An extended Traveller family living on Stoke Newington Common have until the end of this week to move on, following a High Court injunction granted to Hackney Council.
The interim injunction prohibits the McDonagh family from pitching their caravans on any one of the 58 open spaces in the borough during the Olympics. The temporary injunction will remain in place until the case is listed for a full trial, which will take place later this year. The council maintains that such an unauthorized encampment on a public space cannot be allowed but their supporters say they have nowhere to go, following the closure of a fixed Travellers site because of the Olympic Park development.
But what do local people think? ELL reporter Emma Marvin went along to Stoke Newington Common to speak to the McDonagh family, but they declined to comment. However, she asked some of the local residents what they thought about the Travellers being there:
Stephanie Selt, 30, charity worker, Stoke Newington:
“I was a little surprised when they arrived. They seem perfectly friendly and they’ve probably been kicked out of plenty of other places and don’t have a lot of options.
“Is the council helping them find somewhere else to go? I feel a bit for them, I suppose. I’ve been around here with my daughter and the Travellers’ children have been around here playing in the park, just like everyone else.”
Tim Stevens, 24, creative agency worker, Stoke Newington:
“The council has to do what’s best for the majority. People have to contribute towards what the council is trying to build, so it has to do what’s best for the people that eventually will be here for a lot longer.”
Mark Sutcliffe, 35, freelance engineer, Stoke Newington:
“I’m not exactly pro them being there. There’s negative and positive. How many more Travellers will turn up when they know that they can, where they want? If I could set up anywhere in London where there’s free rent, I would, but I’m obligated by the rules of society and I pay tax.
“A lot of people do pay their taxes for parks and public places to enjoy and we choose to live this kind of way. They don’t, so I do feel there’s a ‘them and us’ and why should they benefit from things that we all put into?
“They drive their cars on and off the common and they’re pretty fast sometimes and they are right next to a kids’ playing area.
Ora McCarthy, 33, researcher, Stoke Newington:
“I haven’t seen anything negative happen. I actually haven’t seen them. You know the stereotypes that Travellers have? Well, I haven’t seen any of that. It doesn’t bother me at all about them being there.”
Ora’s friend, who gave his name as Tom:
“It doesn’t bother me, either. They haven’t caused any trouble. I don’t think the council should move them on unless they start causing trouble. They’re not taking up the whole common. There’s still plenty of space for people to use. I often see people playing football there. I don’t think they’ve made much difference to the area compared to how it was before they arrived.”
Murtaza Gulistanu, 29, unemployed, Stoke Newington:
“They do what they want and we can’t really say anything to them.
“I don’t blame them. They should have a place to live, but they need to have a proper place to live in. Hackney Council should give them a place to stay. That way, the Travellers will be happy and the council has done something good, too. If they don’t get a place, they’re just going to keep on moving from one place to another.”
Tracey Cook, 39, unemployed, Stoke Newington:
“The mess that’s been left. I can’t walk my dog over there. Sometimes I see a bit of a ruckus between the Travellers’ children and the local kids.
“The council is doing the right thing to move them on. If I pitched up a tent over there the police would move me on straight away.
“I understand that they’ve got to live somewhere, but you can’t just park up somewhere and decide to stay there and live.”
Michael, 30, IT engineer, Stoke Newington:
“I think some of the local families and children that come and play on the common don’t want to come down as much.
“I’ve heard that the council has given them extra bins and put in a portable loo, just behind their caravans.”
“The Travellers have a right to use this area as a public space, but not as permanent accommodation.”
Costas Kyriacou, 69, retired, Stoke Newington:
“I think the council has done the right thing. The area is a public space, but not for Travellers to live there.”