News

Dale Farm Update: One Year On, Traveller Families Still Fighting

Two-by-two, lines of caravans fill Oak Lane, housing up to 20 families. They are travellers, forced out of Dale Farm a year ago, but they have not been forced very far away.

Oak Lane is just yards from the original Dale Farm plot, empty after a £7.2m clearance operation to rid the site of 80 families that the council said had built there illegally, on what was once a scrapyard on green belt land.

One resident told The Huffington Post UK that her life since the eviction was "torture, just torture".

Dale Farm: Rubbish has piled up on the site

Afraid of being named, she explained: "We had proper homes, no we have no water, no electricity, and we need somewhere to live. They want to evict us again and we have nowhere to go. Nowhere."

Now the site has been covered in rubble, to prevent travellers returning, and debris from the violent break-up of the site still lies in pools of rainwater - plastic toys, bags of rubbish and a sofa.

Human and animal waste and stagnant water sit in pools on the site, according to its residents.

Another resident, a mother-of-three, said she had lived in a three bedroom chalet on Dale Farm, with a proper bathroom, now she shares a small caravan with her small children, who have been traumatised by the move. "It's heartbreaking trying to explain it to your children, it's been devastating for them. How do you explain it to them that you have to leave your home, that you're not wanted. They kept asking why?

"The drama is constant, every day there is so much stress. They don't care where we go. Tony Ball [leader of Basildon Council] doesn't care where we live."

Campaigners and former residents believe nothing has been achieved, nothing worthwhile done to the site, while wasting public money and ruining the lives of families who had been living in the single-story chalets on the plot.

Former residents of the area of the Dale Farm traveller's camp cleared by Basildon Council, relax in their caravan on the 'Oak Lane' site

The Traveller Solidarity Network held a demonstration outside the Department for Communities and Local Government, after serving minister Eric Pickles' headquarters with a satirical "eviction notice" for “persistent racially aggravated persecution… harassment, alarm, and distress amounting to anti-social behaviour and gross misconduct”.

One of the demonstrators was Melissa Bridge, who had lived at the site as an activist trying to stop the eviction. She said that many of the travellers had come to London for the demonstration, but been too terrified to protest when they saw the heavy police presence outside the Department, as it brought back memories of the eviction.

"We've staying in close contact with the travellers," she told The Huffington Post UK. "The site now is so unsanitary, they have to wash in shopping centres and sports centre. Many of them are extremely depressed, and worried about winter coming.

"One of the trailers was damaged during the eviction and they only have one socket that has electricity. That's the only way to cook, or heat, or light the caravan. You can't live like that.

The demonstration, which had more than 100 people attend, launches the "Fight For Sites" campaign to draw attention to the cycle of homelessness experienced by travellers.

Bridge said: "We will be fighting to build more sites for travellers, which councils are no longer obligated to do, and we also want to tackle the appalling racism, even coming from politicians and council officials about travellers."

The families originally won planning permission to live on Dale Farm from Basildon Council in the 1970s, and bought by Irish travellers in 1996, but planning orders were breached in the early 2000s as more and more families moved in.

In 2007, after a public inquiry, Basildon council voted to evict the families and a lengthy court battle ensued, until October 19 2011, when the forced eviction began.

The families in Oak Lane have been offered 37 different kinds of accommodation but have refused all of them. Basildon Council says they are breaking the law, and that they will be evicted from there too.

Others have moved to other traveller sites, or been put up in council accommodation.