Sitting in this family’s immaculate trailer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were being hosted in a show-home. However, in place of the all-smiles salesman sit Mr & Mrs Clark (not their real names) with worry and frustration on their faces. Worry because they’re living on an unauthorised encampment – their fourth in the last 12 months. Frustration because here they are talking to me, yet logic and reason has not helped them thus far.
Mr & Mrs Clark have 5 children, all under 10 years of age. Those of primary age are all enrolled in the local school but were busy enjoying their summer holidays freedom when I arrived (despite the terrible weather). All too often people will tell me how Travellers don’t go to school. Well, some Travellers certainly don’t but in this case you couldn’t be further from the truth. Mr Clark has photographs showing the two generations before him attending the local school, just as he did, and just as his children do now. The Clark family are amongst the most genuinely nomadic families that I have worked with as they will often travel from Ireland, across South Wales, and into England to visit family for illness, funerals or marriages. However, they always return to their home, which currently consists of an unused cul-de-sac on a quiet business park in South Wales.
The family have sealed papers on a shelf behind them as we talk. After 45 minutes of discussion about their children’s welfare and the need for stable accommodation, they ask if i’d like to see them. They break the seal and pass them over. Instinctively, I know what this means – “will you read them for us?” I ask if they’d like me to explain what I think the papers say and the couple agree. Very quickly it became apparent to me that these aren’t the kind of papers that you keep sealed on a shelf – they are papers that relate to eviction proceedings.
“…the hearing with take place at 2:30pm on the 30th July 2012…” – a quick glace at the date on my watch – “…that’s the day before yesterday,” I say. My colleague rings the court. The injuction was indeed approved in court during the alloted time, no doubt the case against the family strengthened by their non-appearance in court. This family had no idea that court proceedings had even begun yet eviction action could be taken any day now.
Worse, the whole district of the city that they are living in has been covered by the injunction, meaning that the family’s 5 children will now be forced to find a new school in September. This is the 4th generation of the Clark family that has attended this school yet that counts for little. In effect, if the family return to this area of the city they will be liable for prosecution and jail time. The family have been banished. The worry and frustration has intensified but at least they now have a measure of the beast that moves in the dark corridors of County Hall.
This local authority regularly says that by providing one site for Gypsies and Travellers, they are “doing their bit.” What is rarely discussed is that this existing site is full and only has 7 pitches for trailers. As a result, many families are pushed around the county limits by eviction after eviction. Other local authorities in Wales are also repeat offenders of this kind but this latest eviction has highlighted the methods that will be used if no-one is looking.
This family has been slighted. These proceedings have been quick, harsh, coincided with the summer holidays when teachers – the family’s usual point of contact within the council are on leave – and operated without the family’s knowledge or understanding. There is no point delivering legal papers to a family that can’t read them. That is, unless they aren’t meant to be read.
Ultimately, the Clark family is living on land that doesn’t belong to them so possession actions are to be expected. However, no one has sufficiently answered the question of where this family is supposed to go now. With 5 young children, no running water, no toilets, and the children’s link to education now due to be severed, won’t this do more harm than good? My concern is that repeated evictions and setting up home in unsuitable / dangerous locations in future threaten the development of these children and, furthermore, influence these young citizens to feel that society doesn’t value them. Ask yourself, how does that scenario benefit anyone?