Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Dale Farm: We stood because ye stood

Mary Sheridan talks to Elly Robson about resisting the eviction of her family and the Traveller community at Dale Farm in Essex

May 6, 2012
4 min read

Photo: Rehmat Rayatt

Mary Sheridan is a 37-year-old mother of four who has lived at Dale Farm in Essex – the UK’s largest Traveller community – for the past 12 years. Along with other Dale Farm families and their supporters, she was involved in resisting the action by Basildon Council to forcibly evict them from the land that they own. With nowhere else to go since the eviction in October 2011, the displaced families have been living in precarious, crowded and unsanitary conditions next door to their former homes. They now face the threat of another round of evictions.

Why did you first come to Dale Farm?

I came to Dale Farm when my first child was born 12 years ago. Growing up there was ten of us but there’s only four of us can write. I really wanted my children to read because of that. And the only way to get them to read and write is to have them settled. You can’t travel any more anyway – the police don’t allow you to travel, the government don’t allow you to travel.

I never thought ever that we’d be removed from Dale Farm because it wasn’t a green belt – that’s just a lie covering up prejudice. It was a scrapyard, and how can they call a scrapyard greenbelt land? I thought I’d be there forever and so would my kids. A lot of people used to say ‘why do you want to stay together?’ But that’s what a community is: it’s one big group of people who love and trust each other and don’t want to be parted. It really was the perfect world to bring your children up.

What was it like during the two months leading up to the eviction?

When the activists came to Dale Farm, it was the first time settled people actually took our side. And I think that was the best thing that came out of what we went through; though we lost where we live, we made good friends. The reason why we stood is because ye stood.

I definitely have no trust in the law, police or judges. There wasn’t one judge that said to Basildon council, ‘After all this length of time, did you help any family?’ Tony Ball said there were too many Travellers in Essex. If he said that about any other culture, he would be thrown out of government but if you say it about Travellers you can get away with it.

What was the day of the eviction like?

When I think back to the day of the eviction, I says how did they get away with that? I look at Hitler and I think: oh God, how come there was no one to stand up and say no one could do that? But I know our kids and other people in 20 or 30 years’ time, they’re going to say how did England let that happen? That was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. The fear I had in my heart was something I’d never in my life felt. The morning of it I was running with my baby. I will never forget it. I think the police were an absolute disgrace.

I think it will make history though. We don’t have a place to live – but I think other councils will look at things differently when they’re trying to evict people and try to find a solution. We did it for all Travellers.

What do you think should happen for Travellers?

The law needs to recognise the rights of Travellers. Any Traveller trying to find planning permission can’t get it. Everyone is pushing you aside, pushing you onto the next place. Once you’re not stopping on their doorstep, it’s alright. And that’s not a human way to be living or to treat people. They’d rather evict us, instead of sitting down and saying, ‘This is a problem and we need to sort it. If they can’t live there, then they need to live somewhere.’

I think that’s where Basildon council went horribly wrong – instead of trying to help travelling people, they just tried to get rid of them.

The Traveller Solidarity Network is involved in ongoing work with Travellers, Roma and Gypsies to fight discrimination and resist unjust evictions. For more information and to get involved, visit www.travellersolidarity.org


Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.

Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu

Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke