First-Hand: Why I make the travellers welcome: Hal Wynne-Jones, who runs a business in the Cotswolds, is quite happy with his itinerant neighbours

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE first travellers arrived back in 1987. There were 12 of them, in six wagons, and they parked on an old trackway about three miles out of the village. Theoretically it was common land - it's been used for centuries by gypsies and travellers - but a farmer turned up and told them to get off because he'd been storing haybales on it.

It wasn't his land to throw them off, so, after arguing with them, he let them stay. He got quite friendly with them in the end. Because they had horse- drawn carts they even joined in the local hunt: they just jumped on their old nags and galloped off with the plummy types. They stayed a couple of weeks, until they moved on to Glastonbury for the festival.

Then we had the incident with the French travellers. It was a family of four, and I allowed them to stay round the back of my house. They caused a few more problems. They hung out their washing on the stone walls - which looked quite pretty actually - but the law in the shape of a policeman came down instantly. I said, 'It's OK, they're staying with me,' but he wouldn't have any of that so they moved on. Since then the numbers of travellers have mushroomed. I could point you to about five settlements in the space of a five-mile radius of here.

Many of my neighbours were suspicious of travellers at first, calling them 'strangers', and going on about their filth. They even charged them for buckets of water. But that was just a knee-jerk reaction. When they got to know them they even got to like some of them. I try not to discuss them too much with people in the village - it's better to stay out of arguments.

Of course there are odd farmers in Wales with genuine cause to grumble, and some traveller settlements are disgusting - one in a lay-by by the A46 for example couldn't even be lived in by pigs. But I don't really think that most people are against them as much as has always been made out. A lot of it is just media rubbish.

If you compare the damage the travellers do with that done by farmers to the land, spraying it with God knows what chemicals, I would say it's pretty negligible. Yes, some of them smell - but it's usually just a good human smell mixed with woodsmoke. Some of their festivals are messy and noisy - but then everyone tidies up. A rave and a travellers party are as different as chalk and cheese. There's no profiteering or wrecking of a beauty spot.

I employ travellers to work for me, and some of them are allowed to park their buses on my land. My two young children like them - they provide entertainment, and because they value children they like playing with them. Some are saints, some are thugs, but I always make it clear to them that if they mess up here, it's my head on the block. I had a cart stolen by one of them: the fact that he was a traveller was irrelevant - he's just a bastard.

They travel around because the other option is housing benefit and a bed and breakfast, or working in a toothpaste factory. The problem is that they engender the age-old fear that the settler has of the nomad. There is an aspect in all of us that likes home, security and comfort, and also an aspect that loves freedom, danger and excitement. For some reason the two hate each other: it goes back as far as Cain and Abel.

Thanks to the new government legislation, by just being a traveller you will be made a criminal. But what are they planning to do with them all? Do they want them to go and live in squats or cardboard boxes? It baffles me. They have nowhere to go, except back to ghastly conditions in the cities.

All they need is a pull-in, a skip to put their rubbish in, water, and lots of work. It could be miles away from any houses, if necessary. Many claim the dole because they're constantly being moved on and can't form any relationship with the locals. They could become a taskforce of useful local part- time workers if only they were given a chance.

I'm a taxpayer. Personally I would rather pay someone to drive around in a colourful bus, than pay some civil servant, sitting in Whitehall, to make their life hell.