Throughout July and August, Travellers rotated through various parks in Preston, parking their caravans and motorhomes and setting up camp for a few days at a time.
>>>Click here to see pictures of travellers on Ribbleton Park.
It is thought that many were heading towards the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria, an annual convention attracting roughly 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers every summer, which has now finished.
The first group to cause a stir arrived on July 6, getting through a security barrier into Haslam Park. After Preston City Council moved them along, volunteers spent hours cleaning up litter, which included used nappies, deckchairs and broken glass.
On July 28, police entered a camp that had sprung up in Ribbleton Park and seized six stolen caravans. One of them was identified to be a caravan that had gone missing from a storage lot in Euxton overnight. Two men were arrested.
On August 13, a similar incident occurred in Ashton Park, where police retrieved five caravans which had been stolen from farms across the country. Three individuals were arrested.
Both the Halfway House pub in Chorley and Paul’s Farm Shop in Leyland had to close when Travellers settled down in their car parks in mid-August. Despite since reopening, both establishments suffered a loss of revenue, and staff had to stay off work.
Richard Tarran, manager of Halfway House, claimed that they had endured some property damage.
Those affected have reason for frustration at these crimes and transgressions, but are these incidents representative of the general behaviour and culture of the Traveller community?
Certainly not, according to Sarah Mann, Director of Friends, Families, and Travellers, a charity that works on behalf of Travellers, Gypsies, and Roma.
“As with any community, there is good and bad in everyone,” she told the Post.
“It is a harmful stereotype to assume that all Travellers know each other, just as it would be completely bizarre to assume that a settled person from Sussex could influence the behaviour of a settled person in Cumbria just by virtue of them both being settled.
“There is no evidence to suggest that higher rates of criminality exist in Gypsy and Traveller communities. Gypsy and Traveller people exist across all sectors of society, living both nomadically and in bricks and mortar housing. Poverty’s impact on crime is well documented, with evidence suggesting that poverty is the biggest factor in crime rates for all communities and regardless of ethnicity.”
The Traveller community has been identified as one of the societal groups whose members are most at risk of poverty by Pavee Point, a well-established Traveller and Roma centre.
It has been claimed that central Lancashire is not doing enough to accommodate Travellers and give them an alternative to trespassing.
For example, in 2019, a report found that the South Ribble district did not provide even one authorised site for Travellers to stay at. Meanwhile, Chorley was only offering one temporary
location. Preston only had one site at Leighton Street, which has permanent residents and that is earmarked to be sold.
Preston City Council has told the Lancashire Post that currently “there are no formal arrangements for temporary sites in Preston.”
Put simply, the reason why Travellers were camping unauthorised in Preston’s parks this summer was because there are not enough authorised places for them to stay. Providing more spaces would at least reduce disruption to businesses and landowners whose property Travellers currently trespass on.
“Local authorities should provide safe stopping places for Gypsy and Traveller people where they can safely access services,” Ms Mann said.
“Local communities can and should hold their councils to account – if no sites or stopping places are present, then there’s a high chance that unauthorised encampments will continue. It is illogical to tell people where they can’t go without telling them where they can.”
“Central Government allocates a budget that local authorities can use to build and allocate more safe stopping places, but we ultimately see that many local authorities fail to provide any stopping places.
“Local residents should pressure their councillors to provide more safe stopping places, so that Gypsy and Traveller people have somewhere suitable to stop when passing through. It is detrimental for Gypsy and Traveller people and local settled residents when a local authority fails to fulfil its duty.”
Housing Minister Christopher Pincher recently revealed that, through various schemes, the Government has only established 106 new caravan pitches across a handful of Traveller sites
throughout the UK between 2016 and 2021.
This is a sharp decline compared to the Government’s previous efforts. Between 2011 and March 2015, £44 million was spent introducing over 500 new pitches and renovating a further 400.