Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Giving and taking away
Phil Chamberlain The Guardian, Wednesday 25 February 2009

Travellers' rights champion recognised for forthright campaigning faces a battle of her own over eviction from her home

Bridgette Jones will be at Buckingham Palace next month to collect an MBE for service to her community.

A week later she will be at the high court hoping that her home outside Canterbury will not be taken from her.

"They give you a medal with one hand and they try and take your home away with the other," she says.

Jones, known to everyone as Bridie, has championed Traveller rights for the last 15 years. During that time she says that overt racism against Gypsies and Travellers may have diminished in the UK but discrimination still exists - nowhere more so than in planning regulations. Since 2001 she has been fighting to stay on the plot of land that she, her son, daughter and seven grandchildren call home.

"It has been seven long and depressing years," she says. "We have been given planning permission by the county council and by two inspectors but some villagers have set up a group to stop us and they keep appealing. It is very aggravating. You have children born and bred on that land."

Through her work with the Canterbury Gypsy Traveller Support Group, Jones gets a lot of calls from Travellers about similar planning problems.

"In some cases it is just ethnic cleansing," she claims. "In Basildon the council is spending £3m on bailiffs to evict Travellers from a site. There are 300 children on that site and some are sick and some are dying. We're supposed to be in a credit crunch and yet they spend all this money to put people off their own land."

Jones began volunteering back in 1992, working with young people in Kent. She found then that ethnic minority children didn't access traditional youth services so she tried to open up the services to the whole community.

"I've always tried to break down barriers and build bridges," she says. "When I get a phone call now I try to make sure they get the right services and go to the right people. It's about bringing people around a table and discussing problems."

When Jones got the letter in the post back in October with the royal motif on it, asking if she would accept an MBE she thought it was a joke. A follow-up letter inviting her to the palace in March was met by "complete out-and-out shock".

Jones has been to Downing Street to petition for Traveller rights on several occasions, but she just plans on enjoying this trip. She is saving her energy for the high court battle.

"People get very angry when they see what is happening in Italy with [Roma]Gypsies," she says , "but I don't think people know that it [discrimination] is on their own doorstep."

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