A friend and I were recently discussing holiday options and she mentioned the recent concept of glamping. This is completely new to me as a holiday alternative, but basically means “glamorous camping”. Intrigued, as this seemed to be a contradiction in terms, I went away and did a little research.
One of the first sites I came across lays it all out in a wonderfully simple way. Glamping UK allows you to choose the part of the UK you wish to visit and from there you can choose your accommodation and book through the website. Next on my search results was The Guardian’s Ten of the Best Glamping sites in the UK – apparently according to the latest Cool Camping book Glamping Getaways (2011).
My enthusiasm for glamping evaporated when I saw that top of The Guardian’s list was “Gypsy Caravan Breaks, Langport, Somersert.” I’m sorry, what? Gypsy Caravan breaks? As in, you pay to go camping in a “gypsy” style caravan on holiday? Apparently so. The website goes on to describe this particular camp site as:
“Perfect for a romantic weekend break with a cosy twist, this picture-perfect bow-topped caravan awaits you in beautiful Somerset. There are hardly any of these caravans available for hire in England, but you’ll find this one tucked away in an apple orchard on the edge of a smallholding, so it will be surrounded by apples or blossom depending when you visit.”
Oh how charming! Especially since while The Guardian was celebrating gypsy-style tourism in Somerset in 2011, it was also rebuking Basildon Council in Essex for the forced eviction of caravan-dwelling families from their homes at Dale Farm. While the tourism industry romanticizes about long lost nomadic traditions, the difficult circumstances actually faced by caravan-dwelling families today – as well as historically – become increasingly obscured as well as trivialized. I mean, this is literally as problematic as Disney’s portrayal of French Gypsies in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). No, actually it’s worse.
According to Planning for Traveller Sites – a consultation document published by the department of Communities and Local Government in 2011, 3,636 caravans had been recorded as being located on unauthorised camps and developments (cf. DCLG 2011). It was also stated in this document – similar to the warnings in other documents drafted by the DCLG such as The Road Ahead – that unauthorised camps and developments are steadily on the increase due to a lack of sufficient local authority site provision and/or availability of affordable land for caravan-dwelling families (cf. DCLG 2007). In short, the figure of caravans located on unauthorised sites in 2011 has probably grown. After all, it’s no secret that Britain’s caravan-dwelling communities are amongst the most socially excluded minority groups (CRE 2006; DCLG 2007; EHRC 2010).
Most notable, researchers such as Joanna Richardson (2006: 18) have shown that where caravan-dwellers are applying for planning permission for land they intend to live on, permission is denied 90% of the time, compared to 10% application failure rates within the house-dwelling community. Additionally, according to research that I recently completed, planning permission is also denied to families wishing to extend existing plots that do have planning permission, for fears from councils that this will encourage the expansion of families and/or encourage families to remain permanently within an area. Therefore, local citizenship and integration is being challenged and prevented by local authorities (cf. Parnell-Berry 2013). So one can only imagine the perversity of hiring out hoop-top “gypsy” caravans for house-dwelling couples to spend their weekends in when families self-identifying as Romani or Pavee are so openly discriminated against and prevented from living a traditional lifestyle.
Clearly, some sort of planning discrimination is being carried out and it does not favour traveller families, as the rhetoric surrounding this policy arena often claims it does. The eviction at Dale Farm in October 2011, which was openly supported by David Cameron – has shown the injustice faced by Pavee (Irish) and Romani families living on caravan sites due to prejudice towards alternative lifestyles, which in this case is often disguised as upholding planning laws, as repeatedly claimed by Cllr Tony Ball of Basildon Council, Essex. Bailiffs came onto the land in order to force residents away from their “illegal” homes, however they destroyed the property of homes located on legally passed land in the process, indicating a complete disregard for caravan-dwelling ways of life. After the eviction that left approximately 90 families homeless, some returned in order to re-establish the homes that they were forced out of without being offered any alternative (cf. ITMB 2011) only to face eviction again. The crux of the issue here appears to be that certain ways of life are considered too alternative to be acceptable and therefore – according to the actions and policies of central government and some local governments – cannot be tolerated. Existing local authority and private caravan sites are managed tightly while measures are put in place to discourage caravan-dwelling communities from growing.
While there are many other families across England and Wales facing evictions from their homes, which are simply described in the most up to date policy documents as “illegal developments” or camps (cf. DCLG 2012), Dale Farm still remains the most illustrative example of the injustice and discrimination faced by families on a day to day basis. In short, trivializing and romanticizing caravan-dwelling cultures through tourism on the one hand gives the impression that British people on the whole are fond of Romani culture (and in doing so re-writes history) and also that Romani culture – through usage of hoop-topped caravans – is a thing of the past. This removes any form of validation for present-day caravan-dwelling communities and their cultures, thereby adding to the discrimination that they face.
Romanticizing caravan-dwelling peoples doesn’t help them when they are so frequently rejected by dominant socio-political systems. It just ignores what is really going on and helps those already in privileged positions enjoy and/or make money off of a damaging myth. Want to know how we can help caravan-dwelling families and engage with REAL caravan-dwelling culture? You don’t need to go glamping to find it. You could attend a council meeting to approve a local authority caravan site or support a petition to allow the families currently being denied the planning permission to establish a stable home for their children. You can promote the events and fairs hosted by Romani and Traveller communities to meet with each other, celebrate and promote their history and culture for their future generations rather than for the sole consumption of non-traveller hipsters.
Let’s ditch the tokenism and fight for real change that everyone can benefit from.
CRE (2006) Common Ground: Equality, Good Race Relations and Sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers. London: Commission for Racial Equality
DCLG (2012) Planning Policy for Traveller Sites. London: Department for Communities and Local Government
DCLG (2011) Planning for Traveller Sites: Consultation. London: Department for Communities and Local Government
DCLG (2007) The Road Ahead: Final Report of the Independent Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement for Gypsies and Travellers. London: Department for Communities and Local Government
EHRC (2010) How Fair is Britain? Equality, Human Rights and Good Relations in 2010. London: Equality and Human Rights Commission
ITMB (2011) Dale Farm: Basildon Council’s Eviction of a Traveller Community. London: Irish Traveller Movement in Britain
Parnell-Berry, B. (2013) Ethical Narratives in Contested Landscapes: The Implementation and Experience of Public Policy Values for Traveller Caravan Sites. Kingston-upon-Hull: University of Hull
Richardson, J. (2006) The Gypsy Debate: Can Discourse Control? Exeter & Charlottesville: Imprint Academia