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

Memorandum by Elaine Whiting (TF 17)

  I am married to a travelling showman from the North Derby and South Links section of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. We have been married for 28 years, attending Fairs as far apart as Kirkcaldy in Scotland, to Barnstable in Devon. So over the years and miles, coming into contact with a wide variety of councils. A large amount of the Fairs my family and I attend are corporation, or as showmen term them Street Fairs.


  As a small child I lived about 10 miles from a traditional Street Fair at Caerphilly. A few weeks before the fair, all the children in our village would be buzzing, eagerly awaiting this event. Pocket money saved. All my family would attend, some returning home from different parts of the country. Once at the Fair, lights, noise, smells, laughter, pure joy, all enjoyed in a safe carefree atmosphere. A magic land, there only for a few days.

  A tradition going back hundreds of years. As long as there has been a Fair, stalls, shows and such, have attended.

  Over the last hundred years more rides have attended but still the modern equivalent of shows, stalls and games. Attend any street Fair in the land, see the thousands of families that attend them.

  Having their dose of fair magic. We are wanted by these families. Fairs are a family entertainment, a time when people can and do enjoy themselves as a group. From small babes fascinated by the lights, to older children and Mams and Dads testing their nerves and bravery on the modern thrill rides, to Grandma buying her brandy snap or riding on the Gallopers. As a part of our British culture, the feel good vibes at a British travelling fun fair is intoxicating, even Disney, in my opinion, comes a sad second to us!

  The ad men know this, look at the number of times a fair is used in TV adverts.


  I would like for all planning departments in councils to take into consideration fairs that take place in town centres when they decide to erect street furniture, bus shelters, newly planted trees, flower tubs, notices and bollards.

  It is the fashion at the moment to clone our town centres, plans of fairs are readily available. The placing of any one of these obstacles, just inches can mean the difference between being able to erect our equipment. We are not market stalls able to remove a few boxes or such to be able to fit on the plots that have usually been in the family for donkey's years. All these changes are usually done without notice to the regular showmen who attend these fairs. I would like to know, do we have any rights at all when a council decides to move a fair from its traditional site, be it a park, field or city street?

  It seems there is very little redress from our community. Over the years I have felt ignored, discriminated against and threatened by some councils. Unable to complain because to do so might rock the boat. By my own reckoning, 90 per cent of fairs I attend are controlled by a council. In most cases, showmen's needs always come last, if taken into consideration at all.


  A more stable agreement over the longer term, regarding rents and usage of sites.

  In recent years it has not been unknown for 25 per cent rent increases to be applied, when inflation has been as little as 2 or 3 per cent, why?

  From a women's point of view I would like more taps and drains to be provided on major sites. At the Nottingham Goose Fair site, until last year, there were three taps for all the caravans. This has improved, but we still are supposed to use diesel drums to empty all our waste water into. This is impossible.

  I also attend Coventry Great Fair. After years of letters and complaints, we now have eight taps between 50 families, and not one foul water drain. Where the caravans are sited during our stay, is where the circus pen out their animals in previous visits. Do I need to say more. The site is usually water logged before we get there. Usually to get to my home means Wellingtons.

  This site is used three times a year for fairs and by a circus twice (I think). In 28 years, not one single improvement has been done to where I have to live for two weeks every year. The rent is always expected for my caravans by the council. On the continent such sites have drains, cesspits and water provided, why not us?

  This is the case on 99 per cent of major fair sites in Britain. Maybe we could have a Blue Peter appeal, we need it, at times our conditions are as bad as any third world country.

  This subject is taboo amongst showmen, as sites we need to earn our living on could be denied us if it were pointed out that we needed water, cesspits and drains.


  My idea of an imaginary list of do's and dont's by planners, regarding the above.

  Do encourage showmen to believe they have a chance to get planning on a site. It is very unusual to hear of a planning application for a showman's quarters being past at the first try.

  Don't approve an application for a showman's quarters until it has gone all the way to inquiry. (To do so might upset local voters!). It wasn't me, it was the inquiry, cop out.

  At the moment in time of writing this, we are going through the stages of trying to get planning on a site at Kirkby in Ashfield. This site fits the bill perfectly as laid down by the Government. It is a brown field site, it used to be a car park for Bentnick Pit.

  It is sited opposite the pit. One end of the land is a railway embankment, the other end of the site is next to a pub. The pit is being pulled down to make way for a small power station and there will also be a small industrial estate. At the moment the council are trying to put this piece of land back to open country. Ashfield Council has always been known to follow the leaning of their officers who seem determined to refuse us planning on this site. For 10 years or more, I and several others have tried to acquire another site. In total, five sites have been found, all for one reason or another, have been deemed not suitable, even before planning was applied for.

  Local Councillors understand the need for this site. The leader of Ashfield Council is very much on our side, but still the land is threatened by being turned into open countryside.

  All the yards at Selston are full. There are a lot of Guild members who would like to be able to have a mobile home with all the amenities this can provide.

  The face of travelling has changed, lots of fair sites have only limited space for the caravans with usually no services whatsoever. So small touring caravans are used more. Travellers call it camping! This means leaving the larger vans elsewhere. So a site, as we are trying for, would be ideal.

  Among the older generation of showmen, there is a big problem. It tends to be as we get older, we still attend fairs, but usually on a more local base, with smaller stalls or rides. Picking the places that suit this semi-retired course. There are lots of times between such events when it would be ideal to be able to return to a home base, but they are unable to do so because no site is available in the area. To retire and yet still be a part of our travelling community is very important to our older folk. They have no wish to live in a house but want to be with their very caring families and friends. The few who have settled into houses are lonely. The site we would like to get passed would be geared to all their needs. The younger families, who run market stalls and fair equipment are also in a similar situation. So the main needs are space and storage facilities.

  The planning officers assumption is we should buy light industrial land. This is impossible in this area, the price is out of the question. No way could such a site be viable. Housing land is even more expensive, plus who wants to build a housing estate near to us. Most outsiders are fearful of us, mixing us up with ethnic groups such as gypsies.

  To sum up, please get local planning officers to listen to our needs.

  I have just been told that another site used by showmen, in Kirkby town centre, for winter quarters, is being sold to a developer. This now leaves Ashfield with no permanent sites for showmen.

  Any other matters which may arise.


  It is unusual for police to be called to a fair. In my opinion they are reluctant to come, and when they do, usually are biased toward who ever has been causing the trouble at the site. Not the showmen may I add, we are there to earn a living, not cause trouble. At Ollerton, several years ago, a group of men and young lads came onto the fair site after closing time. On the instigation of one of their friends who said he had been threatened by one of our men. (Untrue as was later to be proved). They were armed with fence posts, etc. This being a small fair at the Duckeries Centre Gala, there were only a small number of wagons on the site, four to be exact.

  The crowd threatened to burn our homes down and were throwing stones, etc.

  On calling the police, they said they were unable to attend. I then got a local lady to phone, pronto, the police arrived. They proceeded to intimidate us, saying they had to live here, we didn't. The next morning we moved on.

  In August of this year, at Mankeaton Park, Derby Carnival, a large group of young boys ran amok on the fair. They were mugging smaller children, jumping on rides whilst in motion, stole a neighbours phone and money. Then the youngest of this group stole from our paybox, the neighbour phoned the police on his son's phone.

  Over the years we have found it useful to keep a camera in our pay box. Earlier in the day my husband had taken a number of photos of these youths. When the police finally arrived, my husband told the PC what had been going on. Then one of the group accused my husband of kicking him.

  The outcome was my husband was arrested. We finally went to court in January. The case was kicked out. We were told the youth who stole from us and our neighbour would not be prosecuted. My husband has never been in trouble, is a good family man, a member of our section of the guild committee for 25 years. In the witness statement it said my husband was 5 foot, 3 inches, he is 5 foot, 11 inches. Had tattoos, he does not. Was scruffy, had rings on and was wearing a tee-shirt. All untrue. I feel the only reason this case got so far was because he is a travelling showman.

  Also it is well known that certain policemen on our motorway network never let a showman's load pass. They stop them.

  I personally have proof of this. We attend Barnstable Fair, Bridgewater Fair follows this.

  To get to Bridgewater you have to join the M5 at Taunton.

  To my knowledge, at least five showmen were stopped on the morning of travelling day last year.

  This has happened for a number of years, why?

  I do believe police discriminate against us.

  I have heard of many such incidents and have witnessed some of them.

  It is easier to arrest or give showmen hassle as we do not fit the norm. There is a stereotype image of us, ie tattoos, scruffy, law breakers who wear straw hats, stripped shirts and who fleece the public by dubious means, of their money. None of this is the case. We are a moral, upright, law abiding group of people. Divorce is very rare, children born out of wedlock unheard of. I have never known a showman's child to go into care.

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