Preston traveller family’s delight at prospect of £337,000 worth of improvements to permanent site

The head of a group of travellers who have lived on a permanent plot in Preston for 35 years says that if a bid for government funding is successful, it would enable “long overdue” repairs and improvements to be made to their home.

Monday, 4th July 2022, 9:43 am
Updated Monday, 4th July 2022, 9:51 am

Preston City Council has made a pitch for £337,000 from a new nationwide pot set up to help local authorities provide new traveller sites or refurbish those that they already own.

The city authority wants to renovate a facility on Leighton Street – just a quarter of a mile from the city centre – which it acquired from Lancashire County Council in May.

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The land – which lies in the shadow of the University of Central Lancashire’s Sir Tom Finney Sports Centre – has been home to the Gavin family since the late 1980s.

John Gavin, who has been the site’s warden throughout that time, told the Lancashire Post that its infrastructure and some aspects of the individual dwellings are in desperate need of being brought up to date.

“There are things like the windows, doors and sinks – but the main thing is the electric and the plumbing. They haven’t been changed in the last 30-odd years, so it’s long overdue,” John said.

Speaking to the Post back in 2019, another resident – who did not want to be named – said that the chalets on the site were not plumbed in, unlike those at more modern sites across the country.

The Leighton Street traveller site's youngest residents celebrate its future being secured by Preston City Council earlier this year

She also said that the sheds at the Leighton Street facility lacked heating and disabled access for anyone who should need it – and questioned why rental payments were not being used to invest in such upgrades.

Although the county council owned the site until recently, it had long had an arrangement with the city council to maintain it. Now that Preston has taken full control of the facility, it has established a co-operative for the residents.

John – who is continuing in his role as warden – has nothing but praise for the efforts of the town hall.

“The officers are definitely supportive and they are doing everything they can to get the funding. [Labour council leader] Matthew Brown and his councillors have also been brilliant,” he said.

The individual dwellings on the Leighton Street site would also benefit from upgrades if the funding bid is successful

The city council submitted its bid for a share of the government’s £10m Traveller Site Fund last month. Papers detailing the application, which were presented to a meeting of the full council, acknowledge that the primary purpose of the national scheme is to add to the overall stock of traveller sites.

However, councillors were told that the proposed refurbishment would “underpin the sustainability” of the new co-operative arrangements – and so had the potential to promote the model as a “viable and less costly alternative to…direct management”. In doing so, it could inspire similar approaches by other councils and so be seen to inspire an increase in the provision of sites beyond Preston’s borders.

If the bid is successful, the money will be spent on upgrades to the fabric of the site and its mechanical and electrical installations. An education block – which is no longer used as the children living on the site attend local schools – will be demolished and replaced with a new residential pitch and a utility block.

Preston’s cabinet member for community wealth building, Freddie Bailey, told the full council meeting that he hoped a government stipulation that any grant money must be spent within the current financial year might actually increase the city’s chances of being awarded the cash.

“It’s unlikely that many councils will be able to…purchase land, get travellers on [it and] make it fit for purpose [in that timescale],” Cllr Bailey said.

Meanwhile, although the site he has looked after for so long could end up looking rather different if it receives its hoped-for facelift, John says it will “still be home”.

“After the city council taking it over, this would just cap it off nicely,” he added.