A community of New Age travellers are fighting Sheffield City Council’s attempts to evict them from a site near Sheffield’s abandoned Ski Village.

The community has been living next to the disused ski slopes for the past 13 years, but now the Council wants the land back for redevelopment. A petition opposing the proposed eviction has reached more than 1,700 signatures.

“You need more travellers’ sites,” says Caroline, one of the signatories of the petition. “Many people face this as the only viable option when it comes to finding accommodation, paying bills, living in a home they own. You can’t disregard that people take this option. Provide sites, even bits of common land, where people can dwell.

“Big business is fine, but let’s not forget the people in this country either. Many people are driven to this because of the housing market. Would you prefer families living under archways?”

Diane Barrett, who has lived on the site with her children for the past nine years, says that her youngest will have to change schools if they’re evicted.

“The site has been there for approximately 13 years and the Council have never given us any indication that they have wanted us to leave until now,” she says.

“We have always had good communication and a good relationship with the Council. They have also given us bins for our rubbish, which they empty every week.”

She argues that their presence has discouraged fly-tipping and crime, asking people they catch dumping stuff to leave and reporting them. She says that the Council has never received any complaints about the community.

“Some people have lived on the road for up to 30 years so to live in a house would be hard,” adds Diane. “There are a few people with mental health issues, physical disabilities and other issues. There are also some people on benefits, so they would only be adding to the housing problems that we have today.”

The site is located next to the disused ski village, not on it, but  Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for the Environment, said that the land is earmarked for “significant regeneration” and that it is going to be redeveloped  into a larger leisure complex as part of the Council’s masterplan for the regeneration of the area.

Since the ski village burned down in 2012, the complex has been abandoned. Extreme Destinations has won a bid for a £22.5 million ‘Outdoor City’ development on the 48-acre site.

Cllr Lodge said: “It is with regret that we’re having to take court action. But we cannot just give away Council-owned land because people move onto it illegally and want to keep it.

“I understand this will be difficult for them, and we have been talking to representatives from the group for some time about them moving on.” 

The Council say they told the travellers in March 2015 to start looking for an alternative site and have offered to help the travellers find alternative homes.

“We’ve offered support with housing and will meet any homelessness duties owed. The legal process can take some time and we are committed to supporting people as much as possible to help them make alternative arrangements,” says Lodge.

At the initial court hearing, protesters gathered to show support for the community. One of the protesters, Janu Evans, said, “Sheffield is a city that prides itself on diversity and acceptance of those whose lifestyles are different from the norm.”

He argues that rehousing the community would spread them out across the city, “stamping out any attempt to maintain any community cohesion”.

The original court hearing on 27 November has been adjourned until February 2018.

“It’s great because we can now relax over Christmas knowing we won’t lose our homes yet,” says Diane.

Background image: Christina Mrozik (Now Then #111)

Hannah Vickers