The travellers tale - real stories behind the 2012 Olympics
What price the Olympics? For the Romany and Irish gypsies being forced off established traveller sites in Newham and Hackney, ’two weeks of sport‘ will cost them their homes. They tell Time Out just how limited their options are
Bounded by Channel Tunnel construction work on one side and an enormous electricity pylon on the other, Clays Lane Travellers Site in Stratford is not the most salubrious of addresses. But for the English Romany gypsies who have lived here since 1971, it is home. Not for much longer. Clays Lane is one of two travellers’ sites in the area that have been compulsorily purchased by the London Development Agency (LDA) to make way for the 2012 Olympics. All the travellers will have to leave their homes by April 2007.
Initially, the LDA and Newham Council proposed an alternative site to Clays Lane – in a cinema car park in Beckton, next to the A13. The travellers refused to move, saying the place was little more than a rubbish dump.
Clays Lane, soon to make way for the Olympics
‘The proposal was a joke – and all for two weeks of sport,’ said Clays Lane resident Tracie Giles. At the end of May, the proposal was dropped and two alternatives proposed: another in Beckton and one in Leyton Road. Residents have also identified a third site on some disused allotments. But with the clock ticking and the proposals constantly in flux, the future looks precariously uncertain.
Down the road in Hackney, the group of Irish travellers at Waterden Crescent are faring better. They have been offered a number of alternatives to their present site, which has also been purchased for Olympic development. The proposals will split the community into four smaller sites, including one group who will be relocated to houses. With a public inquiry into the LDA’s purchase of travellers’ sites beginning on June 7, the travellers will get a chance to put forward their concerns. Whatever the outcome, when the ‘two weeks of sport’ eventually arrives, we might spare a thought for those who have had to give up their homes, schools, jobs and communities in order to make it happen.
Reporter spoke to the travellers about the impact the Olympics is already having on their lives.
Clays Lane Travellers Site (Newham Council)
Tracie Giles's caravan at Clays Lane
Tracie Giles, 33‘A hundred years ago, this area was thriving with gypsies. My parents travelled all over the country until they met and married on this site in 1972. The first 11 years of my life we travelled, usually in Essex and Kent, but always coming back to London in the winter. I went to 13 different schools. We travelled in a Vickers caravan, which was chromed and streamlined and very grand. My son is 12 and has special needs, and I wish he had been born then to get rid of some of his energy. He could have had a nice open field where you could make a swing and build a den. In 1994, the Conservative government took away the responsibility of councils to provide sites – and that, combined with the laws saying we can’t stop our caravans in byways for longer than 24 hours, means it is much harder for us to travel these days.
‘The original relocation plan was really poor: it had a sewer running into it, with a Burger King at the front and the tidal river at the back, and was right next to the A13. Very nice. You are talking about people who have children in schools, and elderly and disabled people. The new proposals aren’t much better: Beckton is too far away and Leyton Road is surrounded by construction work. And what about compensation? My husband is a local landscape gardener, so what are they going to do about compensating his business?
‘We feel badly let down. We have written to local politicians to say “You are talking about 15 families who have been here for more than 35 years – they are residents of the borough, they pay rent and council tax…” But because we are an ethnic group, they just sweep us to one side, like we don’t matter.’
Hilda Lane, 25‘The first proposal was to move to a smelly, rotten rubbish tip. I’ve got three kids and that was too dangerous. People ask us why we want to keep our gypsy way of life. It’s to do with being connected to the outdoors. I wouldn’t want to live in a house. It’s too blocked off.’
Sylvia Smith, 44Twenty years I’ve been here. I’ve been brought up in caravans. It’s all we know and it’s the way I like living. I don’t like the four walls of a house. I’ve got the kids at school, we’ve got our own doctor and dentist here, we’ve got everything and they want to pull us up. I don’t want to move. It’s like moving you out of your house, throwing you out the way. I’ve got a 15-year-old, Gary, and Jamie who’s four. It will disrupt their education.’
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