Wonders of the Fair

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Wonders of the fair

Debra Torrance
Image courtesy of Yasmin Parnham

The carnival is in my soul, I love it so very much. The smells, the sights and the sounds. It fills my senses with nostalgia and excitement. I’m sure this is true for many of us. As I wrote last time about Showmen this is another sad tale of a Fair that’s being treated not so fairly.

Feltham showmen have a history spanning over a century, residing in Feltham, in the council borough of Hounslow, just south of the M4 and West of London. On a bit of land that was formerly an orchard and piggery, descendants of the original plot owners today still live in chalets, brick built homes and caravans. Doing the same job their forefathers done. Bringing joy and fun to many areas around London including Wimbledon Common and Ravenscourt Park.

Image by Yasmin Parnham
Image by Debra Torrance

From wee babies to elderly residents, this community of showfolk are under threat. 60% of the land is privately owned by the Showmen families, however Hounslow council own 40%. Hounslow council have been reviewing their housing stock, they say the new London Plan requires Hounslow to provide 21,800 new homes over the next 10 years. It is no surprise then that such a perfect spot for commuting is under threat of redevelopment. But it is a surprise to the hundreds of residents that already live there.

On June 11th, Hounslow council leader Steve Curran said “The Feltham Masterplan… identifies the Station Estate Road ‘Travelling Show Peoples’ site as having potential for redevelopment for housing due to its close proximity to the train station and town centre.”

You can view the full statement on the Feltham Masterplan here:

Furthermore the councillor continues:

“In order to identify a suitable alternative site, we have carried a detailed assessment of the current and future needs of the existing Traveling Show People community at Station Road. We have also carried out a “Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA)”, which is a borough-wide assessment.

We continue to look for a suitable alternative site and engage with the community to assess their needs”.

I wondered about this impact assessment, as I covered in my last article, showmen are a unique culture. Business people who have mastered the art of logistical nightmares, literally living their livelihood. How can a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment take into account unique traits of the showman? Most with a home base, a large static chalet or even brick built homes. Often in yards where they can maintain their vehicles and machines. A showman may move vehicles and machines several times a day from fairground site to yard to stadiums, many will stay with their machines and vehicles on site but many also return home to their base. Where their children attend school and elderly relatives are cared for.Hounslow council say they carried out an impact assessment. So we had a look at the Hounslow Bedfont Lane and Station Estate Road TSP Accommodation Assessment.

This GTAA is a 33 page document, outlining the various types of accommodation that the showman use. The trouble is, without fully understanding the complex working and travelling routines of showmen, it would be easy to misconstrue the facts being presented to us. If the majority of households in the showman sites have mobile homes, then what is the problem with just moving elsewhere?

Except, that isn’t the case. A showman’s household may span several generations, elderly grandparents may reside with up and coming young showmen, some members of the household may travel from fairground to fairground, while others stay at their static site, in brick homes and bungalows, as well as modern chalets, often costing tens of thousands of pounds.

 

Image by Yasmin Parnham
Image by Debra Torrance

Does this assessment give a fair representation of the showman community in Feltham?

We asked showman spokeswoman Yasmin Parnham her opinion on the situation:

“While the GTAA does reflect on us and it does show indeed we have a need for additional yards due to growth within the families and business. We have given Opinion Research Services our full co operation but even though the assessment was complete we had to push the leader of the council for us to see the report even though we knew they had it we hadn’t seen the results.
We have been in total shock after finding out from a councillor Elizabeth Hughes sometime ago that our land was identified for compulsory purchase order, this she told a fellow showman in the local pub, since then we have been trying to get more information about this.
Showmen have lived on this site for 4 generations over 150 years when infact it was originally a pig farm and an orchard, Feltham has built up around us, we are the only ones included in the masterplan to be under threat of losing our homes.
I have been seeking help from all over and our local ward councillor John Chatt told me in a recent meeting how very upset he was over losing his local labour club where he used to drink, he was quite mortified I said ‘John that’s a club and you feel like this imagine how we feel this is our homes and livelihoods!’”

The local community have been rallying with the showmen and residents under threat from this Feltham Master Plan. The local Victoria Junior School Year 4 children were learning about the history of Feltham and were outraged by the story of the Showman’s site and offered to help. Lawyers have offered their services, thousands of messages of support have been flowing into the inbox of Yasmin and now have over ten thousand members (and growing!) on their facebook page. Although it is often misunderstood, the life of the showman is intrinsically linked with the community in which they live for the off season. That home base is just that, their home. Can you imagine being told in the pub that your home was under threat? How would you feel if your neighbour came to tell you that your council was proposing new homes where your home was? If the council have identified like for like alternative sites for this showman community then why don’t they build new homes there and leave this site alone? I asked Yasmin how the whole ordeal has impacted her:

“The threat of losing our homes is taking its toll on our elderly, there has been heart attacks, deaths and some of my friends are now on antidepressants through anxiety and stress, I have been too recently!
My own father has had a heart attack and has prostate cancer, whilst in his hospital bed he said if I manage to get through this we will fight the council…”

Please digest that for a moment. A specific group of people in a community under threat are getting sick through this whole ordeal, mental health is being affected, physical illnesses exacerbated and sick and hospitalised people are fighting for their homes! In Great Britain. In the 21st century.We can’t let these hardworking, community minded, culturally rich and historic folk fight this by themselves. Showmen the length and breadth of the countries of the United Kingdom will be fighting together, have no doubt. Let’s support them. Because remember our communities would be poorer without carnivals and fairs. What is a gala without a bouncey castle? What is a Highland games without a hook a duck? These events are vital boosts to lagging local economies. What is happening in Feltham to the Showman community isn’t fair.

You can contact Steve Curran council leader here:
Write to your own MP and let them know about it all and how you would feel if your home was flagged for redevelopment in an ominously named “Masterplan.”

I want to finish with the words of a Showman, because this is their story, I’m just sharing it.

“In 2018 should we not be trying to integrate our communities rather than making the showmen social outcasts on the edge of town!

Feltham has created what other towns have failed to do, they have a community that is made up of so many diverse groups of people that even though they are very different to each other they do not see themselves as separate groups but as one large community!

Is this not what every borough should be striving to achieve, rather than tearing it apart?”

You can sign the petition to save the Feltnam site here

 

Yasmin Parnham also wrote a moving piece of poetry. You can read it here

 

You can read more of Debra’s Ungagged writing here, or listen to her on our podcast