A TRAVELLER camp has brought a halt to community support projects in Uttoxeter. The Uttoxeter Heath Community Centre had to temporarily close its doors on Sunday as caravans and vehicles parked on a grassed area at the site posed a Covid-19 risk to people using the facility.
Notice had been served to the Travellers, ordering them to leave yesterday (Tuesday), but managers at the Heath Centre warned people not to return to the site until they announced it was safe to do so. Chair at the Uttoxeter Heath Community Centre, Mary Dodgson, said: “We’ve spoken to the Travellers and asked them to leave. When they do move on, we would ask people to wait until we inform them that it’s ok to return to the centre and its grounds as we will need to check the area and clean items such as the play equipment to ensure everywhere is Covid secure. It’s disappointing and sad that we have had to stop providing services such as the FareShare scheme and pop-up café as well as providing a venue for community groups such as the mental health support group.
“We’ve also had to cancel activities such as karate and ball-room dancing. We were finally getting the centre where we wanted it to be when lockdown happened. We managed to provide support for people through that and just as we had got all our Covid-measures in place and were getting staff back from furlough, everything has suddenly had to stop again and our income has stopped with it.
“We cannot ‘track and trace’ the Travellers and it’s not safe to have both the centre doors open – as required by the Covid guidance. At first it was a duty of care to people visiting the site, but we understand at least one person has been bitten by a dog belonging to the Travellers- we have CCTV footage to that effect – so now it’s a case of public safety. We’re asking people to stay away until the caravans have gone and we’ve had chance to make sure the site is safe for people to return.”
Uttoxeter Heath Community Centre has been pivotal in providing support for people in the town affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, offering food and school uniforms to families in need as well as hosting distanced social events as lockdown restrictions eased.
A spokesman for Staffordshire Police said: “Police are aware of caravans and vehicles parking at a community centre on Holly Road in Uttoxeter. It was initially reported just before 7pm on Saturday, September 5. Officers have made regular visits to the site. We are working closely with our partners at East Staffordshire Borough Council to reassure local residents and resolve the matter.”
A spokesperson for ESBC said: “Officers from the council visited the site this morning and the illegal encampment is still in situ so legal proceedings will now commence.”
The caravans and vehicles were still in place as the Echo went to press yesterday (Tuesday).
Mary added: “The gate the Travellers came in through has been locked for four years because the key to the padlock was lost. We understand they need to go somewhere, but their arrival has caused a lot of problems for us. “They’ve picked the wrong place. It’s disappointing and frustrating.”
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