Vanessa Redgrave gives support to Dale Farm Travellers

Tony Gosling tony at
Tue Aug 30 21:31:14 BST 2011

Vanessa Redgrave gives support to Dale Farm Travellers
Oscar winner and activist visits and defends 
community of 86 Irish Traveller families facing eviction from Essex site
Patrick Barkham -, Tuesday 30 August 2011 20.51 BST


Vanessa Redgrave (right), meet members of the 
McCarthy family and Travellers' rights campaigner 
Grattan Puxton (left). The Dale Farm community 
are facing eviction. Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA

If it wasn't the two strong cups of tea, it was 
the delicious smell of Mary Ann McCarthy's 
"traditional Irish feast" of potatoes and cabbage 
bubbling on the stove that left Vanessa Redgrave 
in no doubt about the strength of community at Dale Farm.
"I'd be happy to live here with them, that's for 
sure," declared the Oscar-winning actor and 
activist from the steps of McCarthy's chalet. 
Describing Dale Farm as "a strong, wise, warm, 
gentle community", Redgrave broke off from her 
filming schedule to meet the 86 Irish Traveller 
families who face eviction from the Essex site at midnight on Thursday.
The largest unauthorised encampment of Travellers 
in Britain had never seen anything like it. After 
two bishops visited in the morning, came the 
actress. Children clustered round on bikes, dogs 
fell respectfully silent, and a purple doormat was shaken and laid out for her.
"The whole situation is really about planning. 
There's no crime being committed," said Redgrave, 
standing by two ornamental cannon in McCarthy's 
frontyard. "We used to live in communities. We 
had a post office and we had our little local 
shops, which would help elderly people. Our 
communities up and down the country have been 
decimated and destroyed. Dale Farm hasn't."
But the Travellers who for 10 years have lived on 
this greenbelt land which they own close to 
Basildon will find their community smashed up 
unless a last-ditch temporary injunction before a 
high court judge succeeds on Wednesday. If they 
lose, an £18m eviction process will begin and 
bulldozers will tear up their chalets and caravans.
Visibly moved, Redgrave admitted her 
determination to stick up for the Travellers of 
Dale Farm was personal and recalled her actor 
brother, Corin, who suffered "a crippling cardiac 
arrest speaking in defence of Dale Farm to 
Basildon council" in 2005 and never fully 
recovered. Would Corin Redgrave, who died last 
year, be disappointed to see Dale Farm a day away 
from eviction? "A big society is a human society 
where everybody takes care of each other. Corin 
wouldn't be disappointed coming here. Here is a warm place," said Redgrave.
Despite the impending eviction, the warmth was 
certainly mutual as Redgrave dodged boys playing 
on a toy ride-on tractor (numberplate: WAR-0412) 
to meet the residents. "If everybody was like her 
the world would be a better place. She was such a 
lovely person," said Tina, a mother of two, who 
spoke about the impending eviction's impact on her children.
"They've been reared up here, they went to 
preschool and then primary school and my little 
girl is booked into secondary school for the new 
term and now we're getting kicked off. They want 
to crush this community, destroy our culture and put us into houses."
Basildon council argues that it is enforcing 
against Dale Farm – assisted by a £1.2m grant 
from the communities department and up to £4.65m 
for policing from the Home Office – as it does 
against any unauthorised development on greenbelt.
With the bishops of Chelmsford and Brentwood 
joining the UN and Amnesty International in 
questioning the eviction, the council has 
reassured Travellers it will not immediately cut 
off water and electricity to the site and will 
rehouse all vulnerable residents. But Redgrave 
joined Travellers who described greenbelt as "a 
weapon" being used against their community.
Redgrave said she had supported Gypsy communities 
across Europe since she became conscious of how 
"minorities were destroyed" under Hitler. 
Alongside Redgrave's warm adjectives describing 
their community, residents of Dale Farm added another: safe.
One single mother was too scared to give her name 
for fear doctors would refuse to treat her baby 
boy and was visibly petrified by the prospect of 
eviction. "It is terrifying to know you have a 
nine-week-old baby with nowhere to go," she said. 
She claimed Basildon council last year offered a 
one-bedroom flat for her mother, herself and her 
sister and brother but she has never been offered 
alternative accommodation since. She fears being placed in a flat, alone.
"This is a very safe community. When my baby gets 
bigger I'll know that if he goes outside someone 
will bring him back," she said, describing how 
their life in caravans enabled extended families 
to support each other. "Obviously everybody would 
like to have their mum or sister nextdoor. For us 
it's going to be a culture shock. [not to have that]".
Grattan Puxon, a veteran Gypsy campaigner, joined 
Redgrave for tea in McCarthy's chalet: "This 
shouldn't happen. This is not broken Britain. 
This is Britain strong and healthy and we want to 
save a small part of it if we can," he said.
Judging by radio phone-ins and the opinions of 
neighbours, most local people support the 
eviction – despite the £18m pricetag. But one 
local resident, Ann Kobayashi, who befriended 
Dale Farm residents who attend her Catholic 
church, said she believed the majority mood was 
"live and let live". "Their close-knit community 
exemplifies the big society which is much spoken of," she said.
After Redgrave ducked inside to finally tuck into 
Mary Ann McCarthy's meal of potatoes and cabbage, 
Kathleen McCarthy pointed out how the settled 
community in Britain might be inspired by the 
communal strength on show at Dale Farm. "What 
they can learn from us is how to be more friendly 
to one another," said McCarthy. "Our doors are 
open 24/7. We welcome everybody with open hearts."

The search for a suitable home
The fields of Dale Farm were a scrap yard before 
Irish Travellers moved on to the land 10 years 
ago. Now the site could be reduced to rubble.
The Travellers, many of whom had moved around 
Essex for several generations, hoped they would 
eventually get planning permission for the bases 
they had laid down for their caravans on 
greenbelt land next door to a legal Gypsy site.
They didn't, although former deputy prime 
minister John Prescott gave them two years' leave 
to remain, during which their numbers increased to nearly 500 people.
With legal appeals apparently exhausted, Basildon 
borough council served the Travellers with a 
notice to quit by 31 August or face forcible 
eviction. Private firms have been contracted to 
carry out the eviction, which could cost the 
council up to £8m, with a further £10m in police 
costs. But the Travellers are seeking a 
last-minute injunction against the eviction, 
which will be heard before a high-court judge on Wednesday.
One Dale Farm resident, Mary Flynn, is a test 
case: she is seriously ill and dependent on a 
nebuliser. She has a letter from the council 
warning that her electricity will be cut off 
during the eviction process. Campaigner Grattan 
Puxon (pictured) claims this would be a "death 
sentence" for her. The Travellers' legal team 
will also claim that Basildon council has not 
properly processed their homelessness forms and 
is asking for an injunction to delay the eviction 
until alternative, authorised sites can be identified.
Dale Farm residents insist they will move if they 
can be found pitches on smaller sites (a feature 
approved by all sides) in the local area, which 
they praise for its popular primary school and 
access to healthcare. The Travellers say there 
are alternative sites nearby which are owned by 
the Homes and Communities Agency, a government 
body which, they claim, said they would be suitable for Traveller pitches.
Three planning applications are currently being 
put forward for smaller sites for the Dale Farm 
residents within the Basildon area, but one has 
already been rejected by planners. Basildon 
borough council is reluctant to countenance more 
Traveller sites in the area. It says it already 
has among the highest number of authorised 
pitches in Essex and is making three more pitches 
available for Travellers each year. It claims 
other nearby councils should do their bit. A 
dozen empty pitches that already have planning 
approval have been offered to Dale Farm by a 
landowner near Stowmarket in Suffolk, but 
residents will need more. There are no votes in 
approving sites for Travellers, and neighbouring 
councils fear an influx from Dale Farm. 
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