The Church of England should make land available for gypsies and travellers, the General Synod has voted, despite concerns that they bring “a lot of upset and fear”.
Members overwhelmingly supported a motion calling on the Church to donate land from its notoriously large portfolio to the traveller community, just five months after Government ministers revealed they were considering making trespass a criminal offence to stop them moving onto private land.
One member of the Synod yesterday voiced concern over the motion, saying travellers that had recently moved into her local church car park left behind smashed glass and human excrement.
Mary Durlacher, from the Chelmsford Diocese, said it was important to recognise the negative community reaction some traveller communities bring to local areas, adding: “One day, a car park in one of our churches was completely full of travellers.
“Eventually they did leave and we had quite a job to do. It didn’t matter cleaning up the black bags but there was the issue of excrement. My husband and I put on our gloves because the smell was quite interesting.
“They then moved around the area to our second church, the local school and private land. There was broken glass and with it being a hot summer, it set fire to the field. There was a lot of bad feeling.”
Despite her concerns, the motion was passed by 265 votes to one. Its recommendations include that the Church should establish a Commission on Sites for Gypsies and Travellers and for Bishops in the House of Lords to “speak out boldly” against legislation that seeks to marginalise the community.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, told the Synod that comments against travellers he has recently heard are “too distressing and poisonous to repeat”.
“We have an unsustainable and unjust situation where people are being are being evicted from unauthorised land without any authorised alternative being available.
“It is our responsibility to put this right and the Church can play its part to help find new sites. This motion is a small way of making a change.”
Prior to the vote, the motion was amended because it suggested that offering up the lands could help “prevent crime and disorder”. The Bishop of Chelmsford said the term “plays into the hands of all the worse stereotypes which fuel misunderstanding and prejudice” and successfully requested that it was removed.
There are 500,000 travellers in the UK, of which less than 10 per cent are actually travelling.
The Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, who described the matter as “a human rights issue”, said that only one square mile of land is necessary to meet the needs all of travellers in the country, adding: “We are asking [the Church] to take it into account in its own land management and its own concern for social housing. This is a serious need and the Church should play its part.”
Dr Elizabeth Henry, a national adviser to the committee for minority ethnic anglican concerns, said:
“We want to look at how the Church could actually work at making land available, or at least lobbying in terms of making land available.
“There is not a specific project in mind. There may well be in the next year or so further work around housing that we wanted to make sure this area of work will be very much a part of that work.”
Written By: Izzy Lyons
First Published 24.02.19: