Shute Woods: Travellers appeal for tolerance

PUBLISHED: 08:37 22 October 2008 | UPDATED: 22:30 15 June 2010

AS residents call for those pitched at Shute Woods to be moved on, the travellers have asked people to be tolerant and understand they are just 'surviving'.

AS residents call for those pitched at Shute Woods to be moved on, the travellers have asked people to be tolerant and understand they are just 'surviving'.Eight caravans pitched at the beauty spot have caused outrage in Kilmington and nearby villages, but the travellers feel people are being prejudiced and that they are the victims of discrimination.One of the travellers, Paul, told the Herald he has had a petrol bomb thrown at him in the past. Danny Steed spoke of stones being hurled at him and, while at Shute, Claire said people had passed by swearing. Claire, 32, who said she comes from gypsy family but now is more 'new age traveller', said: "We're just normal people, but we don't live in a house. "My son had lots of problems growing up and was called 'traveller kid' at school. "He left school in the end because of the bullying and was self-taught."Paul, 46, who has been a traveller since 15, added: "We're blamed for everything bad, from thieving to drugs, to prostitution. "We keep ourselves to ourselves. "We don't go looking for trouble - it comes to us."The travellers said living at the site was a case of 'surviving' and, while they did not pay council tax, they did pay other taxes and had to work hard to get by.Danny Steed, 33, said: "If I didn't live in a mobile home, I would be on the streets. It's just surviving."However, he added there were attractions to living as a traveller, namely the sense of community. "I left home at 17 and haven't looked back," he said. I've met different people, lived in different places, and now I've ended up here. "It's like living with an extended family. "I love the people I'm living with and we help each other out. I'm quite happy."We want to get on with people - some like us, some don't. "I don't think people realise how hard it is living like this. But if people want to tarnish us all with the same brush that's their problem."Paul added: "People who live in council houses don't know their next door neighbour. We are family."When asked if he preferred to be referred to as a traveller or a gypsy, he said: "I'm an individual, just like anybody else."The close-knit community is currently in mourning over the death of 65-year-old Monty, who died over the weekend."He will be sadly missed," said Paul. He said a wake would be held to mark his life. He told how Monty had worked for Save the Children and was known as a 'gentleman', suggesting people should not be judged by their property.Axminster resident Paul Haywood, who has been closely following the planning application for gypsy pitches at Raymond's Hill, said: "They are easy scapegoats. "It's tricky - they have to have somewhere to go. Sometimes they get a hard time from their own actions, but tarnished as a group with a very big brush."During a parish council meeting at Kilmington, chairman Michael Collier said authorities were trying to move the travellers on but it was understood travellers had to be treated carefully. Kilmington resident Ted Dutton said he did not know of anyone who was happy the travellers were there. He said: "I'm categorically not in favour of the travellers staying there - they just ruin the site everywhere they go. They live free and don't pay taxes. "But a lot of people are frightened to open their mouths."We are very tolerant and relatively decent people. We can't stop them from staying there but, if they mess the countryside, we shouldn't have to pay for it."Devon County Council said the travellers were on land owned by the council and government guidance said they should meet travellers' and gypsies' needs, just as it does for settled communities.A spokesperson said: "Devon County Council is working with district, borough and city councils to address the housing, educational, social and welfare needs of gypsies and travellers in Devon. "The council is not a housing authority, but it still has statutory responsibilities to ensure that people have access to education, social care and welfare advice.

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