STAG has just sent off our response to the Peckham Area Character Study consultation. So why did we get involved?

An area character study is supposed to see how people who live, work or study in an area experience it. Is it welcoming, diverse, full of shops and public places that make you feel welcome? How has the area changed over time and how much might change in the future?. Can you identify a consistent character across a few streets or a large neighbourhood? The final Area Character Study can be used by planners to make sure the positive character of an area is maintained and improved in any new developments there.

But what was very clear in the draft Peckham Area Character Study was that Traveller sites and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities were barely mentioned. STAG was originally set up to campaign for more authorised Traveller sites in Southwark, and it was the result of the amazing campaigning work of Irish Traveller and English Gypsy families in the 1980s and 90s, that means we now have three authorised Traveller sites in Peckham, all within walking distance of each other.

At that time not only Travellers but members of the wider community got involved in campaigning for authorised sites. Everyone saw the terrible living conditions families were facing in unauthorised sites with no facilities, amenities or local services, such as rubbish collection. This meant that the Travellers who moved into the newly authorised Peckham sites they’d campaigned for, were well known and had become valued members of the local Peckham community. Founders of STAG were invited to meet royalty, regularly consulted by senior Councillors and MPs, their children were supported by a Traveller Education Service and the communities’ celebration of Traveller culture resulted in events involving horse-riding, horse and trap driving, brightly decorated old fashioned Vardos  and wagons, and traditional crafts , food  and  music , which helped other Southwark communities to get to know them.

But what’s this? According to the map in the draft Area Character study, the Brideale Close Traveller site isn’t even in Peckham and neither is the Burnhill Close site. The only Traveller site marked as being in the Area is Springtide Close – a site that has remained empty since 2020, despite repeated promises by Southwark Council to refurbish and reopen it. In fact the Council identifies in its borough plan that even with the Springtide Close site open, there are still too few Traveller pitches to meet the local need. They committed to identifying new sites for the additional 27 pitches needed just for the five years between 2020/1 – 2024/5.  But on the ground we’ve lost the five pitches of Springtide Close since 2020 and there has been no work to identify sites for 27 new pitches, despite the target date for this being only a year away. That’s 32 Traveller households who are missing out on the opportunity to live on a Southwark site. And the reason many Traveller families have left Southwark over the last ten years. There simply aren’t enough pitches for them to live in their traditional close family groups. Many could be suffering worsening mental health as they are forced into claustrophobic, culturally inappropriate bricks & mortar accommodation. Living in misery in homes that would be perfect for other Peckham residents in need.

It’s the Mystery of the Missing Traveller pitches, the riddle of why the Traveller character in these areas of Peckham is being ignored.

STAG hopes our response to the consultation will highlight to the Council the history of Travellers in Peckham and the richness of their culture. Who knows, if we can celebrate Travellers and the value of the additional ethnic diversity they bring to Peckham,  we might just see them get a mention as part of the character of the area? Those missing Traveller pitches could even get refurbished and more developed so these communities can contribute even more to Peckham’s diverse and multi-cultural character.