When the Environment Agency decided to raise the flood barrier on the River Foss in York at 7pm on Boxing Day 2015, one thing was inevitable – the Gypsy & Traveller site on James Street would flood. The site is used to minor flooding, but rarely before has the water level reached the trailers which are all raised off the ground. On this occasion the water rose several feet in a matter of minutes. And the rise came without the Travellers receiving warning.
Working in the dark, and in ever deeper water, nine of the families managed to pull their trailers off the site. The ten other families were not so lucky. They were forced to evacuate the site and to watch the contaminated flood water rise to engulf their homes and ruin their furniture and precious belongings.
The people of York responded magnificently to an appeal from the Trust for help and by 12:00 the next day the home of the Travellers’ Trust was so full of donated goods that no more could be accepted. Local supermarkets and businesses provided food and cleaning materials and Travellers from around the country offered generous support.
The flood water has now receded. For most of us in York, life has returned to normality. For all those affected by the floods, whether living in bricks & mortar or in trailers, normality is a long way off. As ever in disasters like this the poor and marginalised suffer most. The Travellers of James Street find themselves in a double bind. They live on a site provided by the local authority, but for which it is impossible to arrange for any insurance because of the flood risk. And it is their homes that have been destroyed as well as the contents, and yet the local authority bears no legal responsibility for either. YTT has arranged for an independent valuation of the property lost, and our next campaign will be to find ways to compensate the Travellers.
In addition to the positive response that York citizens have given to their neighbours at a time of need, YTT hopes that other positive outcomes might emerge. Might a spotlight be shone on a hidden community that faces discrimination and disadvantage in so many ways? Can the question be raised as to why Travellers are forced to live on the flood plain? Can a new effort be made to ensure that the Local Plan due to be published in the next six months finds solutions to the pressing accommodation needs of the Travellers? We have a busy year ahead.
We have set up a fundraising site if you would like to support the campaign at: