone else’s territory and then plonked their homes on it. Not so. They own the land upon which they live. In 2002, the Traveller John Sheridan bought it for £120,000. Their crime is that they subsequently built homes or parked caravans on the land, which is a big no-no because it’s part of the Green Belt. No one is allowed to build on the belt, you see, because it is intended as a barrier between town and country, between built-up mass society with its noisy, grubby inhabitants and the more rarefied, hushed countryside where wealthy people have holiday cottages. By building on the belt, the Dale Farm residents have effectively rebelled against a decades-old system for keeping town away from country.
The Conservatives’ fan base in Basildon is the Nimby vote (Not In My Back Yard); and they have a spent a lot of money, and will continue to spend a lot more, in order to appease this base – but it has come at the price for many traveller families, a representative of which asked, rhetorically, today: “Would you leave your home peacefully“.
Nobody is pretending that the relationship between travellers and locals had been easy in and around Dale Farm, but the prejudices of many did not concern the legitimate versus the illegitimate plots (a rift, some may not know, that existed between the travellers themselves, and among the English and the Irish travellers in Basildon), but highlighted the loathing of the travellers in general (travellers had been in the area for years, but when Irish travellers arrived, and put their children in the local school, it was then parents were pulling their children out en masse).
As more reports come in, just stop and think how many votes this eviction, and the oncoming cheer-leading from the local newspaper and obsessive Jon Austin, will have for the Conservative Party in Basildon.