Monday 4 February 2008

Fame at last!

I'm chair of Lewes District Council's Traveller's Working Group. As chair, I attend meetings of the East Sussex Gypsy and Traveller Forum, which last met last Thursday afternoon in Hastings. The start of the meeting was filmed for the Politics Show, South East. My colleague Councillor Carla Butler and I are shown briefly at about 4:48 into the piece -that's us in the centre of this picture. We're on camera for about a second. No speaking. So, a modicum of fame at last!

More importantly, the piece is quite sympathetic to the problems that Gypsies and Travellers face, and the problems that councils face in trying to find land for them. You can read an article about the search for land, or watch the show - at least until Sunday 10th Feb.

Councillor Tom Jones, who represents Ditchling ward on Lewes District Council, does a good interview alongside Emma Nuttall (also very good) of Friends, Families and Travellers. Between them, they describe why it's essential for local authorities to find enough sites for Gypsies and Travellers to rent or buy - currently about 25% of travellers are homeless.

I should clarify a couple of points. There's a suggestion at one point that we're to find 47 pitches. The context implies this is 46 pitches in Lewes District, but in fact that's the figure for East Sussex (including 14 in Brighton and Hove). There's also a suggestion that problems are caused by a "small minority of the Gypsy community". In fact, travelling groups in England fall into at least three quite distinct categories: Romany Gypsies who arrived in the fifteenth century probably originating from India; Irish Travellers who date back to the Cromwellian era; and "new" or "new age" travellers who are a more modern group making a life-style choice which is partly political and partly driven by soaring house prices. Each of these groups contains minorities that cause problems, but all three communities suffer prejudice and opposition to almost every attempt to find somewhere to live - even when it's on their own land.

The most shocking example in the film is that of Linda Smith, who was told to get back the the concentration camps! What's her crime? She bought a plot of land to live on with her daughter and grand-children!

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