Travellers praise Norfolk's newest site

Sarah BrealeyTravellers who have moved on to Norfolk's newest legal site said their lives have been changed by the development. The Brooks Green site at Harford, south of Norwich, is now home to eight families.Sarah Brealey

Travellers who have moved on to Norfolk's newest legal site said their lives have been changed by the development.

The Brooks Green site at Harford, south of Norwich, is now home to eight families. It is the only site in the country created through a partnership between a district council and housing association, and will be managed by Broadland Housing Association.

The �1.1m site was paid for by government funding, and travellers rent their pitches from the housing association in the same way as regular affordable housing.

But government cash for travellers' sites has been cut, and this may be the last such development in Norfolk for some time.

Each of the eight pitches has an attached building with dining, bathroom and toilet facilities. There is environmentally friendly under-floor heating and living sedum roofs. A communal cabin can be used by outside organisations such as Sure Start and health visitors.

Steven Coates, 32, is married to Tonya and has a decorating business. For their five children, aged between three and nine, it is the first time they have been able to go to school. Before moving to Harford the family had travelled all over Norfolk, staying in 15-20 different places in the space of a year.

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He said: "I have visited sites all over the country and this is the best I have ever seen. We had our doubts at first, but we are very pleased."

He said the children, who are at Tuckswood Primary, were "a bit worried about going to school at first but now they love it".

Zara Bowers, 18, mother of Tyson, two, said: "Never in a million years did I think I would be living somewhere like this. It is lovely and warm. The winter has just flown by. Tyson loves it here; there is space for him to play and there is a fence all around so he can't get into the road. It will be easier for him to go to nursery and then school too."

Zara, who grew up in Norwich and went to Long Stratton High School, had been living in a caravan behind her mother's house in Newton Flotman before she was able to move on to the Harford site.

At the official opening yesterday, South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller said: "This is the first development of its kind in the whole country. It is something I am proud to be associated with. This is a massive achievement for South Norfolk Council and Broadland and everyone involved."

Phillip Brooks, clerk of Keswick and Intwood Parish Council, said: "It hasn't been the easiest thing, but in many ways it has gone fairly smoothly. There was concern and anxiety, rather than outright opposition, but South Norfolk Council and Broadland gave us confidence that it would work."

The land had previously been a "tolerated" site for travellers, and many of the new residents had lived on it then, with far fewer facilities.

It has been named after landowner Barry Brooks, who allowed his land to be used despite some local opposition. He said: "It hasn't always been easy liking travellers, but you have to try and move forward.

"A lot of people don't understand travellers, but they are just like anyone else."

There is still a need for more travellers' sites in south Norfolk, and the council is currently looking for transit site locations as well as possibilities for permanent sites.