We are all living through unprecedented and frightening times with understandable concerns about our health, livelihood and how to best protect our families. The recent arrival of travellers on the Kennet Valley Hall playing field has added to these anxieties and fuelled concerns about other travellers in the area. This letter is intended to address issues that have arisen and encourage the community to work co-operatively and kindly, with real understanding, for the good of all.
As you are aware the Rector, Church members and Parish Council has been very pro -active in supporting the community from the start of the Covid crisis. We hold weekly zoom meetings with an emergency response team where we review the current status of our response and actively manage the risks. Reverend Maria Shepherdson reports and advises on the Pastoral support being provided for those who are most vulnerable. This includes the Travellers, regulars or passing through, some of whom are known to her and with whom she has a good relationship.
The view taken by our emergency action group is if travellers are causing no harm or disturbance, we should let them be as they, like the rest of us, are concerned about contracting Covid 19 by joining a larger encampment.
Most of the groups are in isolated locations well away from our villages and we have had no adverse reports about their behaviour and do not see them as a nuisance. Kindness and understanding is the approach we as a community should be encouraging, as is the fostering of understanding and challenging stereotyping and the use of discriminatory language/ racist abuse, particularly on social media.
Sadly, as a result in part of biased documentaries, the travelling community is often stereotyped and labelled. If you were to believe all the negative media stereotypes you would think all Travellers are lawless, dirty and never to be trusted. This is far from being the case. These days 70% Gypsies and Travellers live in houses and another 25% live on council run and private caravan sites. These people work, pay taxes and Council Tax just like everyone else.
A small minority are homeless and live a precarious existence on the roadside being frequently moved on and often racially abused and threatened by local people, who themselves are fearful. Statistically nationally there are lower crime rates around permanent Traveller sites than many of our villages. A few give the majority a very bad name, making it hard for villagers to welcome, understand and accept nomads who live differently to the rest of the world.
If we are prepared to accept Travellers for who they are and make the effort to get to know them we will find that they are welcoming open-hearted people. Travellers have received abuse, discrimination and racism for over 500 years and as a result may well stereotype us as being the same as others they have encountered. The main thing is to engage with them as you would with anyone else and avoid stereotyping those living quietly and gently in our midst at this dreadful time.
It takes time and patience on both sides to change our approaches and we understand that some individuals may not behave in a way that is acceptable and ask that you simply follow the same procedure you would for someone local if they were making loud noise, intruding on your property or fly tipping e.g. inform the Council, Police etc.
Sarah Nichols, Chair Fyfield and West Overton Parish Council
Reverend Maria Shepherdson, Rector of Upper Kennet Benefice