Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Sue Peak (Traveller Representative, Member of the Showmans Guild) (TF 16)


  My name is Sue Peak. I am a Showman's wife with two children and 13 years ago we purchased a piece of land to use as an Amusements Depot to maintain our home and rides and to enable our children to attend local schools for their full time education.

  We experienced many difficulties with obtaining planning permission and subsequently, through the process, were given eviction orders when our planning permission was turned down. All around us, people were building properties, having been given planning permission. We felt there was a great deal of prejudice against Showpeople. We visited the local Council offices many times but our pleas "fell on deaf ears" until one sympathetic Councillor listened to us and gave us hope.

  It was a long hard fight which ended eventually when The Department of the Environment overturned the local Councils decision and granted us planning permission for life.

  The situation isn't getting any better with local authorities and there is still a great need for Showmans Amusements Depots. Showman are still experiencing difficulties in obtaining planning permission. It is time that the Councils took more responsibility for Showmans needs so that other Showman and their families can experience the contentment I have had in the last few years, being settled and our children going to permanent schools and finishing their education.

  Let me explain. Have you ever wondered about the people who live and work on the Fairground?

  Who are they? The people manning the side stalls or the lady making the candy floss?

  Where do they come from?

  The life of the Travelling Showmen is quite fascinating but to understand, you must know a little of their history. Showpeople—that's what they are called . . . are from a Cultural community and many can trace their family back seven or eight generations.

  The business is family based. That means the whole family—mum, dad and the children live and work alongside each other and even grandparents still have an important role to play in the daily life and running of the Fair. It is understood, from an early age, just what is expected of each one of us and that we all have a role to play with the Fairground.

  The Fairground is like a huge extended family. We are not related to each other but should a problem arise there is always someone to turn to.

  Because the family works side by side, everyone knows what their role will be on the Fair. The children are actually learning their Life Skills. It may be helping mum in the wagon or trailer with the cooking or cleaning or working outside with their dad or brother or sister building up the stalls or painting—all of this work is preparing them for their future.

  The young children are encouraged from an early age to play with each other and stay together.

There will be many occasions like Weddings or parties where the young adults will have the opportunity to meet other young people from other parts of the country and hopefully forge friendships that will last them all their lives.

  We hope that in the future our children will marry into other Fairground families and continue the Fairground tradition.

  From November to Easter most Showmen will return to their winter base or yard as we call them. Then their children can return to their winter base schools and the young people can find jobs locally and any repairs and refurbishments can be done on the equipment. It is essential that Showpeople have a base to which they can return and it is also essential that they can keep their equipment and vehicles with them. The equipment can be very attractive to youngsters and this can be very dangerous which is why it is better kept with the Showpeople.

  The older Showpeople do not retire at 65 years old but many continue in the business until they feel the need to stay put. Indeed, some Showmen and their wives in their 80's and over are still active with their families.

  The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain or the "Guild" as we call it was formed over 100 years ago and was originally called the Van Dwellers Association. It is our Tradesman's Guild or union for the Fairground community and business. It has many rules and regulations which is the bedrock of our life. The Guild is there to protect the interests of its members who attend Fairs all over the country. The Guild book states that all members are equal. The Showmen's Guild is represented at both National and Regional level. The Guild has nearly 5,000 members but Showpeople number about 20,000 as the member is generally only one member of the family, usually the head of the family ie husband or father.

  Men and women play a major role within the Fairground community and it is quite common to see a huge ride behind a lorry driven by a young woman. Indeed welding and painting and building up the big rides traditionally done by men is now seen as a job for male and female alike which shows that Showmen are always ready to adapt and change to new challenges and environments.

  Returning to the question of the effectiveness of existing planning guidance, I don't believe their is any effectiveness as the local councils don't take any notice of the planning guidance and we are no further forward now than we were 15 years ago.

  We are experiencing the same sorts of problems now with my son who has just obtained an Amusement Depot in Surrey. My son is a Travelling Showman and is due to get married in November 2000. He is 22 years old and he has already experienced two planning enquiries on the property he has bought. This has resulted in causing him great cost but it has meant an even greater cost to Guildford Borough Council.

  This shouldn't have to be like this. The Government should put through legislation which would, in turn, force local council authorities to give fair hearings to Showmans applications for planning permission. They should insist that local authorities abide by existing planning guidance and penalise those that don't.

  I am an active member of my local community. I became a Parish Councillor in 1994 and I ran for District Council in 1996 and 1997. I am also a volunteer for the South East Surrey Care Association and also joint Chair of the Surrey Traveller Community Relations Forum.

  I believe that my experience on these committees together with my experience of obtaining planning permission for Showmans Depots would be a great advantage to this Environment Sub-committee.

  We urgently need a solution to our problems.

Sue Peak

February 2000

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