Travellers, Friends And Families
The Friends, Families and Travellers Support Group (FFT) needs you. With the implementation of proposals contained in the Criminal Justice Bill, travellers face a hazardous future.
Squall 7, Summer 1994, pg. 10.
Steve Staines of FFT gives a brief history of the organisation and makes an urgent appeal for all those concerned to GET INVOLVED before it’s too late.
The Friends, Families and Travellers Support Group grew from the personal experiences of its founder member who has a son and grand daughter on the road. In June 1993, after realising that the Criminal Justice Bill will effectively eradicate the travelling way of life, flyers began to appear asking people who had friends and families on the road to get in contact At a General Meeting held in Bristol, a steering committee was born and has met regularly ever since.
The problems which face travellers, and which will intensify should the CJB become law, centre around prejudice and site provision. The prejudice against both new and traditional travellers is enormous. It has been this way for all of the six hundred years or so that traditional travellers have been in Britain. The fear (prejudice is always based on fear) of new travellers intensified in the mid-eighties when the number of people taking to the road increased dramatically. Instead of being perceived of as ‘happy hippies’, as they were in the seventies, new travellers are now seen as “marauding bands of medieval brigands”.
Police and vigilante action against travellers has been, at times, beyond belief. Increasingly, the traditional stopping places around Britain are being gated, blocked up and ditched off. Coupled with an escalating number of injunctions, there are now very few places left to go. Travellers are caught in a catch 22 situation; with fewer places to go and mounting pressure to leave a life on the road for non-existent housing, they become more visible to the sedentary rural population. This situation is exacerbated when travellers are forced to travel in large numbers because of their own fear of intimidation and violence. When constructive proposals are brought before councils for site provision, applications for planning permission are consistently refused. The NIMBY (not in my back yard) phenomenon is in full force at planning meetings where traveller sites are discussed.
Friends, Families and Travellers Support Group (FFT) have been actively campaigning to increase awareness of travellers needs and the effects that the CJB will have on this way of life. FFT activities include: Involvement in a film screened on regional TV that was followed by a phone in; Regular newsletters, including political developments and traveller news; Lobbying MPs and Lords; Writing hundreds of letters; Obtaining local and national media coverage; Working on alternative proposals with other traveller organisations and briefing preparation.
An information pack has been developed providing guides on planning, site access, social services, education and health and magazine has now been produced (Nomad).
What FFT hopes to achieve includes setting up, or working with other groups to set up, an emergency crisis line which can offer real help to Travellers. What is required are small teams of observers, one of whom should preferably be legally qualified, to observe evictions and ensure they are legal. Where children are involved, there is particular concern that evictions do not affect their health or well-being. In addition there is a need to monitor and record what is happening on the ground and be able to chart the ways in which any new Act is being used to ensure no violation of human rights.
"Two weeks ago this (pointing to wrecked vehicle) was somebody's home and was sitting there while he made croissants and listened to music or watched TV. It was dragged sideways through a gateway.
We came here because it's an established site. We moved when asked to by the farmer but all the roads had been ditched so when we leave the site we can only go one way. So it will be easy for the police to split us into small groups again. The last time I was in a small group farmers came down and dragged me backwards through a gateway and I lost my back window. I've had dogs shot, I've had all the panels ripped off my bus. It's easy for the police to bring down large numbers and intimidate you. They blocked the main Chepstow to Gloucester road last year and searched ME for a shotgun! They stopped us going over the Severn Bridge.
That's in a group of five people. You can't have the same community spirit in a group of five people and who's going to help you with your children? You move a lot more and it's much more dangerous. In a big group we can all help each other."
Excerpt from "Bev's Story" published in Nomad News, the magazine of FFT.
Funding for FFT is currently achieved through a growing membership base. However, it still does not yet provide sufficient funds for all the projects that are felt to be vital to the future of not only FFT but the whole of the travelling community. Membership needs to be expanded, local groups need to be organised and begin campaigning.
In the long term, FFT see a need for a Traveller Advice Unit, staffed by professionals and travellers, which would be able to offer help and advice on matters such as access to planning, health services, education and a range of other services which house-dwellers take for granted.
The range of issues involving travellers run right across the social spectrum. Learning how to be effective is difficult and time-consuming. At the heart of all the issues is the one of sites and having somewhere secure to live. Without this most basic of human needs, efforts in other areas of social policy will be ineffective. In particular, the planning system itself is prejudiced against travellers (and all people on low or negligible incomes) since easy access to development land is bought and is not a right.
"The Winter has been very hard this year, especially for the children and women. I tried to have my child in school this year but because I've been evicted so many times, she’s had to stop going to school. If the Bill becomes law, I don't know what I'll do, I'll probably be put into jail, my daughter will be put into care, my home will be put in the pound. That's the worse scenario I can think of.... not just for me but for thousands of us. All they see is us in dirty vehicles and they haven't realised why it's like that. We're just scapegoats for everybody else."
Excerpt from "Bev's Story" published in Nomad News, the magazine of FFT.
The 1947 Planning Act introduced a controlled market in development land which means that, unless there is state or public authority intervention, travellers stand little chance of gaining access to land for sites. FFT sees challenging this and working with councils to get fair access to the planning system as being central to its work. This is beginning to happen in some areas where local politicians and officials are recognising that a policy of continual eviction is expensive, ultimately pointless and that what is needed is a network of sites which travellers can use.
Contact: FFT, 33 Bryanston St, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 7AZ Tel: 0258 453695
GOING ROUND IN CIRCULARS - the affect on travellers of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act - Squall 10, Summer 1995
SCHOOL FOR TRAVELLERS - International conference held in London about schooling for gypsy and traveller children - Squall 10, Summer 1995
SOME-WHERE-SET IN SOMERSET - travellers tales from the West Country - Squall 7, Summer 1994